My husband and I have been big fans of Michigan wines for years. Before moving abroad, we would vacation all along the Lake Michigan shore from north to south, following the wine trail while stopping at farmer’s markets and apple orchards to pick apples and enjoy fresh cider. If you aren’t familiar with Michigan wines, you’ve probably overlooked them in favor of Californian or European wines, but you are missing out on some fantastic cool climate wines; from crisp whites and fruity rosés to balanced and dry red wines, some have called it the Napa of the Midwest.
Michigan has over 15,000 acres of vineyards making it the fourth largest grape-growing state in the nation; while most of this acreage is devoted to juice grapes such as concord and Niagara, over 2,600 acres are devoted to wine production, making Michigan the 5th largest wine grape producer in the nation. Over the last decade, the number of vineyards have doubled, and Michigan’s 101 commercial wineries produce more than 1.3 million gallons of wine annually.
Michigan vintners grow a selection of traditional European varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Blanc; and also several French/American Hybrids including Vignoles, Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Chancellor, Marechal Foch, Chardonel and Traminette. With such an impressive range, I was eager to sample what they have to offer.
This year was my first time attending the annual Michigan Wine Showcase hosted by The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. I had the pleasure of meeting 25 producers, winemakers, and winery owners while tasting over 100 different wines. It was a real honor meeting the people behind the labels, who pour their talent as well as their hearts into each bottle. The event was limited to media and restaurant buyers early in the afternoon, then to the general public later in the evening. With each winery pouring 4 or more wines for tasting, it was time to get my pen out and start taking notes.
I’ve been invited to tour a few Michigan wineries, to see how the wines are made and of course to photograph their beautiful vineyards, both of which I’ll be writing about. Until then, I invite you to scroll down to read about some of my favorite wines from the showcase.
Verterra Winery | Leland, Michigan | http://www.verterrawinery.com
With over 33 acres of vineyard on the Leelanau Peninsula, they are one of Northern Michigan’s newest and largest wineries, located in the historic town of Leland on Lake Michigan. The vineyards at Swede Road has one of the highest elevations in Leelanau County and boasts beautiful views of Grand Traverse Bay to the east and Lake Michigan to the west. To the north of Swede Road is the Matheson vineyard. Originally a cherry orchard, this acreage now hosts some of the finest European and California vinifera available. Their vineyard and grapes are 100% Leelanau. Their first two vintages received many high honors in international competitions, with three of their wines taking “Best in Class”. In total they make 16 different wines, including one of the States best red wines: Vintners Select Reserve Red a Bordeaux style blend of merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet Sauvignon.
2013 Un-oaked Chardonnay
The purest possible expression of Chardonnay starts with harvesting a touch early to ensure the cleanest fruit possible, which is then de-stemmed, crushed and pressed; then fermented to near dryness in stainless steel vessels. No oak, no malo-lactic fermentation. Just simple purity.
With aromas of citrus, ripe green apple, pineapple and lemon zest. Dry, very fruit forward with green apple and pineapple backed up by their signature acidity. Pairs perfectly with lighter fish dishes but with enough acidity to pair with heavier chicken dishes and even a burger off the grill.
* Won Gold medal in the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition
2013 Dry Gewurztraminer
There is no varietal that expresses itself more dramatically in the vineyard than Gewurztraminer. At first taste, the grapes burst with sweetness and our signature Northern Michigan acidity, but the floral perfume is undeniable, guaranteed to make you say “Wow!” In the finished wine, they found the perfume is present but restrained, just how we envisioned it. The floral nose of gwertz (the name they like to call it) is unique to this grape. They liked it subtle. In this case the wine displays the floral perfume as a subtle component of the total package rather than dominating it. Dry with a ripe fruit flavor and a balanced acidity to round out the finish.Pairs perfectly with spicy foods and personal favorite with Indian food.
