Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Report from ... Michigan Winery Tour (Traverse City Area) – Day 4 - June 16, 2009

Today was a very light day, two wineries left and 2 breweries, which I had learned about the night before at Stella’s from our “beer nut” waiter, Keith.

We lunched at North Peak Brewing Company, tried their amazing pull pork sandwich, which I had read about on their website, treated ourselves to an awesome Moomers based dessert and tried their 8 beer sampler – 5 everyday and 3 seasonal brews. My favourites were the Steelhead Red and the Mission Point. The Blonde and Belgian were also quite tasty; the blonde was light and refreshing, while the Belgian was caramelly and sweet. The Chocolate Porter tasted like coffee (which I am told is typical of chocolate beers).

The only winery worth mentioned is Peninsula Cellars, because the last winery, Black Star Farms, was just a retread of what you get back in Leelanau – though this Black Star is newer and more modern looking (I’m talking wine-wise). Peninsula Cellars is housed in an old 1896 school house and they use that theme throughout, including lines written on the blackboard a la Bart Simpson. Here I had my third encounter with a Michigan Pinot Blanc, the 2007, which was fruity and fun. But the standout wine here was the 2006 Dry Riesling – green apple, lime and other citrus flavours, which lead up to a long persistent finish with great acidity (****½), another great Michigan Riesling.

My final stop in Traverse City was at a place called the Right Brain Brewery, a project started by a hairdresser named Russ who “just loved beer”. With his salon out front and brew pub out back Russ is living his dream; at this place there is no such thing as ordinary when it comes to beer. A lifetime membership to the pub is $150, for that you get your own mug - which you can decorate any way you like, a hook to hang it on and a fill for the price of a pint. Russ says they brew what they like and the beer menu changes 2-3 times a week. In their 18 months of being in business they have brewed almost 100 different beers (all ales) – some they make again based on demand from clientele, or are just favourites of Russ and the brewmaster, but they like to experiment with the oddity brews and local flavours. While I was there the menu consisted of Scarborough (brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme); Big Boned Belgian Ale - coming in at 6.1% and having bubblegum like flavours and smells; Wicked Garden Wheat – with oven roasted beets in the brew; Empire Spear Beer – brewed with, you guessed it, grilled asparagus; and Chocolate Orange Cream Stout. My favourite turned out to be the Cagney IPA (brewed with red grapefruit peel). As you can see this is not your normal everyday brewery.

Final Thoughts:
I would have to say that I was quite impressed with what I found in Michigan wine country … Rieslings are king here, with Cabernet Franc being their red of choice – but the real surprise is Pinot Blanc: tasty, delicious and well-made; I was told only 4 wineries are making wine from this grape, but I found only three to try – still this is definitely a grape Michigan is doing well with and, with some winemaker passion, should continue into the future.

Leelanau is still playing with hybrids, while the Old Mission is focusing its attention on vinifera (Cabernets, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, etc). I found the quality to winery ratio leaned toward the Old Mission Peninsula, granted they only have 7 wineries to chose from, but only one was a total let down (I will not mention it’s name). If you have a weekend and decide to make the trip I would suggest starting with the Old Mission Peninsula and work your way back to try a few in Leelanau (see previous days reviews for the wineries I would recommend).

Thanks to Diane Stampfler and Promote Michigan for making the trip possible, and the folks at The Homestead, I’d stay there again in a heartbeat. (Read Day 1)

Wineries Visited (in order):
Peninsula Cellars, Black Star Farms – Old Mission Peninsula

Other Visits:
Right Brain Brewery and North Peak Brewing Company

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