Friday, September 30, 2011

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail

We're vacationing in Union Pier, MI, on the Lake Michigan shore, about 90 minutes away from Chicago. In the immediate surrounding area are vineyards. This is Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country, an American Viticultural Area, stretching across the southwestern corner of Michigan from the Indiana-Michigan state line, north to the Kalamazoo River and east toward the City of Kalamazoo.

Lake Michigan, 307 miles long by 118 miles wide, is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the world. Its vastness creates a temperate climate in this region that prevents extremes of heat and cold, protecting fragile buds in spring and ripening fruits in summer. The deep, lake-effect snows insulate the rich soil so the vine roots won’t freeze. And a consistent annual rainfall produces juicy clusters of grapes, the nectar of fine Michigan wines.

Decades ago, winemakers realized that this land and climate were like those found in some of the finest wine-grape-growing regions of France and Germany. So they planted European stock on these hills. Built wineries. Aged their handcrafted wines. Began reaping awards.

More than a dozen wineries are located here in Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country and can be found on the wine trail that includes the wineries, but also places to stay and eat as well. This weekend we are planning on visiting Hickory Creek Winery, Domaine Berrien, Tabor Hill Winery, Lemon Creek Winery, Fenn Valley Vineyards, Contessa Wine Cellars, and Karma Vista Vineyards. For dinners there are plans for  the Bentwood Tavern, Tabor Hill Winery's restaurant, and Salt of the Earth.

Full report next week.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wineries' Vegan Awakening

From the Star Canterbury, by Yvonne Lorkin:

If you're of the vegan persuasion then you'll be chuffed to know that Blackenbrook Wines, in Tasman Bay near Nelson, will be printing "vegan wine" on all its white wines from the 2011 vintage. The demand for vegan wines is on the increase, says Duncan Gillespie of Wellington's Regional Wines & Spirits. "It's following on from people looking at what's in their food more closely. People are being more conscious of what they're putting into their mouths. As well as requests for vegan wine there's been a trend towards people with allergies looking at how their wine is made and whether it is produced sustainably."

Vegans will not knowingly consume anything which has been produced using animal products of any type, and Blackenbrook is one of less than 5 per cent of wine producers in New Zealand which make vegan wines using accredited sustainable practices.

Moana Park winery in Hawke's Bay is already stickering its wines as "Vegetarian Society Approved".

So how to clarify what constitutes a vegan or vegetarian-friendly wine?

Well, that's precisely it. It's all in how the wine is clarified, or "fined". This is the process of making the wine super-drinkable, sparkly-clean and stable before it is bottled. Fining removes bitterness and other unwanted components from the young wine, using milk, egg whites or fish products. Vegetarian wine rules allow casein, the main protein in milk, to be used to fine and clarify wine, along with albumin, or egg white, whereas vegan-approved wines ban casein and albumin and other animal products.

In addition to casein and albumin, common fining agents that are used in New Zealand are isinglass (sourced from the swim bladder of the sturgeon fish), gelatine (from the hooves and tendons of cattle) and carbon (burned and ground cattle bones). Only minute quantities of these fining agents actually remain in the finished wines.

"A lot of people don't realise that animal products are often used," says Daniel Schwarzenbach, Blackenbrook's owner and winemaker. "We don't add any finings because we don't need to. Our driving philosophy has always been to let the grapes speak, with as little interference as possible. We're able to produce vegan wine because of the design of the gravity-fed winery and the processes we use. Every time you pump or press the juice or wine, the rubbing motion creates bitterness. We don't have to use fining agents because gravity does most of the work and our young wines are balanced and don't show any bitterness," he says.

"I think it's important that if winemakers are doing things differently and not using additives that they label that well, because there is a market for it," Gillespie says. "I'm pleased that Blackenbrook state clearly that no fining agents have been used, and will add the word 'vegan' because that makes it clear to the consumer."

Moana Park's website says: "The vegetarian status in our winery comes from a position of us not wanting to add these components to our wine and having a regime of honest winemaking. It of course means we need to pay more attention to detail, but we are sure of the benefits in the finished product. This approach to winemaking is very minimalist with less additives used, and a resultant superior product."

The company also uses gravity as a means of cleaning its wines, but also uses bentonite - a natural aluminium silicate which eliminates any haze in the wines. "We also cross-flow filter our wines so we don't have to use bleached cardboard filter pads. Leaving these products out of the wine means that our wines have superior mouthfeel, texture and flavour."

Wrights Wines in Gisborne also produces wines and verjuice which are organic, biodynamic and vegan.