*Won Gold medal in the 2013 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition
2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir
They couldn’t keep the 2011 in the tasting room last year so they figured time to up our production! With an incredible bounty from the 2012 harvest, they have crafted this 100% Pinot Noir Rose. The beautiful, brilliant ruby color and expressive nose of crushed fresh strawberries will change even non-Rose (pink!) wine drinkers minds. With aromas of very intense crushed strawberry and cherry pie. Dry with 0.5% residual sugar. Lush fruit, crisp acidity and a wonderful, viscous mouth feel. Pairs perfectly with lighter fish dishes, pasta salads or as a pre-dinner drink with appetizers.
* Double Gold San Fancisco Chronicle
* Gold International Eastern Wine Competition
Burgdorf’s Winery | Haslett, Michigan | http://www.burgdorfwinery.com
Burgdorf’s Winery is in it’s 9th year of operation. This small, family owned winery is located in Haslett, Michigan. Travelocity recognized this winery as one of it’s “Local Secrets – Big Finds”. With 20+ award winning grape & fruit wines produced on-site in their 4,000sqft production facility from locally hand-picked, Michigan grown fruits. All wines are produced and bottled on-site. Their dessert wine “Perfection” has won double-gold from both State and International competitions. Over 100 medals have been awarded to their wines from International Wine Competitions. The 2011 Traminette just won best of show at the 2014 North Central Michigan Wine Competition in Petoskey, Michigan. The wine maker and co-owner Deborah Burgdorf has a MS in Microbiology and worked in the industry for 15 years as a Fermentation Microbiology Specialist at a facility in Lansing, Michigan. Dave Burgdorf has a BS in Agriculture and worked with the USDA as a plant material specialist for over 40 years giving him the experience necessary to produce and select prime fruit for their wine production. The winery has a tasting room and boutique shop giving customers the opportunity to sample their wines year round. Here are a few of my favorites:
2013 Naked Chardonnay
Light, dry, un-oaked white, crisp and refreshing with just the right amount of acidity for smooth finish on the palate. Nice fruit forward nose of peach and apricot. Pairs perfectly with chicken, fish, salads, or any white cream sauce. Great summer drink by itself! Serve chilled!
2011 Dry Riesling
Crisp, light, with a sense of mineralogy to the palate. A nose of floral, melon, grapefruit, honey, and hints of pepper. Slightly acidic yet well balance. Pairs perfectly with whitefish, chicken, and spicy entrées with a Cajan, Indian or a Mid-Eastern flair. Great summertime drink with a salad, mixed fruit, nuts, and blue cheese. Best served chilled!
* Won bronze 2014 Finger Lakes International Competition
* Won silver 2013 Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition
2010 Pinot Noir Rose (Semi-Dry Rose)
Dominate cherry notes with hints of pomegranate and Blackberry. Limited filtration contributes to the depth and complexity of this wine. A sense of grapefruit on the palate with a nice tart, yet balanced finish. Pairs perfectly with pork, veal, venison, duck, or lamb. Nicely compliments salads served with fruit or various cheeses. Best served at room temperature.
White Pine Winery | St. Joseph, Michigan | http://www.whitepinewinery.com
White Pine Winery is named after Michigan’s state tree which characterizes Michigan’s natural beauty. They produce a range of delicious red and white wines and specialize in aromatic whites such as Riesling and Pinot Gris along with full-bodied reds like Syrah and Merlot.
Owner and winemaker, Dr. David Miller, is a noted winemaker and viticulturist with over 30 years of experience. He received a MS and PhD degrees in Plant Physiology (focusing on grapevines) at MSU and worked there as the Technician running the grape and wine research for 12 years. He then worked at St. Julian progressing from Assistant Winemaker to VP of Winemaking. He was offered a position at St. Julian to help them improve their raw product – grapes, and their wine making process in general. After accomplishing those goals he left St. Julian to start White Pine and began teaching wine making at MSU where he is currently employed part time as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
Dr. David Miller’s goal with White Pine is to focus on a small number of varieties that do very well in our climate in southwest Michigan and produce the very best wines possible. This differentiates us from many wineries in the state that produce inexpensive, sweet wines. His wines are produced in the vineyard using balanced vines and sound viticulture practices (my background). The winemaking practices use minimal intervention and are used to express the natural flavor and balance produced in the vineyard. White Pine Winery showcase Southwest Michigan’s finest wines and warm hospitality in their lakeshore destination in the charming town of St. Joseph. Here are a couple of my favorites from White Pine Winery:
2012 Reserve Riesling
Peaches, mango and honeysuckle define this wine. The aroma’s leap from the glass and are followed by juicy, mouth-watering flavors supported by crisp acidity and a hint of minerals. Great with on its own or with spicy foods, Asian and fusion cuisine. A classic from our own backyard!
