Monday, October 31, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

10 Things About the Wine Business

W. Blake Gray, Palate Press' first columnist, started off with a great article: Ten Things I Learned in the Wine Business. Head over to read about:
  1. Old wines are more unattractive to wine shops than old people.
  2. Publications like this love unusual varieties. Consumers do not.
  3. Most people don’t care about wine-food pairing.
  4. Wine writers like to explore lesser-known regions. Consumers do not.
  5. Wine writers hate Robert Parker for a reason—he’s influential and they’re not.
  6. Nobody cares about gold medals.
  7. Gatekeepers are king.
  8. Very little of the wine’s retail cost goes to the winery.
  9. Winery economics are screwed up because many people don’t think about wine as a business.
  10. While wine is a business, it is almost as cool as you think it is.
Informative and funny, really a great read.

Have a great weekend all!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Espiral Vinho Verde

Like many of you, Laima (my gorgeous wife, who writes the blog Women's Endurance Gear) and I love trying inexpensive bottles (often from Trader Joe’s) and have found eminently drinkable examples for under $5. One such find is the Espiral Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine from the Minho region in the far north of the country. The name literally means "Green Wine" (red or white), referring to its youthful freshness that leads to a very slight green color on the edges of the wine. The region is characterized by its many small growers, which numbered more than 30,000 as of 2005. The Vinhos Verdes are light and fresh, and are intended to be drunk within a year. At less than one bar of CO2 pressure, they do not quite qualify as semi-sparkling wines but do have a definite pétillance. The white Vinho Verde is very fresh, due its natural acidity, with fruity and floral aromas that depend on the grape variety. The white wines are lemon- or straw-coloured, around 8.5 to 11% alcohol, and are made from local grape varieties Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso and Azal (Good way to get a bunch of grape varietals for the Wine Century Club right?, only many of the wines don’t list which grapes have been used.). Vinho Verdes are the daily drink of choice for many Portuguese.

The color is very light yellow with (possibly imagined) light green edge. The initial scent is of citrus, very light and fresh. There is some minerality that follows, but very subtly. A decent amount of acidity and a nice citrusy finish make this a very pleasant wine to drink, though not necessarily savor. We drank this wine on its own and with some light salads (mine had a sweet and tangy sesame ginger dressing) – in all cases, the wine tasted great.

At around $4 at our Trader Joe’s, well-worth bringing home.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Evan Dawson's Summer in a Glass

Summer in a Glass: The Coming of Age of Winemaking in the Finger Lakes (2011, New York: Sterling Epicure), by Evan Dawson, has the feel of a professional and personal account at the same time. Dawson allowing his personal feelings to come through elevates this above a standard report about a wine region, making it both more interesting and more evocative. Even though it’s a book about wine, it goes beyond, into travel, personal stories, and more.

Evan Dawson is the Managing Editor and Finger Lakes Editor of the New York Cork Report, the two-time winner of the award for Best Single-Subject Wine Blog. He writes several pieces weekly for NYCR. His day job is morning anchor of 13 WHAM News This Morning in Rochester, NY, broadcasting on the ABC affiliate (as well as the local CW channel). His on-air duties also include reporting on politics and public policy.

Why are they here? How did they get here? And what is the world learning about the land they now inhabit? These are some of the interesting questions raised regarding the history, present, and future of the Finger Lakes Wine Region. Dawson answers them in the forms of stories, coming from all facets of the wine industry, interspersed with his own, two-year experience in the region.

Wines from the Finger Lakes are becoming better-known, and this book helps you understand why. I’m now tempted to visit the Finger Lakes, seeing if I too can discover the taste that is summer in a glass.

In a bit of serendipity, Eric Asimov recently wrote the article "Deep Lakes, Icy Climate, Great Wine," in the New York Times, mentioning Dawson and the book. Pretty awesome shout-out! Lots of overlap between the article and book as well. Interesting when certain winemakers are singled out.

More information can be found on Dawson’s website, on Twitter, or Facebook.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Free The Grapes

A bill introduced into the House of Representatives, House Resolution 1161, if enacted by Congress, would give states the ability to pass discriminatory wine shipping bans and other anti-free market legislation without consequence of court challenge if the laws are discriminatory or protectionist. The proposed law would reverse the effect of the 2005 Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision that declared states must treat in-state and out-of-state wine shippers equally. The landmark Granholm decision and subsequent court decisions based on it has led to a robust market in fine wine across the country, provided the means for small, family-owned wineries to compete, spurred a flourishing of licensed and regulated specialty wine retailers to serve consumers, and gave consumers access entire market for fine wine.

How does this hurt? HR 1161 would make state laws that are in violation of the Commerce Clause, or any other federal provision, immune from challenge. If this or a similar bill passes, it will be virtually impossible for consumers, winemakers or others to challenge these discriminatory bans. Only 17% of wineries are distributed nationally, and 54% of them were unable to find a wholesaler in states where they actively sought representation, according to a survey by Wine Institute, a public policy trade association representing more than 900 California wineries. As a result, many wineries now rely on direct sales to survive. If a winery cannot secure distribution, but is prohibited from selling to its customers directly, it will be locked out of the market and consumer choice is significantly diminished. Bad for you, bad for your local wineries. HR 1161 would give wine wholesaler middlemen the power to pass state laws to gain unfettered monopoly power and to pass discriminatory laws that would not only reduce consumer choice in wine, but also hurt businesses, jobs, and state and local economies.

While I certainly understand the blatant attempt at securing a monopoly, I find it completely ridiculous that this bill has a chance of passing.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Another Great Weekend in Michigan Wine Country

The weather gods smiled upon us, giving perfect fall weather for the weekend. Once again, we headed over to Michigan wine country, to soak up what may be one of the last nice weekends weatherwise.

