Oct. 7 2011 12:00 AM

Michigan's newest vineyard is creating bewitching (and prize-winning) wines

As fall colors explode in full splendor, and freshly
picked grapes begin their metamorphosis into fine wine, what better
time to enjoy a weekend excursion to one of Michigan’s fine wine
trails? And there is no better time for an introduction to Michigan’s
newest winery and tasting room, Verterra Winery.

The village of Leland, bordering Lake Michigan on the
western shore of the Leelanau Peninsula, has long been a destination
for wine country venturers, sailors, fishermen and enthusiasts of the
M-22 circuit along Lake Michigan. Leland is surrounded by nearby
wineries and tasting rooms, but it has always lacked its own.  Not
anymore: Verterra (loosely a contraction of Latin words for truth and
earth) is tucked away in an historic building that is vintage on the
outside and oh-so-clean and modern on the inside.

Before arriving at the tasting room as finished wine, the
grapes are grown in several meticulously tended vineyards, after which
veteran wine maker Shawn Walters is responsible for completing the
transformation from grape to wine. During the last several years,
Walters has made wines that have achieved best of class, double gold
and gold medal status in both the Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition
and other national competitions.

True to that history, straight out of the blocks,
Verterra received medals for seven different wines at the 2011 Michigan
Wine and Spirits Competition, and received a gold medal for its Pinot
Blanc and a silver medal for its Gewrztraminer at the Denver
International Wine Competition. Winning wine entries at the Michigan
competition included gold medals for 2010 Reserve Red and 2010 Unwooded
Chardonnay, silver medals for 2010 Gewrztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot
Gris and Riesling and a bronze for the 2010 Pinot Noir.

It seems Verterra has announced its arrival with a roar. 

My notes concerning several of these wines justified the
accolades. All wines are from the outstanding 2010 vintage. The Pinot
Blanc was very clean and refreshing, with hints of pear and a lingering
soft mouth feel touched with a bit of mineral. Unwooded Chardonnay was
crisp, with overtones of apple and citrus, and excellent balance.

The Reserve Chardonnay from the same grapes, but with
different vinification techniques, went through full malolactic
fermentation and was aged in double-size new French oak barrels. This
wine was still tight, closed and muted. It needs more time, but shows
great promise. 

The Pinot Gris displayed pineapple, melon, a citrus nose
and broad, viscous mouth feel. Sweet fruit was balanced by acid.
Verterra Riesling has a sweeter edge with broad soft flavors, but not
the bracing acidity sometimes characteristic of Riesling. The aromatics
should evolve with a bit more time in the bottle.  

Gewrztraminer is a lower acid wine.  Finished with modest residual sugars, this style of wine is a good companion for Thai foods.

On the red side of the equation, Verterra Pinot Noir is
aged in 100 percent French oak. Created from four separate clones of
Pinot Noir, this wine is light ruby red, light in texture and quite
quaffable, with pleasing red fruit flavors.

The Reserve Red steps up the intensity a bit. A blend of
Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah, aged in 100 percent new American and
French oak, this juice has a significantly deeper and richer flavor
profile. It should age well in a cool cellar, but it is drinking just
fine now.

 Although not
tasted, Verterra is making the obligatory Northern Michigan cherry wine
and will be releasing a cherry dessert wine.  In addition, look for a hard cider on the tasting room shelf, which Verterra is marketing under the Chaos label.

So after expending the effort to drive to Leland and visit Verterra, what next?  Fortunately,
Leland caters to a wide variety of tastes and interests, all within a
few minutes stroll. One might start the day with a tasty breakfast at
the Early Bird.  Fishtown, a
preserved historic fishing village, is nestled next to the recently
renovated marina. Visitors there can find hats, artwork, shoes,
clothing, cheese curds, sandwiches, local wines, fresh smoked jerky and
fish — and even catch a ferry ride to the Manitou Islands.

Or wander around town, visiting Two Fish Gallery and Main
Street Gallery, shop at Haystacks or Molly’s, or find artwork, jewelry
and other collectibles at Tampico. 

In the mood for exercise? Check out Geo Bike for bike
rental/repair and in-season cross-country ski rental. After working up
a hunger, partake of fine cuisine and wine at The Cove, Riverside Inn
or Bluebird (don’t miss the unique cinnamon buns with dinner). Bluebird
proprietor Skip Telgard also co-owns the vineyards that form the
backbone of Verterra wines and he is justifiably proud of the fine wine
being made from his grapes.

For more information about Verterra Winery and the village of Leland, check out www.verterrawinery.com and www.LelandMi.com. 

In vino veritas