A cross with Gewurztraminer, Traminette shows off with intense aromas of apricot, orange zest, honeysuckle and rose like its well known parent. The flavors pop with a hint of sweetness that leads to a satisfyingly long finish. Perfect for any occasion, Traminette pairs well with salads, mild cheeses and curries. Medium. R.S. 2.5%
Round Barn Winery | Baroda, Michigan | http://www.roundbarnwinery.com
No amount of schooling can compare with hands-on experience and Matt Moersch has had his two hands in the family business since birth! Having grown up on the vineyard, Matthew began his winemaking career path while picking grapes as a young boy with his brother Christian. They could be found running between the vines, playing hide-and-seek until the sun went down in Southwest Michigan’s vineyards.
Matthew became Round Barn Winery’s winemaker and distiller in 2003, learning from his father Richard Moersch, who founded the winery in 1992 and has worked as a winemaker in the area for over 25 years. After apprenticing with his father, Matthew sharpened his winemaking and distilling skills during extensive travels in France, Germany, Hungary and California. Matthew’s European training spanned the Burgundy, Alsace, and Champagne regions of France, the Rhein region of Germany as well as touring and tasting throughout Hungary’s Tokay Region.
For more than a decade, he has honed in on his own style, modeled primarily after the French traditions of winemaking and brandy production. Launched in July 2006, “Free Run Winery” is a sister winery that specializes in producing single vineyard designate wines where Matthew also serves as winemaker and founding partner with his brother Christian.
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake Michigan Shore
With hints of chocolate, elderberry and black currant dominate up front while violet, plum and hints of orange peel appear as it opens up. Aged twenty months in oak gives it a nice balance of tannins on the palate and will allow this wine to age exceptionally well. Pairs nicely with lamb, steak and sharp cheeses.
* Won Michigan Wine & Spirits, Silver, 2008
2012 Chardonnay Lake Michigan Shore
Picked at the peak of ripeness, they put this Chardonnay through malolactic fermentation giving it a creamy buttery characteristic reminiscent of a classic Burgundy Chardonnay. Rich in texture and balance, it is a medium weight wine showing pear and vanilla in oak on the moderately long finish. Pairs nicely with lobster, crab or chicken. Even better one it’s own! Serve chilled.
* Won Michigan Wine & Spirits, Bronze, 2004
* Won Michigan Wine & Spirits, Gold, 2005
* Won Michigan Wine & Spirits, Silver, 2008
2012 Late Harvest Riesling Lake Michigan Shore
Ripe green apple and pear accentuate the aromas of this Riesling. Tropical flavors of papaya and mango combine with crisp acidity to produce a clean refreshing finish. Pairs perfectly with grilled pork loin, grilled chicken salads or on it’s own. Serve chilled!
*Note: I personally think this wine should win an award. After living abroad in a Riesling village in Germany, this Riesling is up there with some of the finest. My absolute favorite.
Baroda Founders Winery | Baroda, MI | http://www.founderswinecellar.com
Leonard Olson has a long history in the wine industry. He is familiar with Southwest Michigan’s growing region and growers, and knows the quality product produced here first hand. His experience dates back to the late 1960’s when Olson and a partner planted the first commercial European vines in Michigan. They went on to plant 27 grape varieties, which included Aurora, Vidal Blanc, Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, DeChaunac, Chamborcin, Cascade, Chardonnay, Seyval, Vignoles and Johannesburg Riesling. Len obtained the first new Michigan winery license since prohibition and opened Tabor Hill in 1972. As winemaker at Tabor Hill, the winery won several awards and medals and was served in the White House under Gerald Ford’s presidency. Len left Tabor Hill in 1982 and pursued other opportunities in the beverage industry, including beer-making in northern Indiana and winemaking in Kentucky, where he was recognized as one of the founding members of the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council.