For lunch, we headed over to Soē Café in Sawyer. Though we’ve driven by several times and it looked really nice, we’ve never had the opportunity to stop in. Saturday was the perfect opportunity. Soē Café’s emphasis is on local food and drink, though it’s not exclusively so. Laima took the opportunity to sample local Old Shore Vineyard’s Pinot Noir-based ‘Sofia’ Rosé, which paired nicely with her blue cheese grass-fed burger. I added to my Wine Century Club by drinking a Chilean Pedro Ximénez, which was just right for my grilled cheese, as was the rosé. The interior is quite beautiful, very simple and well-lit, with outstanding natural light streaming in on that sunny day. There is a fireplace at one end, we didn’t ask if it worked, but it appeared like it would be functional on cold winter days. This is a really great addition to the local dining options, and we’re glad that there is an opportunity to support local agriculture. The one problem? Not a single item for vegans, really a terrible oversight. Hopefully in the future they’ll add some options.

Soe Cafe on Urbanspoon

We looked at a few possible vineyard sites, and there seem to be quite a few available, with various benefits to each one. It will be interesting to see what is still around when and if we pull the trigger. A few more things need to fall into place, but the winery project appears to be on track. Exciting and scary.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Score Revolution

I'll admit openly, that I have an uneducated palate, that I like wines for different reasons at different times. It's one of the reasons I've never liked the 100 point scale for scoring wines - I don't like someone telling me what I should or shouldn't like. I understand the scale from a marketing standpoint, and, of course, would be ecstatic if I happened to make a wine that approached a perfect score. Good scores = good sales.

Another problem is that so much of the wine scoring is done out of context: multiple bottles, no food, etc. Tasting at the winery or on a picnic or with two different meals will have different results in each context. When I taste wine I initially just look at the hedonistic side: do I like the wine? Then, depending on context, I might look a little deeper: Does it reflect where it was made? Does it complement the food? Matt Kramer recently wrote in the Wine Spectator, to wine novices, urging them to go beyond pleasure and search for an "edge." I like it. As an added bonus, I recently discovered the Wine Century Club, where one is urged to try at least one hundred types of grape varietals - that's a 100 I can get behind!

Turns out that I'm not the only one who doesn't appreciate the 100-point scale. There have always been folks out there who decried the formulaic approach, instead relying on the stories inherent in the wine and the situation surrounding the tasting of it. Well now, Christophe Hedges of Washington’s Hedges Wine Estate, has created an organization to let people publicly state their mind, the Score Revolution.

The manifesto is somewhat over the top and I think that might be the point. A quick excerpt: "The 100 point rating system is a clumsy and useless tool for examining wine. If wine is, as we believe, a subjective, subtle, and experiential thing, then by nature it is unquantifiable. Wine scores are merely a static symbol, an absolute definition based on a singular contact with a wine, and thus completely ineffective when applied to a dynamic, evolving, and multifaceted produce."

I signed the manifesto to support this movement - while I don't think the wine industry is quite ready to get rid of the wine scoring scale, it's nice that someone is starting this dialogue and bringing some social media attention to it. At  the time I signed the manifesto, there were 578 individuals and 128 wineries/organizations - one thing that was a bummer is that you don't show up immediately, but rather after a review process. Several days later, still no dice. No immediate gratification there.

For an interesting counterpoint article between W.R. Tish and W. Blake Gray, head over to the Palate Press.

What's your opinion on the 100-Point Scale?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alice Feiring -- Naked Wine

You may have guessed from the earlier two posts this week, Association des Vins Naturels and Allowable Wine Additives, that I’ve been reading Alice Feiring’s Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2011).

Alice Feiring is the author of The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization and has written for many publications. She recently won the “On-Line Writer/Columnist of the Year” at the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards. In her own words ( From Feiring's website): “I'm hunting the Leon Trotskys, the Philip Roths, the Chaucers and the Edith Whartons of the wine world. I want them natural and most of all, I want them to speak the truth even if we argue. With this messiah thing going on, I'm trying to swell the ranks of those who crave the differences in each vintage, celebrate nuance and desire wines that make them think, laugh, and feel.”

According to the PR material that came with the book, Feiring raises (and answers) controversial questions like:

• What’s the difference between natural and organic wine?
• What’s the connection between the natural food and natural wines movement?
• When did winemaking stop being an “art” and start being an “industry?”
• How much influence does “big business” really have in the wine world?

I’m sure how controversial any of these questions are and truthfully, the answers are not the interesting part of the book. The author looks at the above questions through a personal and historic perspective and also adds  her own attempt at making natural wine as part of the narrative.

If you are interested in wine and what is happening in the field (and obviously you are since you’re reading this blog), this is a very topical book. How important or marginal the natural wine movement is or becomes will become apparent over the next decade or so. The author believes “(t)here will be a trickle up effect. Many bigger wineries will use fewer tricks to make wine.” It’s hard to argue with the ideals of the natural wine movement, but it’s also confusing as to the exact rules that the field needs to follow. There seems to be no consensus on what “natural wines” actually are, with some touting organic or biodynamic farming coupled with minimal intervention all the way to those who only accept completely naked wines, made without any chemicals, fining agents, etc.

(As an interesting aside, Josh of PinotBlogger recently posted about Feiring's lack of credibility, due to his cameo in the book being misremembered. He hedges his bets, but wonders about what questions are raised by this, in his eyes, egregious error. I'm taking it with a grain of salt because I just don't know enough about any of it.)

