Aug. 3 2011 12:00 AM

Leland Festival provides a tasty picture of our area wine makers’ latest creations


Cool weather and occasional drizzle couldn’t dampen the
spirits of the thousands who came out to the 2011 Leland Wine and Food
Festival to sample northwest Michigan cuisine and new releases from
Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas.

The highly vaunted 2010 vintage continued to strut its
stuff, but good juice from various vintages was well represented by 16
northwest Michigan wineries, with proprietors or wine makers at most of
the tables.  

Mark Carlson of Suttons Bay’s Silver Leaf
Vineyard poured his 2009 reserve Chardonnay, aged 18 months in French
oak. Fans of full malolactic, barrel-aged Chardonnay will enjoy the
buttery, vanilla-tinged flavors, broad palate and creamy mouth feel.
Silver Leaf 2010 Pinot Gris, blended with a touch of Chardonnay to round
out the profile, had nice acidity and sharply focused flavors.

Michigan’s newest winery, Verterra
(“truth in land”), which just opened a tasting room on River Street
across from the Bluebird restaurant in Leland, made its first appearance
at the festival. This extremely promising upstart is releasing new
wines over the course of the summer.

A 2010 unwooded Chardonnay displayed soft
mouth-feel, and tropical fruit with lemon and green apple layers.
Verterra is one of the few wineries in the area producing Pinot Blanc,
which is finished with just a hint of residual sugar and aged in
stainless steel to retain a clean, fruit presentation.

Verterra 2010 Pinot Gris, a variety which
typically does extremely well in northwest Michigan, is a refreshing
wine with citrus nose, viscous mouth-feel, very sweet fruit and a kiss
of residual sugar. Verterra 2010 Riesling should be a slam dunk, and it
is. The broad, soft flavors promise to make it a crowdpleaser.

Another Pinot Blanc entry was provided by
Peninsula Cellars, with its 2008 version showing big fruit in the nose,
good structure, a citrus component and bone-dry finish. Look for the
2010 to demonstrate a broader, sweeter profile.

That profile was demonstrated by Willow
Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris reserve, displaying a very viscous mouth-feel
with a tingle of acids, balanced by 1.5 percent residual sugar. It’s a
style of wine that will be a good accompaniment to spicy and Asian
foods, perhaps as an alternative to Riesling or Gewurztraminer.

Chateau de Leelanau  is
an established winery making strong strides toward higher quality under
new ownership. Second-generation local fruit growers who know the land
are passionate about grape growing and wine making. Their flagship wine
is “Bianca,” a Sauvignon Blanc relative, according to the proprietor.  The
2009 version showed bracing acidity, clean fruit and grapefruit
overtones, but not the dominant grapefruit characteristic of a New
Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. 

The 2010 iteration of Bianca has tropical
fruit in the nose, broader fruit on the palate typical of the riper
2010 vintage, and just enough residual sugar to soften the acidity:  Think
Sweetarts with a sugar edge. Other wines from Chateau de Leelanau
included Tenascent, a Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay mixture with broad appeal,
and 2009 Regant, a dark ruby red wine aged in French oak with the
structure of a Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Blackstar Farms’ 2010 Sur Lie Chardonnay again showed why its unwooded Chardonnay  is a perennial favorite.  Aged
on the lees (i.e., with its own sediment and spent yeast cells), this
wine has the crisp, bright fruit of an unwooded Chardonnay, yet some of
the complexity of a wooded Chardonnay. Excellent.

Bel Lago “Red,” a blend of 2008, 2009 and 2010 juice
consisting of about one-half Cabernet Franc and several other varieties,
is a smooth drinking and affordable red. Also from Bel Lago; the rare
2008 Auxerrois, showing great  balance, a French-like minerality and a sweet lingering finish, despite its dry wine credentials.

45 North also presented its “Red.” This combination of
Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Regent is fruit
forward with huge cherry fruit and very quaffable. 

Of course, no Michigan wine festival is
complete without cherry wine and, once again, Bel Lago rose to the top. A
combination of Balaton and Montmorency cherries, this is liquefied
cherries in a glass. The Balaton tart cherry was introduced in the U.S.
by Michigan State University Professor Amy Iezzoni, one of the world’s
foremost cherry experts and the wife of Bel Lago winemaker Charlie

Space constraints limit discussion of dozens of other
wines poured at the festival. The solution, of course, is for readers to
sample them in person when the wine festival returns June 9, 2012.

For more immediate wine-consuming pleasure, consider
attending the Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition Gold Medal Wine
Reception at Kellogg Center at 5 p.m. Thursday.  Tickets
can be purchased online at This is the premier
annual event at which all the medal-winning wines in the annual
statewide wine competition can be sampled.

And to top off the opportunity to sample a wide array of
Michigan wines in an extremely fun atmosphere, head north for the
Traverse City Wine and Art Festival being held from 3 to 10 p.m. Aug.
20, at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. 

Now in its third year, this event has quickly become one of Michigan’s landmark wine events. 

Featuring 25 northwest Michigan wineries, an array of fine
food vendors, art booths and three musical acts, including Lansing’s
own Steppin’ In It, this event truly combines the best of wine and food
festivals, art festivals, and music festivals.  Visit for more details.

The summer is flying by, but vinous opportunities abound.  

In Vino Veritas

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His
column appears monthly.)