Michigan’s Next AVA Could Be Berrien Ridge

Unique geographic features make the area a candidate for federal designation

Maxwell Eichberg still remembers the day he realized his vineyard in Buchanan was special.

“I moved to Buchanan from Fennville in January of 2021, and I was sitting there in my tractor one day, looking at my land,” Eichberg, co-owner of Stranger Wine Co., recalls. “I’d farmed three other vineyards just an hour and a half north, but there was something different down here.”

The nearly two years of research that followed proved Eichberg’s impulse correct: The area is special. So special, in fact, that it may become Michigan’s sixth AVA, or American Viticultural Area — a zone designated by the federal government in which unique climatic or geographic characteristics create a distinctive environment for growing wine grapes.

“For the past 23 months, I’ve been working with USGS [U.S. Geological Survey] and Michigan State University geologists,” Eichberg says. “I learned that Berrien County was at the epicenter of glacial retreat activity, which gave us all the beautiful northwest-running ridges that are visible from the lake. Those ridges produce a lot of viticulturally significant aspects.”

Eichberg is working on his petition to submit to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which oversees the AVA designation process. The new Berrien Ridge AVA would lie within a small subsection of the Lake Michigan Shore AVA, encompassing vineyards in Baroda, Buchanan, and Berrien Springs. The state’s other four AVAs are Fennville, Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula, and Tip of the Mitt.

The designation of a new AVA is inherently good for Michigan’s wine scene, says Paolo Sabbatini, a professor of horticulture at MSU.

“By officially recognizing and defining unique grape-growing regions within the state, AVAs provide Michigan winemakers with a platform to showcase the distinctive qualities of their wines,” he says. “Furthermore, the influence of AVAs extends to the cultivation of grape varieties that thrive in the specific conditions of each region, [which] has led to a more focused and distinctive range of wine styles.”

This article originally appeared in the 2024 Michigan Wine Country magazine.

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