This is a book that everyone should read, if only as an introduction to the myriad interpretations of natural wine that exist. That there are winemakers (and consumers) who debate the nuances of how much sulfur should be permitted expands the conversation about wine and winemaking.

This book made me ponder what is important to me about wine and how it’s made. I can’t really say that the author has made a great case for winemakers shifting to an extreme version of natural winemaking, but I’m all for less chemicals in the vineyard and subsequently in the bottle. This adds to the conversation that all wine enthusiasts should be having. However, I also have a foot in the camp that is best espoused by Peter Bell, winemaker at the Finger Lake winery Fox Run Vineyards. In Evan Dawson’s book about the Finger Lake area, Summer in a Glass, he summarizes it thus: “The very act of picking grapes is the start of a cascade of human actions. Crushing grapes is not natural. Everything we might do might constitute too much intervention to the ultra-purists. But wine is not some perfect gift from nature—it requires some guidance!” My personal feeling, based on no actual experience whatsoever (except a winemaking kit many years ago), is that as little intervention is possible is the goal, with judicious guidance to ensure quality not just from vintage to vintage, but bottle to bottle.

So, ultimately, Alice Feiring’s Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally is a worthwhile book to read with an open mind, using it as a conversation starter (even if just with yourself), about how wine can be made more naturally and whether it should be.

For other points of view, check out Palate Press and Vinography.

Disclaimer: This product was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of Da Capo Press. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the book a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

Would you like your product reviewed?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Allowable Wine Additives

In line with my natural wines post yesterday, I thought it was interesting to note what additives or adjuncts are allowed by the Federal government. By the way, according to the ATF Ruling 85-4, (1) Any grape fruit, citrus or agricultural wine may be designated "natural" if it is made without added alcohol or brandy as specified in 27 CFR 4.21. No other type of wine may be designated as "natural." Kind of interesting that it has nothing to do with farming practices, nor with what is used to make the wine itself nor the processes.

(Note that GRAS is an acronym for Generally Recognized As Safe.)

  • Acacia (gum arabic): To clarify and to stabilize wine. The amount used shall not exceed 16 lbs/1000 gals (1.92 g/L) of wine. 21 CFR 184.1330 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing increase from 2 lbs/1000 gals 3/1/2011.
  • Biotin: Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 182.8159 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing use of biotin 8/1/2011.
  • Calcium Pantothenate: Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 184.1212 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing use of calcium pantothenate 6/29/2011.
  • Enzymatic activity Cellulase (beta-glucanase): To clarify and filter wine. The enzyme activity must be derived from Tricoderma longibrachiatum or Tricoderma harzianum. The amount used must not exceed 300 ppm.21 CFR 184.1250 (GRAS) and GRAS Notice No. GRN 000149. Preliminary conclusion allowing use of beta-glucanase derived from Tricoderma harzianum 8/25/2010.
  • Folic Acid: Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 172.345 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing use of folic acid 6/29/2011.
  • Inositol (myo-inositol): Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 184.1370 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing use of Inositol (myo-inositol) 8/1/2011.
  • Magnesium Sulfate: Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 184.1443 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing use of magnesium sulfate 6/29/2011.
  • Niacin: Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 184.1530 (GRAS).Preliminary conclusion allowing use of niacin 6/29/2011.
  • Polyvinyl-polypyr-rolidone (PVPP)/ polyvinylimadazole (PVI) polymer: To remove heavy metal ions and sulfides from wine. The amount used to treat the wine must not exceed 80 grams per 100 liters of wine. 21 CFR 173.50 and FDA FCN No. 320. Preliminary conclusion allowing use 8/25/2010.
  • Pyridoxine (pyridoxine hydrochloride): Yeast nutrient before and during fermentation.The amount used must not exceed that of good commercial practice. 21 CFR 184.1676 (GRAS). Preliminary conclusion allowing use of pyridoxine (pyridoxine hydrochloride) 8/1/2011.
  • Reverse osmosis in combination with osmotic transport: To reduce ethyl alcohol content in wine.See reference and limitation for each process in 27 CFR 24.248. The two processes may be used in combination. Preliminary conclusion allowing use in combination 8/25/2010. 
Information taken from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau website.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Association des Vins Naturels

There is quite a buzz going around the wine world, with a decided trend of winemakers returning to more simple ways of making wine. Is everybody making the switch? No. Have winemakers been doing this all along? Yes. But it's somewhat new to me.

I did some research and found that, for the most part, the Association des Vins Naturels is considered the world leader in the movement, at least in terms of organization.

This association is made up of people who believe in making wines according to strict principles in organic or biodynamic farming, with a non-interventionist philosophy in winemaking practices. The group is inspired by the work of Jules Chauvet.

The group goes beyond other organic farming groups in that it “follow(s) and validate(s) everything a winemaker does in the vines, cellar, and in management of waste and energy.” There is no strict rule for what constitutes a natural wine, whether a winemaker uses sulfur or not, and each person has the freedom to use different ways to make natural wines.

I’m not sure where I stand on natural wines, as I don’t think I’ve tasted any, but I definitely agree with the notion that we need less chemicals, both in the ground and in the bottle. I also like the idea of non-interventionist winemaking, as it’s more apt to produce a more unique product.

Ever tried natural wines? Recommendations?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wine Label As Art

I would suspect that most people consider the artist-designed labels of Mouton Rothschild as examples of wine labels as art. As a lapsed art historian, I recognize the cool factor of these labels and appreciate the breadth of art styles the winery has sponsored over the years. However, I don't really consider them art. To me, they are still just wine labels, with art on them.