A self-educated winemaker, Len consulted with experienced winemakers throughout the world, including the late Karl Werner and Helmut Becker, two of Germany’s most renowned winemakers. Werner, whose family has been producing wines since 1411, was a graduate of the renowned Geisenheim Oenological and Viticultural Institute. And, Becker was the chief of the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute.
Len has returned to southwest Michigan and is honored to be among this continually growing wine community and salutes the local wineries who have paved the way for success during his absence. He is focused on making wine accessible to all palates and levels of knowledge by producing a variety of wines ranging from classic varietals grown from the Lake Michigan Shore AVA region (in other words, southwest Michigan) to chocolate and fruit flavored-enhanced.
Len’s philosophy is “The Baroda Founders Family feels we are fortunate to make a product that our customers enjoy at their most precious moments. To that end, we strive to produce wines that reflect the best of the grapes harvested in each God-given growing season. The pleasure of wine and your satisfaction at our winery or in your home gives meaning to our life. Drink in Health.”
2010 Cabernet Franc
Aged in French oak for 24 months, this full-bodied wine has complex flavors of berries and a smokey oak. Tastes great now but is an excellent choice for several years’ aging.
This classic wine was made in the “old classic European tradition”. While many Chardonnays are bottled and available for sale in eight months, this wine was aged in French and Minnesota oak barrels for two years and blended with the same Chardonnay batch that had rested in a stainless steel tank and then aged in the bottle for a year. A smooth crisp Chardonnay, this wine has a smokey vanilla bouquet mixed with apples and honey overtones with a crisp, refreshing touch of acid for a clean finish.
Oh Hell Yeah, Red – Mellow Red Wine
A sweet red wine with a supple berry, full mouth feel and a soft finish. Named after a fishing friend (Red) who exclaimed “Oh Hell Yeah!” after drinking this wine.
2010 Luce Del Sol – Lake Michigan Shore
Made in the French Vouvray style. The slightly sweet, fruity taste is complemented by a crisp finish that is clean and refreshing. It is similar to the wine created by the winemaster in his early career that was served by President Gerald Ford at the White House. This wine is the perfect wine to enjoy on a warm spring or summer day. And, for that reason it is named Luce Del Sole which means “sunshine”. Sit back and enjoy the sun.
Michigan wineries are popular tourist destinations, attracting more than 2 million visitors annually. Visit Michigan Wines for information about more than 100 Michigan wineries, a comprehensive calendar of events, including festivals, wine dinners, and to plan your Michigan Wine Tour. Here are 6 wine trails in Michigan to get you started:
City Winery is the highest-end combined culinary and cultural experience; a winery, restaurant, and music venue located in the West Loop/Fulton Market neighborhood. With a unique facility, combining a fully functioning winery with intimate concerts, food & wine classes, private events and fine dining, bringing the wine country experience to the middle of a large city.
After making his first barrel of wine in California with his brother Josh and wine maker David Tate, formerly of Ridge Winery and now at Barnett Vineyards, Michael caught the bug: “For a long time I’d been enjoying wine as a fan-drinking it, taking classes, attending wine dinners-but it was not until I actually started participating in the process of working with the grape, turning it into wine, putting it into a bottle, and watching it develop over time, that I really started to understand wine. And when I would give my friends a bottle of wine with my name on it, most would respond by saying: ‘I wanna do that too!’ It was this experience that led Michael to conceptualize and start working on the City Winery business plan in 2006.
They produce their own wines sourcing a variety of grapes from all over the world. Chief Winemaker Robert Kowal chose a Midwest crop this season for his wines, “About two tons of Michigan Riesling yielding 300 gallons of juice”. Kowal hopes to source even more regional grapes next season.