Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Report from ... Michigan Winery Tour (Traverse City Area) – Day 3 - June 15, 2009

Day three saw us finish off the Leelanau Peninsula with a visit to Cherry Republic, a cherry winery and so much more. Here you’ll find everything cherry, from peanut butter infused with cherry to bbq sauce, wine, pop and hard cider. Traverse City is the heartland of cherries so this kind of village devoted to the red fruit makes perfect sense. As it turns out it was so easy to find though we made it twice as difficult. We pulled out from our local restaurant and started down the highway, the GPS dinged and told us to turn around and go back, we did, flew by the restaurant we just ate at and the GPS dinged again, we repeated out u-turn … as it turned out it was a mere half a block down the road from our restaurant, had we known we could have walked and saved ourselves the hassle.

At noon we decided to forego lunch for a special treat we had read about: Moomers Ice Cream – rated “America’s best scoop”; if you love ice cream this is your place. They make over 100 different flavours, 20 of which are served daily – you didn’t actually expect them to have 100 choices each day, you’d spend all your time reading and salivating instead of licking and leaving. I went for the flavour called Just Caramel, pretty self-explanatory really, while Erica, who loves peanut butter flavour in her cone, opted for Cow Tracks (vanilla ice cream with pieces of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and chocolate fudge swirl). We licked and slurped our way through the mammoth waffle cones while looking out into the field where the cows, who produced the milk, grazed. If you make your way to the Traverse City area you will notice that Moomers is all over the place, its served in many of the restaurants and we even found a small outlet in our hotel lobby (Grand Traverse Resort and Spa) – this place provided us with our second scoop of Moomers Ice Cream, which was just as good and tasty as the first … though this time the flavours we chose escape me.

We left the peace and quiet of Moomers in the country to find the illusive and often talked about Left Foot Charley’s. Bryan Ulbrich was out on the Old Mission Peninsula looking at the grapes, so assistant winemaker, Andrew Perry, took me for a walk about. This 6000 case winery, located in an industrial part of town, has no vineyards of its own, instead they have long term contracts with 12 vineyards, which they control and 25 growers – everything is about how they want the fruit grown. They are mainly a white wine house, producing 90% whites, mainly from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc. In fact, Left Foot Charley’s was my first encounter with Pinot Blanc in Michigan, but it wouldn’t be my last. Blanc seems to have taken a liking to Michigan soils and in turn Michigan winemakers have taken a liking to it, starting right here with Mr. Ulbrich at LFC. The 2008 Pinot Blanc is made from 12 year old vines, has pear and apple on the nose, with juicy pear, good acidity and nice fruit on the palate. At LFC they also makes 3 kinds of Riesling (a medium dry and 2 vineyard specific versions). Wines planned for the future include Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Dornfelder and Sauvignon Blanc.

We left Charley’s and drove up Old Mission Peninsula to the tippy top, or at least where the wineries begin, to a new modern facility with lots of steel and glass called 2 Lads, quite impressive, the ‘08 Rosé and the 2007 Cabernet Franc were highlights. Next up was Bower’s Harbor, who have a cute dog that resides in the bathroom on hot summer days, resting his head on the toilet bowl to keep cool. They also produce a Cabernet Franc (2005) that was of particular interest to me; it’s grown in Erica’s Vineyard (named that because it is where the owner proposed to his wife, Erica – my fiancée’s name just happens to also be Erica; so we bought a bottle. It has nice pepper, blackberry and black cherry notes on the nose; with black cherry fruit and a nice peppery finish (****).

Brys Estate was my second run-in with Pinot Blanc in Michigan and another winery making it in a delicious fruit forward style. Lots of citrus, peach and apple, on this 2008 Pinot Blanc, crisp acidity on the tongue with a touch of lime on the finish (****½). They also make a pretty stellar Gewurztraminer (2008 - ****½) as well as a good Reserve Pinot Noir (2007 - ****) and Pinot Grigio (2008 - ****) – though it’s more a Pinot Gris in style with lovely juicy fruit flavours.

Final stop, winery-wise, was Chateau Grand Traverse, where they are making anything and everything. One of the few wineries making Gamay in the area, they actually produce two; they also have a delicious 2008 Whole Cluster Riesling with grapefruit and apple notes (****½) and they even have a Botrytis Riesling; (it’s the only one I saw my whole trip), it was lip-smackingly good.
Dinner was at an old mental hospital (with all the wine we’d been drinking you’d think they’d want us to check in) … all kidding aside, the restaurant was located in a building that was once a mental hospital and is now part of a revitalization project for the city … the restaurant iscalled Trattoria Stella, which was very tricky to find, but so worth the search (piece of advise, take the phone number with you for when you get lost). They had a huge selection of local beers and wines; we opted for beer after such a long day of wine tasting. The server was a bit of a beer nut and he recommended many local brewers. We chose beers from Short’s Brewery (located in Bel Aire, Michigan). Erica went for the light and pleasant Pontius Road Pilsner, while I chose the Stella’s Ale (made specifically for the restaurant and sold only at the brewery and on tap at the Trattoria). The beer has citrus smells and an orange peel finish, refreshing on this hot summer’s day. Dinner was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. We had been enjoying such rich food of late that we had forgotten what joy the simplicity of pizza and pasta could bring. This was by far our favourite meal of the journey – as Erica pointed out “I like plain people food, it’s what makes me happiest.” I fully agree. (Read Day 4)

Wineries Visited (in order):
Cherry Republic, Left Foot Charley’s, 2 Lads, Chateau Chantal, Bowers Harbor, Brys Estate, Chateau Grand Traverse

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