What labels would I consider as art? The best example, in my opinion, of a winery consistently using their labels as art pieces would be Sine Qua Non - Manfred Krankl gives each new bottling, in each vintage, a completely new name and a new label design - unique among winemakers, as far as I know. The fact that they are somewhat rough, inscrutable, and have a psychological edge to them is really something I find ultra-cool.

Know of any other wineries who, while they may not be as far-reaching as those of Sine Qua Non, are creating examples of wine labels as art?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rock and Roll Wine

Hardrock fans looking for an alternative to the traditional Tennessee whiskey can now pick up a bottle of wine without compromising their image, as the United Kingdom’s biggest heavy metal band Motörhead launches a branded red wine – Motörhead Shiraz.

"Motörhead have started a new venture in wine with this rockin Shiraz from Australia. The wine has a very fruity aroma with flavours of vanilla, blackberries, plums, eucalyptus and liquorice. It is full-bodied with soft rounded tannins and packs a real punch. Enjoy Motörhead Shiraz with dishes like grilled lamb chops with garlic and rosemary. Also goes well with other lamb or beef dishes, as well as pasta and flavoursome cheeses. Serve a little below room temperature, around 16 - 18°C.”

The wine, unfortunately, is not yet available here in the United States.

Motörhead joins other famous rock and roll musicians with an interest in wine:

Maynard James Keenan of Tool and Puscifer is the owner of Caduceus Cellars, based in Arizona.

Dave Matthews is the owner of Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia.

Madonna in Michigan, Vince Neil, Mick Fleetwood, Boz Scaggs, all in California, And the list goes on....

One thing I find interesting is that many of these celebrities don't find it necessary to buy a winery or vineyards in an obvious place like Napa or Sonoma, but instead seek out more meaningful locations.

Ever tried a celebrity's wine? Good? Bad? What's your favorite?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Vineyard Site Selection

If you’re like me, interested in wine, then the thought of having your own vineyard and/or winery must have crossed your mind. For some, a backyard vineyard is the way to go. Others plan bigger, from several acres to huge spreads that go beyond the hobby size. Vineyard site selection, for a potential winery, can be a difficult thing to do on your own, but it’s also expensive to hire a consultant to get professional help.

To decide on a site, first you must decide what type of wine you want to sell. Not just the type of wine, but your plans for selling the wine. If it’s from your own tasting room, you might need to consider location and traffic, whether there are other wineries around, and if there are local restaurants that might carry your wares. If you're not on a n established wine trail, where will your customers come from? How far is the nearest metropolitan area.

The site itself can be shaped but, if you want to have less impact on the environment, will be minimally changed. Things that can’t be changed: climate, temperature, rainfall, availability of water. Things that can be changed are topography, drainage, and irrigation. If you are like me, the goal is dry farming, though I realize some irrigation might be necessary to help the vines get established. A pond or lake on the property can help in those initial years and also add to the scenery later.

Besides the location and appropriate soil for growing grapes, you need to consider services for the nascent winery: water and sewer, electricity, road access, and so on. Does the property have an existing structure or will you have to build. Will the wine process be gravity fed or more traditional?

Improving your site includes opting for correct grapes, be they vinifera or hybrid, or maybe native grapes or other fruit. The site itself can be improved through the drainage, environmental practices to amend the soil, cover crops, and so on. Trellising for the location will improve the crop and subsequently, the wine. All these choices happen years and many dollars before any wine is made, so it's a big investment in time and money - the early research is therefore invaluable.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Joel Stein's 50 States Of Wine

Back in 2008, Joel Stein set out to taste one wine from all 50 states — a patriotic experiment to see if good wine can really be made anywhere. He rated each as Excellent, Good, Bad or Undrinkable (image below shows wines from Excellent to Undrinkable). He didn't actually travel to the various states, but rather assembled them to taste.

In the video, cohost Gary Vaynerchuk and Stein drink 10 wines, with some amazingly funny comments and guesses on what the wine is and where it's from.

Read more:,31813,1837305,00.html#ixzz1a2Bd0kqP - the reviews of each wine are dynamite writing, really funny.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Christopher Columbus and Wine

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus
 by Sebastiano del Piombo.
There are no known authentic
portraits of Columbus.

As some of us celebrate Columbus Day, I thought it would be interesting to see if there was any study of the wines Christopher Columbus may have had on his voyage. Granted, my research was very superficial, but I did find some interesting tidbits. Columbus, being a sailor from an early age, got around and, therefore, had access to a variety of wines of the day.

Genoa at that time was an excellent wine market -- one of the largest exporters of wine after Apulia and Calabria in southern Italy. Vernaccia, a most prized wine was drunk by the wealthy. Malvasia was less expensive and more readily available as was Vermentino and Muscat (Moscato) and Grenache (Cannonau). Also present were the red Dolcetto (today known as Ormeasco, tasting quite different from its Piemontese cousin), and the white Gavi, from nearby Piedmont.

While in Spain, Columbus probably accompanied his meals with the white topaz-colored wine of Carcavelos which lies less than 10 miles west of Lisbon. Or, perhaps he preferred the fine whites and reds of Colares, a tiny area of sea cliffs and sandy beaches abut 20 miles west of Lisbon, the two major wine producing areas at that time. Today these wines are practically non-existent as much of the land in the area has been sold to urban commuters to build vacation villas.

Another favorite white of the time was Bucelas, a dry wine, slightly acidic and excellent with grilled sardines and fish soup. A red, Charneco, which also came from Bucelas was quite appreciated.

