RAY — Twenty-one thousand vines will be pruned at Youngblood Vineyards this winter, and Jessica Youngblood, 43, will do the snipping.
For the new metro-Detroit winery that “wants to bring wine country to Detroit,” Jessica and husband David’s path to the grape-growing business didn’t come without some snags, including most recently, the nation’s 35-day federal government shutdown.
Youngblood couldn’t place labels on her wine bottles because the Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau couldn’t process the paperwork until the shutdown ceased.
“Before I could print and bottle wine, I needed approval,” she said.
Fast forward to mid-February — with concerns of another shutdown looming — Youngblood received her approval Feb. 8.
“I was calling every day; it was my first time doing this and I had to resubmit twice,” she said.
Other farmers are not as lucky, according to the Modern Farmer, a resource for food producers and consumers, which reported in January that the longer the then-current shutdown went, “the worse things will get for the food and agriculture industries.”
In some ways the industry is already feeling an adverse reaction to the first shutdown that started in December 2018: The USDA’s crop and livestock reports, and farmer enrollments into the Market Facilitation Program, stalled.
As were the requests for labels from Youngblood, who farms 25 acres of wine-grapes with her husband, David, a former U.S. Marine.
Prairie Star, one of the grape varieties grown at Youngblood Vineyards.
“It’s been a learning curve,” said Youngblood, a member of the Macomb County Farm Bureau. “We were not raised on farms or in Michigan. It was tough to learn the ropes and to learn a specialty crop likes grapes. … We decided in 2016 to plant a vineyard. Because everything is along Lake Michigan, we decided to bring ‘wine country’ to Detroit.”
Youngblood’s problem with labeling ushered in a response from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who said that the shutdown is “hard on Michigan farmers, including Jessica Youngblood,” during a mid-January speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
“She and her husband, David, who is a veteran, are raising their children on their farm in Macomb County,” Stabenow stated. “Like many farmers, Jessica is also a small business owner. For three years they poured all of their time, all of their money into their 25 acres of wine grapes.
“I’ve had the opportunity to walk with Jessica and her children through the rows of grapevine, and I’ve seen how hard they are working as a family every single day. This year they finally had grapes to launch their small business.
“They plan to open their winery on their farm and start selling on Memorial Day weekend. Unfortunately, the government shutdown threw up a huge roadblock in front of this home-grown Michigan business.”
12-year-old Gracie Youngblood plants Itasca vine last June.
According to Stabenow, the Tax and Trade Bureau only approves labels, “…when they are open. Jessica needs to bottle her wine in March, but that can’t happen without labels being approved and printed.”
According to Dr. Jim Hilker, agricultural economist for Michigan State University, some farmers “were shut out of loans” due to the government shutdown that ran from December 2018 to late-January.
Although another partial shutdown appears unlikely at this point — Hilker said a lot of ag-based agencies are “so far behind” on applications and enrollment from farmers, which can hinder planting schedules.
“All reports have been moved about a month,” he told Michigan Farm News. “I am concerned how long this will push back sign up and planting time.”