History of Michigan Wine

The evolution of Michigan's wine industry is a testament to the region's enduring spirit, from its humble beginnings with wild grapevines discovered by French Voyageurs to its status today as a producer of internationally acclaimed wines.

The Anishinaabe People

1000 BCE

The Anishinaabe People

Before European settlement, Michigan was inhabited by the Anishinaabe people, which included the Ojibwe (also known as Chippewa), the Odawa, and the Potawatomi, which formed the Council of The Three Fires.


French Kudos

French explorers encountered wild grape vines along the Detroit River and made wine with it, marking the first recorded interaction with Michigan's native viticulture potential. They even commented on its quality when writing back to their French compatriots, stating “considering its newness, the wine was not at all bad.”

Cadillac Vine Connection


Cadillac Vine Connection

The state’s first grape vines were planted at Fort Pontchartrain in Detroit, commanded by Bordeaux born French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, setting the stage for Michigan's future wine industry. Fun Fact: Cadillac’s coat of arms was used as the logo for the original Cadillac car company circa 1950s, which was named after him.

Early 1800s

Backyard vineyards

European settlers in the Michigan Territory brought their wine-making traditions, planting vineyards in their backyards. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that winemaking emerged as a professional venture.

Early Success


Early Success

Michigan’s most notable early winemaker, Joseph M. Sterling, pioneers commercial vineyard planting in Monroe on the shores of Lake Erie, leading to the region's recognition as a significant wine-producing area. By partnering with others, he founded the Pointe Aux Peaux Wine Company in 1868, quickly gaining a high-quality reputation and winning a gold medal at the 1872 Michigan State Fair.


Prohibition and Welch’s

Michigan bans alcohol production in 1918; it becomes a national ban and the beginning of Prohibition in 1919. Many of the established wineries are forced to shut their doors and many never re-open. Those that did survive prohibition often sold their grapes to the Welch’s Grape Juice Company to survive.


Post-Prohibition Growth

The Michigan wine industry sees a resurgence with the establishment of several wineries, reviving the state's winemaking legacy.


Michigan Wine Institute

The institute is founded by the state’s wineries to support the growth of Michigan’s wine industry through promotional, research, and lobbying efforts.

1940s - 1950s

Sugar Rationing

During World War II, sugar rationing spiked the demand for sweet and fortified wines, leading to a change in Michigan law in 1950 that allowed local winemakers to produce higher alcohol wines without extra fees. This legal shift enabled Michigan wines, especially sweet varieties, to dominate the state market in the 1950s.


Changing Palates

As wine consumption in the U.S. increased, partially driven by servicemen returning from Europe with a taste for dry table wines and by innovations in California enabling mass production of affordable varieties, American preferences shifted away from sweet wines. Michigan winemakers, initially slow to adapt, embraced change in the mid 1960s with the introduction of French-American hybrid grapes, such as Baco Noir, and Vitis vinifera (European varieties), like Riesling and Chardonnay.

Vitis vinifera Dominance


Vitis vinifera Dominance

The first large scale plantings of Vitis vinifera (European varieties) in the state are planted at Chateau Grand Traverse in Old Mission Peninsula, signaling a shift from hybrid grape vines to European.

AVAs Established


AVAs Established

The establishment of several AVAs, including Fennville (1981), Leelanau Peninsula (1982), Lake Michigan Shore (1983), and Old Mission Peninsula (1987), formalizes Michigan's stature in the American wine landscape.


The Grape and Wine Industry Council

The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council is formed, underscoring the state's commitment to research, education, and promotion of its wine industry, marking a new chapter in its storied wine history.


Tip of the Mitt AVA

The most recent addition to Michigan’s wine landscape was in 2016 when the largest AVA, though with the smallest area under vine, Tip of the Mitt AVA, was established. Specializing in Hybrid varieties, this AVA shows how Michigan continues to innovate and expand its wine industry.


Wikipedia: Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac

Wikipedia: Council of Three Fires

Wikipedia: History of Michigan

♦ Michigan Wine Country, The History of Michigan Wine

♦ Michigan Wine Industry Research State of Michigan, Department of Agriculture & Michigan Grape and Wine Council. (2013). A Timeline of the Early History of the Michigan Wine Industry to mid-1980s - Michigan Grape and Wine Council

♦ Michigan Wine Industry Research State of Michigan, Department of Agriculture & Michigan Grape and Wine Council. (2013). The Early History of the Michigan Wine Industry - Early settlers of the 1800s to the passionate pioneers of the early 1970s