* For a list of vegetarian and vegan wines and beers available in New Zealand and for more information visit

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Romanée-Conti: It's All About Terroir

The Grand Canyon. The pyramids in Egypt. The banks of the Seine in Paris. They have all been recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Aubert de Villaine, of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, wants Romanée-Conti to join them. The New York Times recently shared a video with an overview of de Villaine's thoughts on the importance of terroir and saving it for the next generation. Though not a short video, it's worth the nearly 5 minutes to watch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

White Wine Versus Red Wine

White wine versus red wine - some people become quite passionate about one or the other, extolling its virtues to the detriment of the other. I definitely lean towards being a red wine drinker, though I do enjoy white wines on occasions as well as blush/ro wines (gasp!). I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look and see what the primary differences might be in terms of benefits or nutrition.

The French Paradox made red wine drinkers revel, showing that perhaps it was red wine consumption that allowed the French to eat, we, like the French, yet stay trim and healthy. Not all researchers believe in the dominance of red over white, however. Some studies so no or little difference between the health benefits of drinking white wine versus red. Alcohol on its own is beneficial : heart healthy, stress-reducing, it also aids in the body’s ability to absorb antioxidants. Both white and red wines contain similar levels of alcohol, so there may be no difference in the benefits.

Red Wine               

(5 ounces)
120 calories
180 milligrams potassium
15 grams alcohol

White Wine

(5 ounces)
118 calories
101 milligrams potassium
14.6 grams alcohol

Not much difference, is there?

“Red wine versus white wine - is there a difference in health benefit?,” by Dr. Phillip Norrie is an interesting article that goes over much of this in greater depth.

So what's your take? What have you heard or read?
Does it matter which you drink?

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Far Side of Eden Book Review

James Conaway’s The far side of Eden : new money, old land, and the battle for Napa Valley (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2002) simultaneously makes me long to be a part of and also hate the wine industry. It’s an interesting slice of the history of Napa Valley, looking both backwards to the events and people who brought Napa to the wine world’s attention, to the then-current influx of new money from other industries, to its uncertain future.

The book is a scathing commentary on the newcomers’ inability to think of others’ concerns or the damage they are doing the environment. The rise of the cult wineries exacerbates the problems, as the amount of money earned is so huge that they are able to ignore environmental concerns and permits, pay little or no fines, and basically do as they please.

Conaway also looks at the struggle between the environment, agricultural concerns, and Napa’s burgeoning population growth. While there are sympathetic characters drawn from each representative group, on the whole they are blinded to the needs of opposing parties. Each group brings their own problems to the table, with their squabbles and inability to come to a consensus damaging all their hopes and plans.

As I've mentioned to some, I dream of being part of the wine industry, though more to make wine for myself than as an ongoing concern to make a living. I hope that, should it happen, I am more attuned to environmental concerns, political realities, and the need for balance than the people profiled in this book.

James Conaway, the author of nine previous books, is a contributing editor for Preservation and a regular contributor to Smithsonian, National Geographic Traveler, and Food & Wine magazines, among many others.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wine Wit

  • Men are like a fine wine. They start out as grapes. It's our job to stomp them, and then keep them in the dark until they mature. And hopefully they'll turn out to be something we would like to have dinner with. - Anonymous
  • Money may not buy happiness but it will buy wine. - Anonymous
  • "Health is what my friends are always drinking to before they fall down." -- Phyllis Diller
Have a great weekend all!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Wine 101

I need to publicly state that I am NOT a wine expert, not even a wine connoisseur. I do, however, love to drink wine. And, much like the cartoon above, while I don't know much about wine, I do know what I like. Here's how I decide whether I like a wine or not:
  1. Open bottle.
  2. Pour into vessel - stem glass is nice, but not necessary. Plastic cup will do in a pinch, but then I'd rather drink straight from the bottle.
  3. Taste.
That's it. I don't really care about the provenance, the producer, the price, or what have you. The truth is in the bottle.

I'm really no wine snob (as my wife probably rues every time I buy wine). I enjoy 2 Buck Chuck along with more expensive wines I get at my in-laws and everything in between. I also have a preference for fruitier wines, but can appreciate a dry one just as easily. The underlying wine philosophy is to always enjoy the wine, along with the company, food, and the setting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Man with a Plan


Some people climb the Seven Summits, while those with the legs run a marathon in every state. There's an obsession for everyone who has the cash to pursue it. Me, I'm going to drink wine from every U.S. state. Why? When I heard that each and every state in the U.S. produces wine, bingo! Why not combine my love of research, wine, and travel into one ginormous project? Chances are that I won't get to each state to an actual winery, but that is the goal. Along the way, I'll buy (or hopefully receive) a bottle or two or twenty from the different states. I'll look into the state's overall wine production, interact with the wineries, and then publish some tasting notes on the wine's themselves.