Had Columbus selected a wine with one of Portugal's traditional desserts such as orange pudding for which Madeira is famous, he might have quaffed a Malvasia. At holiday time, he was likely served Moscatel de Setubal, a richly perfumed, honey-sweet wine made with muscat grapes grown near the port of Setubal not far from Lisbon.

Happy Columbus Day!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Michigan Wine Trails

We really enjoyed our recent visit to the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, and it’s one of several wine trails in Michigan.

Pioneer Wine Trail

“Southeast Michigan’s newest pioneers are the vintners of the early 21st century, growing and selling special wines for you to discover.

Southeastern Michigan’s pioneer wine making region is a great place to spend a few hours…or a few days! The beautiful rolling Irish Hills, many lakes, and Hidden Lake Gardens are right along the trail. Relax, savor our wines, stop for some antiquing and perhaps stay in one of the many bed and breakfast inns in the area.”

Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail

I used to vacation in Empire, near the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and drove all over the peninsula, looking for Jim Harrison’s farm (he was my favorite author at the time). This is a gorgeous area filled with nice places to stay, eat and drink.

“The mission of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association (LPVA) is to help spread the word about all the good things happening here in our corner of paradise.

Our cool-climate, Michigan wines go beautifully with food and have been winning more national and international awards and praise each and every year.

The LPVA is committed to providing world-class wine touring experiences on the Leelanau Peninsula in concert with other businesses and organizations in the region.”

Sunrise Side Wine & Hops Trail

“Michigan’s Sunrise Side has some of the most unique beer and tantalizing wines to be found anywhere. You can sample what the Sunrise Side has to offer on a special tour that we have designed called the Wine and Hops Trail. The Trail consists not only of wineries and breweries but some very special attractions. Make your trip a weekend or a whole week. It will be a time you will never forget.

If you follow our trail you will find many exciting attractions, restaurants, historic sites and much, much more. We hope you enjoy your trip through the Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail.”

Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula

“Jutting north between the azure arms of Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay lies Old Mission Peninsula. Situated at the globe's 45th parallel – the ideal climate for growing varietal wine grapes – the seven distinct wineries that comprise this stunning appellation have been well recognized by international wine enthusiasts. Discover the beauty of the Old Mission Peninsula and experience its award-winning wines: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, sparkling varieties and the prestigious ice wines. Visit our renowned wine trail today!”

Have a great weekend all!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lake Michigan Wine Shore Trail - Day 4

A beautiful cold morning greeted us on our last day of the trip. To celebrate the success of our trip and to stretch our legs before jumping in the car, we headed over to Warren Woods to ride our mountain bikes. Lo and behold, when we got there we were faced with a sign barring cycling on the trail. Undettered, we rode out onto rolling country roads, enjoying the bucolic splendor and (me at least) dreaming of our vineyard to-be. After a leisurely lunch on the cottage patio, we headed home, pausing momentarily before heading our for the soccer carpool and our normal daily lives. Great to enjoy the Lake Michigan Wine Shore Trail and some tasty Michigan wines, but also nice to be home.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lake Michigan Wine Shore Trail - Day 3

After a night at the New Buffalo Inn and Spa (cute place, just not quite all systems go, even after 16 years), enjoyable and uneventful. We planned on making breakfast, but discovered the suite kitchen had no frying-type pan (see what I mean about not quite all-systems go?), so we headed down to Rosie's, just down the main road towards the lake. I wouldn't say that the food or service was outstanding, but they're open early, the local police eat there, and it's not overly expensive. Not a bad option for the area. After breakfast, we walked over to the beach, and this is what greeted us:

Pretty amazing, right? It was cold and windy, but the air was fresh and clean, and very few people around. Great walk to start the day.

We headed back to the cottage, fingers crossed, and were rewarded with the porch light beckoning us home. Power was on and our plans were back on track. We waffled between 4,5, or 6 wineries, but took the safe route by opting for 4, 2 pairs of wineries close to each other. The first pair took us to Paw Paw, which consisted of a commercial strip of the typical fast food outlets and so on.

Warner Vineyards turned out to be neither vineyards nor winery, but rather a tasting room next door to St Julian Winery, making it very convenient. Apparently, in the early 1990's, the winery burned down, so the wines are made and bottled at Fenn Valley, a winery north and west near the lake. The tasting house is done in a "champagne cellar" motif, consisting of fake bottle vaults within a heavily-stuccoed interior, with heavy wood accents throughout. It was at Warner that we realized that this day, Saturday, was going to be VERY different, as there were many, many people wanting to taste wines. The previous day we had often been one of a few or the only customers.

Tasting was quite an experience, with a crowded facility staffed by a server that may or may not have been hitting the wares that day. Riesling ("Fruity, floral aromas with a hint of sweetness."), Traminette ("spicy flavors"), Cabernet Franc ("Powerful rich, intense blackberry and cherry fruit characters with a hint of vanilla"), Veritas ("Latin for "Truth". Big and soft with the right balance of fruit and flavor."), Mello Red ("Wonderfully fruity with superb character and balance."), Sangria ("Delightfully fresh and fruity, our sweetest red wine." -- incredibly, almost too, sweet), and Port Dessert Wine ("Deep ruby red color and fantastic aromatic properties") were some of the wines we tried, all decent or better, with the sweet wines being very sweet and dry wines very dry. Not much middle ground.

