Though wine is now produced in all 50 states, here in California I see more wines from the West Coast, Europe, South America and Australia, than wines from other states. My experience with Michigan wines was limited to judging a few Rieslings at The San Francisco International Wine Competition. So it was a revelation to taste through a sampling of wines from Old Mission Peninsula’s seven wineries. The wines were stunning — balanced and vibrant, showing classic structure and fine varietal definition. Unlike most New World wines made today, they were truly table wines (under 14% alcohol — most under 13%), so you can enjoy a few glasses without fear of the inevitable hangover.
On the 45th parallel (like Oregon, Bordeaux and Piemonte), the 18-mile long peninsula juts out into Lake Michigan, surrounded by the deep water of East and West Grand Traverse Bays, a situation that helps moderate the climate. The picturesque rolling hills are planted to vineyards and orchards. Several of the wineries also operate inns, making this a perfect destination for the epicurean traveler.
Chateau Grand Traverse, founded in 1974, was the first winery in the state to plant European vinifera grapes. Today they have 120 acres of estate-owned vineyards and another 60 acres under contract. By far the largest winery in the state, the winery produces about 80,000 cases a year. The owners also operate an inn with six rooms.
Bowers Harbor Vineyards is a 43-acre estate established in 1985 and planted to grapes in 1991. The Stegenga family grows Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, producing just under 10,000 cases annually.
Peninsula Cellars is owned by the Kroupa family, which has been farming the peninsula for six generations. The family planted their first vineyards in 1991 and established the winery in 1994. Specializing in white varieties, they also produce a few red varietals and fruit wines from local cherries.
Chateau Chantal is a grand European-style estate established in 1993 on 65 acres overlooking the bay. They produce 32 different wines and spirits from their Old Mission Peninsula vineyards, as well as a Malbec from their 55-acre vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina. Total production is approximately 18,000 cases a year. The estate also features an 11-unit bed-and-breakfast inn.
Black Star Farms has wineries on both the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas with a combined 25,000-case annual production. The Old Mission facility produces Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, as well as fruit wines and fruit brandies. Black Star Farms’ Leelanau facility in Sutton’s Bay features a restaurant and an inn with eight guestrooms.
Founded in 2,000, the 80-acre Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery includes 32 acres planted to Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Annual production is about 5,000 cases.
2 Lads Winery is located on a 58-acre estate in Traverse City. 22 acres of grapes were planted between 1999 and 2008. The newest and smallest winery of the peninsula, 2 Lads produces about 3,500 cases a year.
CHATEAU GRAND TRAVERSE 2008 estate Dry Riesling:
Glorious varietal aromas of apple, pear, petroleum and citrus. Clean, crisp, balanced and refreshing. A wonderful food wine. 90 points.
BOWERS HARBOR VINEYARDS 2008 estate Riesling:
Pink grapefruit, Granny Smith apples, white peach and citrus flavors, with a hint of residual sugar balanced by bracing acidity. 89 points.
PENINSULA CELLARS 2007 Pinot Blanc:
Apple, pear and strawberry blossom aromas follow to the palate with a silky texture and full body. Only 254 cases produced. 90 Points.
CHATEAU CHANTAL 2007 Proprietor’s Reserve, Pontes Vineyard, Pinot Noir:
A terrific Pinot from an unexpected source. Cherry and strawberry fruit flavors accented with subtle nutmeg and vanilla notes, silky smooth on the palate, complex and layered with a fine tension and extraordinary length. One of the better Pinots I’ve had in the past six months, and I’ve had plenty. Only 290 cases produced. 94 points.
BLACK STAR FARMS 2008 Arcturos Pinot Gris:
The fruit salad of flavors and crisp acidity remind me of Friulian Pinot Grigio — melon, white peach, fig, dried apricot and mineral notes, well balanced, with fine depth and length. 91 points.
BRYS ESTATE 2008 Naked Chardonnay:
This unoaked Chardonnay is so fruity and aromatic you might mistake it for Viognier. Floral scents of orange roses, lemon chiffon, pineapple and passion fruit follow to the palate with crisp acidity, a silky texture, and a long finish. Complex and vibrant, it’s a showcase for the quality of Old Mission Peninsula fruit. 92 points.
2 LADS 2008 Cabernet Franc:
The lightest colored Cabernet Franc of my experience, and one of the most elegant. The wine delivers raspberry-cranberry fruit with a light clove and ginger background that hits the palate with bright acidity and silky tannins. A good food wine, not very complex, but balanced and easy to drink. 816 cases produced. 88 points.
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