The 37th Annual Michigan Wine Competition was held last month at East Lansing’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center. It was the most recent iteration of an event whose genesis was the Michigan State Fair Wine Competition in 1977. Back then, wines from the state’s fledgling wine industry were judged at the Detroit fairground’s coliseum adjacent to pigs and cattle. One wonders whether wines in those competitions were notable for barnyard aromas.
My, how the industry has progressed. Michigan wines now receive acclaim in competitions across the country and internationally. For the second consecutive year, 450 Michigan wines were submitted for judging. The Great Lake State boasts more than 100 commercial wineries, with more in the planning and development stages.
The competition’s 24 judges, all of whom are experienced professionals, are grouped at tables of four. Half of them were from outside Michigan this year. The panel included adjudicators with credentials such as master sommelier, master of wine, wine writer, wine retailer, wine buyer and wine educator.
To qualify, all wines must be designated as a Michigan appellation. They are presented on a blind basis in categories of similar style, such as dry white, dry red, fruit and sparkling. The judges know the style of wine that each setting of wines is intended to represent, but the glasses are identified only by a numbered tag. Newcomers are on equal footing with venerable veteran wineries.
To achieve a gold medal rating, there must be consensus among the judges. Double gold requires a unanimous vote from all judges at the table. A majority vote of all judges is required to select the Best of Class among the gold and double gold wines in each category.
It is interesting to see how individual regions can dominate in any given year, and how that can rotate from year to year. It is also interesting to note that certain wines and certain winemakers seem to make repeat visits to the winner’s circle year after year, despite the anonymity of judging — they must be doing something really right.
So who had the vinous stuff to rise to the top this year? For 2014, wineries based solely on Leelanau Peninsula walked away with the Best of Class hardware in five categories:
Dry White: Blustone Vineyards 2013 Riesling
Semi-Dry White: Gill’s Pier Vineyard and Winery 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling
Rosé: Chateau de Leelanau 2013 Cabernet Franc Rosé
Sparkling: Aurora Cellars 2011 Brut
Fruit: 45 North Vineyard and Winery Peach Cremant Old Mission Peninsula fruit won two of the three Best of Class awards, for dessert and dry red:
Dessert: Black Star Farms 2012 Arcuturos Winter Harvest (Black Star Farms is on both Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas)
Dry Red: Peninsula Cellars 2012 Cabernet Franc
Semi-Dry/Sweet Red: Lawton Ridge Winery 2012 AZO Red (Lake Michigan Shore Appellation)
Attesting to the consistency of certain wines and winemakers, the Gill’s Pier Semi- Dry Riesling made a repeat visit to the Best of Class podium (just a new vintage), as was the Peninsula Cellars Cab Franc, which took best of class honors two consecutive years. And we have become accustomed to seeing winemakers such as Shawn Walters, Lee Lutes and Bryan Ulbrich in the Best of Class winner’s circle year after year.
Aurora Cellars has been open only a few months, in the elegant facility formerly housing Circa Winery east of Lake Leelanau. It burst onto the scene with a best of class wine (made by the experienced and capable Sam Simpson of Good Harbor Vineyards), while Michigan State University-trained winemaker Jay Briggs is just beginning to strut his more than capable stuff at 45 North. Michigan wines continue to impress.
In local news, Haslett’s Burgdorf’s Winery (burgdorfwinery.com) walked away with a gold for its Red Raspberry wine, Silver for 2012 Merlot, 2013 Vidal Ice Wine, Blackberry Wine and Pink Blossom and Bronze for 2012 Faye Cabernet Franc, 2013 Vidal Blanc, 2013 Spartan White, 2013 Pinot Gris and The Blushing Hybrid. Quite a haul for Deb and Dave Burgdorf.
Meanwhile, Chateau Aeronautique Winery (chateauaeronautiquewinery.com), adjacent to a private airstrip near Rives Junction, has flown onto the local winery radar. Owner/winemaker Lorenzo Lizarralde, an international route pilot for Delta Airlines, focuses on French grape varieties and winemaking techniques. Medals received this year were gold for 2011 Syrah and 2012 Riesling, silver for 2011 Aviatrix Crimson and 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine and bronze for 2012 Aviatrix Passion and 2013 Late Harvest Riesling. Impressive showing for one of the newer kids on the mid-Michigan wine scene block.
For a complete list of winners and ideas for harvest season jaunts, check out michiganwines.com. Cheers.
In vino veritas.
(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at email@example.com.)