Warner's neighbor, St Julian Winery, is clearly an industrial bottler, with huge warehouses and nary a vine in sight - they purchase all their grapes, using growers in the surrounding area. St Julian's tasting options are interesting, in that they have both a free option (6 choices) or a 5 for $5 of their "Reserve" collection. I went the free route and Laima opted for the other, so we really got a good sampling:

Mine: Riesling (“juicy tropical fruits”), Simply White (“peach, citrus, honey and melon”), Simply Red (“dark cherries, wild berries, raspberries with a bit of plum”), Catawba Wine (“mild berry, fresh fruit taste”), Michigan White Champagne (sweet citrus aromas…apple-like flavors”), and Catherman’s Port (“currant, black cherry, caramel and chocolaty aromas”). I really wanted to try the Founder’s Pride, but at 20% residual sugar, even I thought it might be too sweet.

Laima's: Pinot Gris (“pineapple, fresh lime and citrus peel aromas”), Traminette (“mango and lemon zest aromas”), Cabernet Franc (“creamy vanilla-scented oak, currant and brambleberry flavors”), Blanc de Blanc (“shades of toast weaving through pear and honeysuckle flavor”), and Blanc de Noir (“clean and crisp, emphasizing berry fruit”).

Though the winery and surrounding area were disappointing, the overall tasting experience was pretty good. There is a St Julian tasting room just off I-94 in Union Pier, so you can save yourself a drive by stopping there instead. Both St Julian and Tabor Hill have multiple tasting venues, though Tabor Hill is pretty enough to make the drive worth it.

After a somewhat disappointing morning (not the wines, but the wineries weren't particularly attractively located), we had higher hopes for the final pairing, as their website photos placed them in hilly, vine-laden sites.

Karma Vista Vineyards is the rock star of the wineries we visited, with a slick, music-themed tasting room set amidst gorgeous endless rows of grapevines. A raucous crowd greeted us as we entered, standing at least 2 deep and enjoying many glasses of wine. The initial shock had us wondering whether we even wanted to stay, but we were in no hurry, so we bided our time before squeezing in at the end of the bar.

Service was a tad rushed, as expected, and the pours were noticeably stingier than at other tasting rooms. The positive is that we drank much less than we might have, but it was also difficult sometimes to really taste the wine with the scant sip offered. The list: ʼ09 SoCo Grigio ("bright citrus and pear flavors"), ‘09 Riesling (“a touch of sweetness. incredible aroma and flavors of pear and tart apple’), Starry Starry White (“semi-sweet blend”), Gunzan Rose (“flavors of cranberry and cherry”) Cote d’Loma (“softer fruit finish comparable to a classic Bordeaux blend”), Ryno Red (“a semi-sweet blend of hybrid red varieties Foch and Dechaunac”) Watusi Red (“a concord base with big grape jam flavors”), ‘08 Stone Temple Pinot (“bright cherry flavors”), ‘09 Cha Cha Chardonnay (“nice light lemon finish”), and the ‘09 Syrah (“deep burgundy color, black cherry and licorice flavors”), their first vintage. Since I picked the sweeter whites and reds and Laima pretty much the opposite, we got a good cross-section of their wines. My favorite was the Stone Temple Pinot Noir.

As we were leaving, we noticed that there was some sort of Corvette convention happening; that, or Detroit's most glamorous sports car was the vehicle of choice of the wine cognoscenti that day.

This is a place I'd like to return to some day, with more time to appreciate the vineyards and the wines, perhaps chat with the proprietors a bit. It just felt rushed and crowded that day.

A bit of lucky happenstance found us at the Chocolate Garden, a truffle-maker near our next destination, Contessa Wine Cellars. The Chocolate Garden is set up similarly to a wine tasting room, with a bar dispensing three tastes of their truffles for $2.50 (oddly enough, the truffle-tasting payment had tax added to it, but the subsequent purchase of truffles did not - hmmmm.....). We each chose 3 truffles (dark chocolate coffee bean, dark chocolate mint, milk chocolate hazelnut, darkest dark chocolate, salted dark, and another that slips my mind), with the darkest dark chocolate our favorite. Again, very crowded, with too little space for the amount of people who wanted to taste. For them, maybe not a bad problem to have, at least initially.

Just up the road we ran into our Corvette friends (or a whole other band of Corvette drivers) at Contessa Wine Cellars. Similar to Karma Vista, the tasting room is atop a rise, overlooking vineyards and orchards in all directions. Multiple decks offer plenty of space for drinking, eating, and viewing outside, and the day was almost warm enough to partake.

Once again, the tasting room was packed, but we found a corner to slide into and set up shop. We had multiple servers, as it appeared that they all took off at random times to do something different across the road - not a bad thing, but a bit disconcerting. On tap were the Pinot Grigio 2010 ("citrus and peaches on the nose, with light and crisp tropical flavors on the finish"), Chardonnay Barrel Select 2009 ("aged in French Oak barrels"), Divino ("a blend of Riesling and Chardonel - light, crisp, refreshing"), Bianco Bello ("French-American blend is semi-sweet and full of floral aromas"), Cabernet Franc 2010 ("rich peppery dance on the tongue"), Tre Tenores 2009 ("barrel select full-bodied Bordeaux style"), Rosa d’amore ("the perfect balance of fruit and tannins"), and the Lago Rosso ("a hint of sweetness and lots of berry flavor on the tongue"). My favorite was the Tre Tenores, might have been the best of all the reds we tasted, in my opinion.

Our one quibble with the Contessa experience was that the tasting room seemed fake, almost like a shop on Disneyland's Main Street, but that is probably just a question of design taste.

We tried to check out the dining options listed in the Wine Trail planner as much as possible, and opted for Schu's Grill and Bar as our dinner destination. The first several miles off the freeway are through a depressed neighborhood, but things start to brighten up the closer to the lake you get, with a charming downtown atop the bluff on the other side of the river.

