So why the sudden urge to check out Michigan wineries? Well, my fiancée hails from the state of the Spartans (and the Wolverines) so we did a stay-cation – well, a stay-cation for her, me, I’ll go anywhere they’re pouring wine.
We left just after noon on the Friday (June12) to avoid the summer traffic going north (think Ontario cottage country) and to stave off that would-be sleepy feeling we would undoubtedly get if we were to stick with the original plan of waking up at 4 in the morning on Saturday. Traverse City is about a 4-hour drive from Detroit. We arrived around dinnertime and ate at one of the first places we saw that looked decent; we ended up at a family restaurant called “Shelde’s”. The place had a warm friendly atmosphere and good food. While there we checked out their breakfast menu, seemed like a good place to come on Saturday morning too. After dinner we checked ourselves into the Traverse City HoJo’s for a good night’s sleep. (The nice part about being a day early is that we got a chance to rest and relax before the hectic schedule of the next 4 days began; I actually got to read a book that was not about wine).
Saturday morning we were up-and-at-‘em, breakfasted at Schelde’s, then it was off to see the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula, which is to the west of West Grand Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan; to put this into perspective, they call this region “Northwest Michigan”.
First stop was Black Star Farms, a winery that also has another outlet on the Old Mission Peninsula (we’d be doing that part in a couple of days). Black Star was established in 1999 is quite the impressive piece of property and has quite the array of wines, from dry to sweet, reds to whites and most everything in between – including grappa. They produce 17,000-20,000 cases a year. Lucky for us we bumped into the right person this morning, tasting room manager Christopher Lopez, who ran us through the gamut of their wines. Highlights here included the racy 2008 Arcturos Dry Riesling and the well balanced 2008 Late Harvest Riesling, both garnered a four-and-a-half (4.5) star rating in my notebook. We bought a couple of the Dry Rieslings to take home, it should be quite a treat on a hot day – and will age quite nicely. There were also two reds that were quite tasty: the Cabernet Franc and Merlot/Franc blend, both from the 2007 vintage. Chris told us about the Leorie Vineyard, where the reds for the blend come from, this is their best vineyard – it’s a natural amphitheatre visible only from the lake on the Old Mission Peninsula side … neither one of us had a boat so we had to forego seeing it. As mentioned, Black Star also makes a line-up of grappas. I learned that Erica had never tried grappa before, so Chris poured us each a shot … I now know my fiancée does not like grappa (even when it is flavoured), and the truth is neither do I, I have never developed the taste for it.
We made a stop at a brand new winery called Circa, which came highly recommended to us. They are housed in a 10,000 square foot building, of which only ¼ is above ground, they use geothermal heating and cooling (heat comes from the fermenting, while the sod roof keeps them cool year round). They opened January 1, 2009. The wines we tried were good but not spectacular; though just before leaving, owner David Bell snapped his fingers and said, “Would you like to try something not yet released?” It just so happened he had a sample bottle of the soon to be released 2007 Cabernet Franc – now that was truly impressive. Too bad we won’t be around when it is released, it really was a delicious wine with beautiful red fruit and cherry tobacco on the nose and lots of complexity in both fruit, spice and barrel notes in the mouth.
We swung by a place called Gill’s Pier, where we heard about a winemaker name Bryan Ulbrich and his Left Foot Charley project (Bryan makes wines for Gill’s Pier), he has developed a reputation in the area as quite the winemaker, especially his whites. This was not the first time we would hear of Bryan, nor would it be the last. I wondered if Bryan has heard about me?
In the mood for some bubbly we found ourselves at L. Mawby, a sparkling wine house. They make at least 11 different kinds of bubbly, with names like ‘Wet’, ‘Sex’, ‘Fizz’ and ‘Sandpiper’; they also have more traditionally named bubbles, like Cremant, Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir their ‘methode champagnoise’ line. The Blanc de Blanc is made with Chardonnay and a bit of Pinot Gris, and it is absolutely delicious (****½), but then again so is the simple and tasty ‘Wet’ with its touch of sweetness and a bit of brioche, another 4½ star treat. Finally, the Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend called ‘Sex’ was a joke name that stuck, and truly proves that sex does sell. This place was totally worth the visit, it was not the kind of uppity place you’d expect a sparkling house to be, loud music, dancing wine jockeys behind the bar, bells ringing when tips were thrown into the bucket on the counter, and of course, bubbly everywhere. It was a true highlight of the day, and a real party atmosphere, had we not be on a tight schedule it would have been the place to put up our heels and enjoy the sunshine with a little nibbly on the patio.
We ended our day by checking into our accommodations, The Homestead Resort, courtesy of Promote Michigan, all I can say here is ‘wow’, what a beautiful piece of property. It seems like they are miles from nowhere and yet have all the amenities you could ever want, including their own self contained village in the heart of the woods. The views across the lake were breathtaking and pools, beaches and spas for all. I got a full tour on Day 2.
Dinner tonight was at a place called Blu in Glen Arbor, (20 minutes down the road) where chef Randy Chamberlain has made quite a name for himself, and no wonder, the food was incredible and the view from the restaurant, which overlooked the lake, was spectacular, nothing beats a seafood dinner, while one looks out over the water, makes you hunger for more – must be the lake breeze and clean air. Erica and I took advantage of the chef’s tasting menu, where he picks dinner for you; we also paired our meal with local wine, including L. Mawby sparkling and here we also had our first taste of a Left Foot Charley’s creation, a white called Murmur.
Dinner menu … we shared:
Amuse Bouche: Pastry, crème fraiche, white fish caviar, chive oil
Appetizer (left): Fresh Bay Scallops in beurre blanc served in a fish shaped puff pastry.
Appetizer (right): Tuna Tar Tar with chili oil, mint, key lime, pickled red onion and vanilla-wasabi crème fraiche
Salad (left): Local Baby Spinach, wild blueberry vinaigrette, fresh strawberries and toasted pepitas
Salad (right): Zenner Farms Romaine Salad, creamy Champagne vinaigrette, pear-ginger Stilton cheese, pecans
Entrée (left): Lupe de Mar (Wolf Fish), roasted fillet with plum tomatoes, torn basil, roasted salsify and crisp prosciutto
Entrée (right): Hawaiian Ono, grilled medallions, sautéed scallops, fine herb butter sauce
Dessert was, well … oh so tasty: Lemon Tart and Opera Cake
We went home happy and very full. (Read Day 2)
Wineries we Visited (in order):
Black Star Farms, Forty-Nine North, Circa, Gill’s Pier, Leelanau Cellars, Silver Leaf Vineyard, Rafstol Vineyards, L. Mawby, Ciccone Vineyard (yes, that Ciccone, Madonna fans).
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