Drink + Eat: The business up food and drink Up North.

It's a month of firsts for our area's wine industry, starting with a statewide event that will pair a local vintner's wines with "tweets." Next up is a first-of-its-kind training program that will produce a

workforce skilled in cool climate viticulture. And, lastly, a Leelanau County grape grower is patiently awaiting a green light from government officials

so he can move forward with his plans for Elmwood Township's first winery and tasting room. Read on for the latest in local wine happenings:

Tweet 'n' Taste

It goes something like this: Sip, swirl and tweet. Wait … tweet?

Michigan by the Bottle, a Macomb Township-based blog focused on the state's wine industry, is pairing with Black Star Farms for a first-ever "Tweet & Taste Michigan" event.

On March 8, Twitter users can take part in a virtual wine tasting of a trio of Black Star vintages with winemaker Lee Lutes, several wine bloggers and Claudia Tyagi, one of three master sommeliers in the state.

The goal? To make wine more approachable, especially for the 21 to 30-something crowd who also happens to be very active in social media, and to open up a new avenue for marketing Michigan wines. Shannon Casey, who launched Michigan by the Bottle last June, says he plans to do a Tweet and Taste event every month with either a different winery or wine region.

"Michigan produces some really good wine, but we don't market it well enough," says Casey. He chose Black Star for the first event because of its use of social networking tools, including Facebook and Twitter, not just to promote its business but also to engage with a broader audience of wine enthusiasts.

Casey says the response for participants has been way beyond expectations.

"We would have thought it was a successful event with 10 people," he says. But nearly 70 people had already signed up when I checked with Casey a few weeks ago. Check out tweetandtastemichigan.com for all the event details.

Wanted: Grape Graduates

There is a growing demand in our region's vineyards for workers trained in cool climate viticulture. Starting this summer, that training will be available in Traverse City. Last month, NMC announced a new viticulture certificate (science, production and study of grapes in vineyards) available through a partnership with Michigan State University and Missouri State University's online the online VESTA program (Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance).

Mark Johnson, winemaker at Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula, was part of a curriculum conference last year and says he doesn't know of any other programs like this one in the world. He describes the program as heavy on very practical hands-on training, backed up with theory.

All classes are offered either online or in Traverse City, and the certificate will take two years to complete. Program partners are hoping about 15 students, likely non-traditional students seeking new careers, will enroll in the program's first year. Practicum and internship experiences will also be available at some of the area's wineries.

If They Zone It, He Will Build It

Construction of the first winery and tasting room in Leelanau County's Elmwood Township will get underway later this year if local units of government give a thumbs up. Despite the county's wealth of wineries, Elmwood's current township zoning ordinance doesn't include them as an approved agricultural use.

Robert and Edward Brengman of Crane Hill Vineyards, who have been growing grapes on 20 acres of land off Center Road for the last few years, say building a winery and tasting room was always part of their long-range plan. Since their first grape harvest in 2007, the Brengmans have been selling virtually all their fruit to Left Foot Charley in Traverse City. But now it's time to take the next step toward making a profit in the wine business, says Robert.

The Brengmans approached the township nearly a year ago to assist in drafting the necessary zoning amendment. Robert says he had hoped the amendment would have been approved at last month's meeting, but some lingering questions prevented its passage. He says none of the concerns are major and he's hopeful they'll get approval at the regular township board meeting this month.

Assuming that's the case, construction will kick-off late summer/early fall with Crane Hill vintages available fall 2011.

Congrats to three of our local chefs who were recently named Great Lakes region semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Award. They are Myles Anton of Trattoria Stella in TC, Guillaume Hazael-Massieux of La Becasse in Maple City and Randy Chamberlain of Blu in Glen Arbor. Winners will be announced in May.

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