Schu's is a typical bar and grill in terms of decor, though raising the bar above the dining level is a nice touch. Apparently the restaurant is a favorite of wedding attendees, who come in between the ceremony and reception - we must have seen 3 disparate groups while we were there.

One of my favorite things, a flight of drinks (in this case, beer) was my choice, supporting craft breweries of the area (I had the Bell's Oktoberfest, the Pier Cove Porter from Saugatuck Brewing Company, and the Scotch Ale from someone, slips my mind now).

We started with the Stuffed Portabella - the mushroom was stuffed with a creamy herb boursin cheese, baked to golden brown, and they were amazingly good, a really great beginning. For dinner I tried the Chicken Pot Pie, while Laima went with the ribs. The pot pie was adequate, a smallish serving (which is healthy, though disappointing), while the ribs seemed endless, along with some great seasoned french fries.

Schu's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Schu's was a nice place to have dinner, with decent food, nice wine and beer selection, good service and fair prices. Probably the best thing about the restaurant is its location, overlooking Silver Beach and Lake Michigan. After dinner, we took the opportunity to walk down the stairs to the shore and out onto the jetty, before climbing back up for the trip home. St Joseph looks like a place to return to, perhaps on the weekend when the farmers' market is in full swing.

For the intro, read Day 1 and Day 2.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lake Michigan Wine Shore Trail - Day 2

Day 2 started with a whimper rather than a bang, as rain and strong winds cooperated to down power lines across the region (we heard an estimate of 17,000 without power). Happily, we're early risers, so it was post-breakfast and, with some candles, we enjoyed the stormy hours awaiting daylight.

Some internet research later, we had an optional place to stay for the night and we phoned the wineries, wondering if any were open. With good fortune, the ones that had opened early all reported a problem-free night and we were on our way.

Our first stop was Hickory Creek Winery, which actually did not have power, but were open for business anyway. We tried 5 wines each, with Laima predictably leaning towards drier wines, while I opted to try the sweeter. We both agreed that the winery makes some good wines and ended up buying a bottle of their 2008 Gewurztraminer, which only lasted through the evening - "A deep amber gold shade gives way to a burst of roses, pear and lychee. Big boned in structure, but clean and long in the finish." We also tried the 2009 Gentil, a blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, followed by the 2009 Pinot Gris and 2008 Riesling - "With a scant smell of sweetness, honeycomb and lime zest present an unexpected freshness. Minerals, apricot kernel, and acidity on the palate are emblematic to the Lake Michigan Shore. The 2006 and 2007 Melanges were a nice study in contrasts, with the 2007 being deeper in color and fruitier. The winery itself is a pretty barn-type building next to a house, surrounded by rolling farmland and vineyards.

Along the way to our next destination we espied a gorgeous winery atop a hill surrounded by netted grapevines in orderly rows. Truly my idea of the perfect-looking winery. We've since found out it was the Old Shore Vineyards, a place to add to the agenda next trip!

Photo courtesy of the winery

Next up was the Lemon Creek Winery, which turned out to be the only winery that charges for tasting, which was what we had expected. They did allow us to share a tasting, which was great, as it limited the alcohol we had to ingest. With 4 wineries planned that day, we were a bit worried about over-imbibing. The wines we ended up tasting were the '09 Gewurtztraminer ("aromas of spice and rose petals, deep tones of star anise and a delicate passion fruit flavor"), the '09 Riesling ("lush and crisp with succulent flavors reminiscent of melon, mango and grapefruit"), Silver Beach Sauterne ("richly sweet, fruity, lightly golden wine that can be enjoyed chilled or with fruit and dessert"), '07 Cabernet Franc ("Structurally rich, full bodied wine, with smooth tannins, raspberry and spice flavors and a long clean finish"), and the Demi-Sec Spumante ("bright, shining deep golden color and a nose with an intense range of aromas. Full and rich on the palate, with plenty of texture"). I thought the descriptions were right on. Lemon Creek seemed the most commercial and industrial of the wineries as we approached it, perhaps showing its fruit farm origins.

Basically across the road is Domaine Berrien. On tap were the 2010 Viognier ("creamy flavors and aromas of apricot, melon, and peach. This wine will fill your palate with lush complexity and a lingering finish of peach and mango"), the 2010 Steelhead White ("Seyval Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris give this refreshing table wine it’s wonderful citrus flavor"), 2010 Vignoles ("Light yellow color with refreshing tropical flavors"), 2008 Cabernet Franc ("medium body, fruity flavors of black berries, and a smooth, graceful finish"), 2009 Lemberger ("toasty oak aroma, light nutty flavors, and a spicy dry finish"), 2007 Crown of Cabernet ("blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec is rich & fruity with a smooth, dry finish"), 2009 Wolf's Prairie Red ("Deep red color, with smokey aromas and flavors of jammy fruit and truffles. An earthy blend of deChaunac & Chelois grapes"), and the 2010 Grandma's Red ("Made from the same full-flavored, deep red grapes as our Wolf's Prairie Red, but in a sweet style"). Once again, overall a collection of well-made wines - we purchased the Viognier as a gift for relatives watching our 4 kids while we enjoyed our weekend. The winery and tasting room are located within what appear to be several buildings or perhaps a building with an addition. Really neat to be able to overlook the stainless tanks, where a cap was being punched down by the owner/winemaker. Another thing we liked was that they are "Environmentally Verified," which means they use green farming practices- bravo!

