First place of note was Willow Vineyard, with its beautiful view of the lake and immaculate property; not surprising to learn the owner is a former landscaper. These guys had the best view from their front door of any Leelanau winery. They opened on Labour Day 1997 and were the 5th winery on the Peninsula. Over the years they have remained fairly small, producing only 1200-1500 cases a year. They grow and produce wines made from their own estate fruit which consists of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. The wine of note here was their 2008 Baci Rosé: cherry, raspberry smells with good acidity and a dry finish (****).
We stopped in to see Dan Matthies at Chateau Fontaine, though neither he nor I knew we were going to hit it off so well. Nor did Dan know I was coming. Dan figured, after about 10 minutes, that I was not your usual winery visitor, with my notebook, constant spitting and dumps of the wines – most visitors spit nothing and will finish what’s in their glass (like it or not). Dan was a pleasure to talk to and so forthcoming about his wine and the region as a whole. His vineyard was established in 1989, the winery followed some 11 years later. He was the first to grow Syrah in the state (2000) and the first to try his hand at Cabernet Sauvignon on the Leelanau Peninsula (2003), it’s not a grape he would recommend to anyone who’s thinking of planting it here, “too hard to ripen”. He uses only his estate fruit for his wines – he has 27 acres on the property and owns another 33 acres “down the road”. His wines were easily some of the best and most consistent I tried on this side of the Peninsula. His 2008 Woodland White is made form 100% Auxerrois (a variety I rarely see anymore in Ontario) – peach, melon, cantaloupe and honeydew smells, subtle touch of acidity, with peach and melon in the mouth – outstanding (*****). His 2006 Woodland Red was also very good, but the soon to be released 2007 was even better. A blend of Syrah (8%), Merlot (12%), and the Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc (40% each), soft yet firm with great red fruit and a persistent finish (****½). Finally, his specially made, secret process, Cherry Wine, at only 8-bucks a bottle, really captured cherries in a glass, it even managed to keep the tart aspect of the fruit and offered such a beautiful long black cherry finish, and you’d swear it had chocolate on the aftertaste (****½). I bid adieu to Dan, having spent a good hour in his company and sure I could have spent more.
A stop at Bel Lago Winery showcased what I thought was Leelanau’s best Gewurztraminer, Bel Lago’s 2007 edition was just what the G-Doctor ordered – tangerine, spice and a touch of rosy on the nose; a little floral, spice and good lychee fruit on the palate (****½).
Final stop of the day was at Longview Winery, where we tasted a crisp, dry Riesling with pear and melon on the nose and honeydew and peach on the palate. This one rivaled Black Star for best Riesling in Leelanau (****½).
Before dinner I had my tour of the Homestead resort:
Dinner was at the authentic Italian restaurant (nestled in the woods) called Nonna’s on the Homestead property, run by chef John Piombo – a lively, gregarious fellow who loves food and wine – we spoke about both for easily 30 minutes straight with no diversion or side trips of any kind, not even a weather conversation, unless it pertained to the grapes … I am pretty sure we bored the other guests at the table. There was no doubt in my mind why he chose his current profession – he loves his job. Good food, great desserts (can you tell I love my sweets). (Read Day 3)
Wineries Visited (in order):
Good Harbor Winery, Shady Lane Cellars, Willow Vineyard, Chateau de Leelanau, Boskydel Vineyard, Chateau Fontaine, Bel Lago Winery, Longview Winery