Traverse City — It took five years for Campbell Milarch Vines to see the fruits of its labor.
Now the Copemish-based company is ready to tell everyone else about its efforts.
Campbell Milarch recently received a competitive Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development grant for $140,400 under the department’s Value Added and Regional Food System Grant project. The reimbursement grant required a match of $54,600 from Campbell Milarch.
The Record-Eagle reports the money will be used to hire four production laborers, acquire new equipment and materials, hire a sales and marketing person and develop a website in addition to covering administration and advertising expenses for Truly Michigan Vines.
“That means a lot to our company,” said Jake Milarch, partner at Campbell Milarch Vines. “We’re going to be able to get a marketing director, we’re going to be able to put up a website and we’re going to be able to basically announce that we’re here, what we’re doing and what’s available.
“What’s available is custom grafting and growing of the grape vines and it will be a green, living, potted bench graft vine that you can purchase — all done and grown in northern Michigan.”
Jake Milarch is the son of David Milarch, co-founder of the Champion Tree Project and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive. The younger Milarch was returning from a business trip and was on the same flight as Kerm Campbell, the original and now sole proprietor of Black Star Farms, and his wife Sallie.
Campbell spoke with Milarch about the need for healthy vines grown in Michigan — and the partnership was formed.
“(Campbell) asked me to custom-graft, custom-propagate these vines for him about five years ago,” Milarch said. “They were winning awards for the local vineyards with the chardonnay, and they wanted me to reproduce it the best way possible — which is what you see here.
“Last year, this fall, was the first time they collected fruit to make wine out of and they had a great fruit set. This was kind of a fantastic thing and it was all done here in Michigan.”
Nikki Rothwell, Michigan State University Extension district horticulturalist and coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station, said grape plants currently come to the area primarily from New York and California.
Use of Campbell Milarch Truly Michigan Vines can reduce time — and money — that vineyards invest in purchasing from the east and west coast.
“Normally you would buy a vine and you would be two years out from getting that vine,” Milarch said. “If you had money right now and wanted to go purchase a wine vine, you’d probably have to wait until the following year, which means there’s a lot of time where your money is out, too. Your return on investment can be much sooner this way.”
“It takes a long time to reset those roots and get itself established before the cold winters come on. So another idea we had is to have a living, green vine a couple of feet tall, planted in May or June — and then by the end of the year, the plants are doing very well.”
Heather Fortin, who will fill the sales and marketing position at Campbell Milarch later this month, said vines from elsewhere often are less successful because they arrive dormant.
“Then you hope and pray that they don’t die that first winter,” Fortin said.
Milarch said vines grown and developed in northern Michigan also improve the selection process.
“We are selecting the proven scion material,” he said. “It’s basically taking award-winning vines and replicating those award-winning wines. It all starts with the vine. If you don’t have the award-winning vine, you’ll never get the award-winning wine.
“We’re able to take the best of what’s working here in northern Michigan and make a whole bunch more of those for similar successes.”