An early afternoon lunch had us at Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant, with a final tasting preceding the meal. Once again, we enjoyed most of the wines, tasting a 2010 Traminette ("floral bouquet of citrus, and grapefruit. A lush mid-palate that follows the nose with flavors of peach and apricot, and slightly white pepper"), 2010 Dry Riesling ("elegant floral aromas and a clean crisp finish" -- too dry for me), 2010 Gewurtztraminer ("no sugar was added to achieve the sweetness you find in this wine"), 2009 Kerner ("juicy peach, apricot, ripe pear, melon, with subtle mineral notes"), 2008 Cabernet Franc ("dark cherry, raspberry, spearmint and cigar box aromas which are accented by herbal tones and layers of vanilla"), Spumante ("special blend of our sweetest grapes makes this sparkling very crisp, very clean, and very sweet"), Blanc de Blanc ("just a touch of sweetness our winemakers model this flavor profile after an Italian Prosecco"), and the Cabernet Franc Port ("aromas of blackberry, spice, fig while giving way to flavors of dark cherry, hints of raspberry and chocolate with a tiny touch of oak, leaving a silky lasting finish"). A nice way to start the afternoon and a good intro to a repast in the restaurant.

The Tabor Hill Winery Restaurant overlooks the vineyards and, even on a cloudy and forbidding day, managed to feel bright and welcoming. The hostess made sure to write our name down for a table, directing us to the tasting area to start.

We thought about having more wine, but opted to take a break, and let our taste buds enjoy some food. First up was a Parmesan bread with butter (optional but free), followed by our appetizer, Squash Blossom Poppers (filled With Corn Green Onion Cream Garlic Asiago Cilantro with Peanut Mousse $12) - we both enjoyed those very much, definitely something to try. For lunch Laima opted for the Heirloom Lettuce Wraps of Seasonal Vegetables Mushrooms Boc Choy Garlic and Green Onion with Soy and Peanut Sauces ($15) - she added chicken, with tofu and shrimp other options. The wraps were great, well-seasoned and having multiple layers of flavor, with the crunchy lettuce leaves adding a nice textural counterpoint. I tried a daily special, the chorizo stuffed hamburger, which, unfortunately, did not turn out as exciting as expected. I prefer my hamburger buns toasted, to add some structure and texture to the sandwich, something Tabor Hill had neglected to do, to the meal's detriment.

Overall, we were very pleased with the meal. While not inexpensive, the food can be excellent (as evidenced by the appetizer and wraps) and the service was decent, leaning towards good.

Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Returning to the cottage, still dark, we headed for the New Buffalo Inn and Spa, for a much-needed rest.

To see how we got here, read Day 1.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lake Michigan Wine Shore Trail - Day 1

New Buffalo Beach

It being our anniversary weekend, we hied over to the closest wine country, which happens to be the Lake Michigan Wine Shore area, just an hour or so outside of the Chicago area. It is an interesting area, in that it is somewhat developed (owing to its close proximity to the big city), yet retains much of its agricultural feel. We have access to a small cottage in Union Pier, Michigan, which is a pretty good base if you want to visit the wineries who are members of this American Viticultural Area (AVA).

My job affords me the benefit of occasionally working away from the office, so we were able to head to Michigan on Thursday, with little traffic to impede our progress. Once work was done, we planned the following day's itinerary: 4 wineries, lunch and/or dinner out, and 2 properties as possible winery sites. This is an area that makes some good wine yet is not extravagantly priced, so I have dreams of moving the family and starting a vineyard of our own.

Bentwood Tavern entryway

Plans made, we headed over to the Bentwood Tavern in New Buffalo, MI, for dinner. Not a place we would have thought to visit on our own, it is mentioned as a dining option in the Wine Trail planning guide. From the website: "Harbor Country's only waterfront restaurant, Bentwood Tavern features "artisan comfort cuisine" crafted by local icon, Chef Jenny Drilon. Bentwood's sophisticated spin on pub fare features gourmet pizzas fired in a wood-burning oven, fresh seafood, Amish roasted chicken, steaks and chops. Everything is scratch made from only the highest quality, and whenever possible, locally grown ingredients. Eight craft brews on tap and a well-curated wine list are worthy complements to the fresh, savory menu." I believe this may be out of date, as the team from this restaurant have opened a new restaurant further down the marina, Terrace Room at the Harbor Grand.

We started off with wine (of course), but opted to wait for the next day to sample Michigan wines - Laima had the Joel Gott “815,” Cabernet Sauvignon California ($9.50 glass / $38 bottle), while I had the Segura Viudas, Reserva Brut Cava, Spain ($6 glass / $24 bottle) - both really good.

The appetizer was supposed to be Oven Roasted Mushrooms ($8) Stama Farms local oyster mushrooms with shallots, white wine, garlic, thyme and polenta, but our waitress forgot to place the order, so that was a no go.

For an entree, Laima tried the All Natural Flat Iron Filet ($20) - served sliced with chimichurri sauce, poblano potato gratin and seasonal vegetable (green beans). The meat was pretty good, though the chimichurri sauce was tomato based, which I'd never seen before, while the poblano potato gratin was spicy and also included corn kernels (tasty), and the green beans were great, lightly steamed, crunchy. I opted for the Prosciutto & Fig Pizza ($13) with asiago and garlic spread, interesting combo, also tasty, though the amount of dough overwhelmed the toppings at times.

With the appetizer having been forgotten, our server comped us a dessert and, while we were surprised to see NO chocolate items, we decided to try the Pumpkin Pie with whipped cream - I'm not sure why, but we expected it to be warm, and it wasn't, but still very tasty and spiced more heavily than we would have thought, but the better for it.

Overall, we really enjoyed our meal - the restaurant is located near the downtown, overlooking the marina with a gorgeous view. Not overly fancy, but definitely a step above the area's more typical bar and grills.

Bentwood Tavern on Urbanspoon

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