Michigan wines have received national and international attention in recent years, and as you would discover on an Old Mission, Traverse City wine tour, the history of Michigan wine is quite fascinating.

France has been a leader in wine production for centuries, so it’s no surprise that when French explorers and settlers discovered wild grapes growing along the Detroit River, they got to work making their own wine. This first French foray into Michigan-made wine was recorded in 1679. We can only imagine how happy these enterprising pioneers must have been when they found grapes so far from home!

About 20 years after, there is mention of settlers in Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit establishing a vineyard. History records show the wine industry expanding around 1850 when more grapes were planted in southern Michigan.

Monroe County, which (no coincidence!) is where many French settlers located, led the wine industry in the state – sadly the wine producers back then seemed to have missed the excellent growing conditions available on the Old Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan.

Those tracing family history find information in state census records, and when tracing the history of wine, the same records yield important information. Michigan’s 1884 state census records 3,228 acres of vineyards – most in the south – and places production at 24,684 gallons of wine.

By the turn of the century, wine producers were fighting a blight on their crops called grape rot, but this was not the only threat for the viability of their industry.

Traverse City wine tours would have run into trouble in 1917 as wine producers found their industry halted by law: Prohibition took effect that year in Michigan, making the sale and consumption of alcohol illegal. Citizens, community leaders, and churches were optimistic that Prohibition would reduce crime and improve the quality of family life and worker productivity.

American Prohibition passed in 1920, but the ban didn’t stop the demand for alcohol and provided a wealth of opportunity for rum-runners to work with Canadians to bring whiskey and other booze across the Detroit River along what became known as the Windsor-Detroit Funnel. To survive the years until Prohibition was repealed in 1933, some wineries sold their grapes to juice companies.

Once it was legal to make wine once again, the wine industry continued to grow and Michigan reclaimed its position among other wine-producing states in America. In the late 1940s, the local industry gained a boost through some clever taxation: Michigan wines made with 75 percent Michigan-grown grapes were taxed at only four cents per gallon while wines from other places were taxed at 50 cents a gallon.

It wasn’t until 1965 that a modern vineyard was planted on the Leelanau Peninsula, and in the mid-1970s a visionary winemaker planted European grapes on the Old Mission Peninsula. Discover which ones (in person!) during our entertaining and informative Traverse City wine tours.

If you want to learn more, we highly recommend the history of the Michigan wine industry collected and documented expertly by Lori Hathaway and Sharon Kegerreis for the official website of Michigan’s wine industry, or contact us at Old Mission Tours.

We offer custom private tours and will help you design a memorable itinerary for your visit to the award-winning wineries near Traverse City, MI. For more information or a reservation, call us at (231) 883-TOUR.