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Mapping Mother Nature’s impact on wine

CMU students track weather patterns at Michigan winery

Contact: Curt Smith

​​The unique Michigan weather on Old Mission Peninsula plays a key part in making your glass of pinot perfect. For Central Michigan University meteorology faculty and students, this makes the region ripe for research to help maintain Michigan's $300 million wine industry.

This fall, faculty and students installed a weather station in a vineyard to gain crucial insights on the weather.

"This region of Michigan has a challenging environment, and there has not been much research done there," Marty Baxter, associate professor of meteorology, said. "Installing a CMU-owned weather station in a vineyard allows us to monitor the rapidly changing conditions that may lead to grapevine damage."

The CMU weather station collects data on temperature, dew point, wind and rainfall at Bonobo Winery in Traverse City. Information is transmitted in real-time and sent to Weather Underground, a public weather tracking service online. Students analyze incoming data and use it to make predictions and gain hands-on weather forecasting experience typically reserved for experts.

"Freeze and frost events play an integral role in wine grape harvests, so the wine industry relies on the quality of forecasts," Baxter said. "Students use this data to predict conditions now, and we hope to use this data for similar research projects in the future as well."

Bonobo Winery, owned by CMU alumni Todd and Carter Oosterhouse, is the only winery on Old Mission Peninsula with a weather station. Josh Rhem, vineyard manager and CMU alum, and winemaker Josh McCarthy each collect and analyze weather data from the station daily. Though there are other weather stations in the region, McCarthy has seen storm events on the peninsula change from mile to mile, making the station at Bonobo even more advantageous.

"We have access to other weather information in the area, but not to the level of detail we need," McCarthy said. "We need the best information possible because weather dictates all aspects of the types of grapes we can grow here."

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates vineyard expansion in Michigan has doubled during the last 10 years. For Baxter and his students, the booming economics of wine will help to make tracking the weather a key advantage.

"In the future, we would like to install more stations at northwestern Michigan wineries to observe and analyze the unique weather experienced on the Old Mission and Leelenau peninsulas," he said.​

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