From Muscat to Moscato: How will America’s hottest wine trend impact Michigan?

Moscato is experiencing tremendous growth in the U.S. market. Michigan’s commercial wine industry stands to benefit from this trend and Michigan State University’s experimental plantings of Muscat varieties.

Moscato, the wine with the Italian name and long European heritage, is making its mark in the mid-priced sweet, aromatic wine category according to recent media reports (The Wall Street Journal 1/14/2012). Moscato is made from Muscat grapes, several varieties are grown commercially in Michigan for Moscato and other styles of Muscat wines. Michigan State University (MSU) researchers are evaluating Muscat varieties for expansion of acreage in what is now a minor wine grape category.

Matt Moersch, southwest Michigan winemaker and owner of Free Run Cellars, felt the trend came on fast for Moscato. With three different Muscat varieties in the vineyard, Free Run Cellars already has Moscato. At Moersch family wineries, Free Run and Round Barn, they are always trying new grape varieties. “The beauty of the tasting room for the customer is to taste new wines such as Moscato at the winery,” Moersch said.

Reports of Muscat-based Moscato flying off the shelves of American retail winery shelves is not lost on Mike Merchant, Tabor Hill Winery winemaker. Tabor Hill Winery’s planting of Muscat varieties is probably one of the largest in Michigan from which they make a Muscat wine with a dry, off -dry flavor profile much different from Moscato. According to Merchant, if there is a place for Moscato, it will be considered.

Muscat varieties are among those wine grape varieties characterized in MSU Bulletin CD-007 Wine Grape Varieties for Michigan and Other Cold Climate Viticultural Regions available at the MSU Extension Bookstore.

Michigan State University Assistant Professor Paolo Sabbatini caught the Moscato wave five years ago while designing wine grape variety trials with colleague Tom Zabadal. Orange Muscat, Muscat Ottonel, Moscato Giallo, Moscato Canelli and Valvin Muscat were planted in a pilot testing vineyard.

“When we planted the new grape variety trial in Michigan few years ago, the national trend in consumer preference was a rapid increase in popularity for Moscato and dessert wines,” Sabbatini said. Sabbatini believed that this is a sweet spot for Michigan wine producers (aromatic Moscato wines and sweet dessert wines) and therefore was pivotal to evaluate the viticultural and enological performances of Moscato varieties in our climate.

After returning from the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif., Sabbatini describes huge plantings of Muscat varieties in California to supplement the importation of Moscato from Spain and Italy. It was reported that that plantings of Moscato grapes is expected to increase 136 percent by 2015 in U.S. A 2011 survey of California nurseries also showed that 25 percent of sales by grape variety were for Moscato, 40 percent of the total white varieties sold in California. The push for Moscato is driven by the echoboomers and the millennials, the generations born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, and wine grape growers are really happy because grape prices are up right now.

Sabbatini describes Moscato as the, “perfect wine for the American sweet tooth. It’s simple and doesn’t scare the new wine drinker. Michigan is strategically placed in a viticultural region where Moscato could be a signature wine.”

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