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Michigan Is The New Wine Country

Country MoonWhat is fruity, enhances the flavor of most foods, tastes good and is good for you? Wine, the fruit of the vine, fills the bill on all counts.

Michigan has come into its own when it comes to wine with more than 100 wineries and 120 tasting rooms across the state nestled among 15,000 acres of scenic vineyards. This acreage has doubled in the last 10 years boosting Michigan to fifth in the nation in wine grape production.

Wine country has also tapped into Michigan’s tourism because wine grapes usually grow in scenic places. Most of the state’s quality wine grapes grow within 25 miles of Lake Michigan. The lake effect insulates the vines with snow, thus protecting them during harsh winters, keeps them cool in summer and extends the growing season. The Lake Michigan shore wine country has come to be known as the Napa Valley of the Midwest.

There are six wine trails throughout the state with many events scheduled throughout the year. People can have dinner with a winemaker, snowshoe through the vineyard and go to a wine festival on the beach, to name a few.

All wines are alcoholic beverages made from fermented grapes or other fruits. The natural chemical balance of grapes lets them ferment without adding sugar, acids, enzymes, water or anything else. Thus, the resulting product is all natural.

Wines have been prevalent throughout history, the first records of winemaking being recorded around 6000 B.C. in Georgia (not the state, but a country at the crossroads of western Asia and eastern Europe). There are more than 5,000 different wine grapes throughout the world, which make for even more varieties of wine.

Many are classified according to where they originate. European wines coming from certain regions go by that name such as Bordeaux, Rioja and Chianti. Non-European ones are classified by grape like Pinot and Merlot. Nearly everyone recognizes the California wines such as Napa Valley, Santa Clara Valley and Sonoma Valley.

When one variety of grape is predominant, usually comprising 75 or 85 percent of the final wine, it is referred to as a varietal wine rather than a blended. Though this can all be quite confusing, it all boils down to, after fermentation, wines are classified either as sweet or dry. A dry wine has only a small amount of residual sugar whereas a sweet has predominately more. Sweetness is determined by the amount of sugar in wine after fermentation, relative to the acidity present. The sweetness is also determined by the individual year and weather conditions, so a particular variety will not always taste exactly the same each time it is fermented.

Red wine grapes are more perishable than the white and are only at their peak for a few days. Sugar content has always been the primary influence to decide when the grapes are ripe. Many growers and winemakers still rely on sugar readings to decide when to start harvesting. That is the million dollar question, so much in fact that many growers will start sampling weeks before harvest. That wouldn’t be such a bad job!

Though hard to believe, there are still some growers who prefer to pick the grapes by hand rather than by machine. Machines are definitely faster and can pick larger amounts in shorter periods of time, which is crucial for the sugar content. However, picking by hand can preserve the quality of the fruit, which leads to better wine. Machines move over the rows and shake the fruit loose. This can harm the fruit by breaking the skins and releasing the sought-after juice. Some varieties don’t shake off easily so plants would have to be literally “beaten senseless” to get the grapes off.

Remember the old “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy is enthusiastically stomping the grapes with her bare feet? Although most vineyards have converted to expensive machinery to crush the grapes, breaking the skin to get the juice out, some small operations still use the stomping method. Crushing is all about getting the most volume of juice. You always wonder if the stompers washed their feet first. If you saw all the other debris that is in with a load of grapes, especially the machine-picked ones, the bare feet would be the least of the worry. Not to fret, though, fermentation will purify the juice.

The reason wine is so good for you is because it contains resveratrol, a compound that has antioxidant properties. Because red wine is fermented longer than white, it contains more resveratrol. These antioxidants in wine make it heart-healthy by raising HDL, the good cholesterol. Wine also can aid in weight loss, help prevent bone loss and boost immunity. One glass per day, the recommended amount, can reduce by 11 percent the risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which is a major cause of gastritis, ulcers and stomach cancers. The University of Michigan is doing a study that is showing wine's ability to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by 50 percent. Of course, moderation is the key. If you prefer to skip the alcohol, you can also drink grape juice and eat red grapes.

So, how do you know what kind of wine to choose? Connoisseurs can tell you what is considered the best wine in the field, but it all boils down to what each individual likes. Keep trying different ones until you find one that is pleasing to your palette. Drink up!

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