FOOD FINDER: Fresh juice

By Michael Brenton

New wineries add to Michigan, Leelanau’s growing industry

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Michigan’s grape growing, wine making and wine tourism industry remains vibrant and growing. For the Leelanau Peninsula’s newest winery proprietors, Mark and Patti Carlson, of Silver Leaf Vineyard; and David and Margaret Bell, of Circa Winery, transplanting from suburban Chicago was a journey to their roots, literally and figuratively. Although both wineries opened in the last year, the proprietors spent several years preparing to join the wine trail. And each has placed its own unique contribution to the local wine scene.

Mark Carlson has a background in industrial design and executive recruiting, while Patti Carlson’s background is in nursing. When the allure of Leelanau’s rolling hills and verdant views overtook urban security, they were northward bound to an area Mark has visited since childhood. Silver Leaf sits north of Suttons Bay on 30 undulating acres once devoted to asparagus farming and then to horse boarding and riding. The winery building is the old horse barn, extensively renovated to Mark’s designs and with his own hands. The rustic setting, with hummingbirds flitting about nearby, immediately sets the mood for approaching the tasting bar, where either of the Carlsons may be presenting the wines. While planted acreage and wine options will be expanded in the future, the current array of bottled wines includes dry and semidry Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (aged in stainless steel to showcase clean, pure fruit), Pinot Noir Reserve (emphasizing the broader complexity of French oak aging), Chafia Cherry (already a gold medal winner), and Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. For more information visit

The Bells also succumbed to the pull of returning to family roots in the area. They purchased 50 acres of rolling hillside land near the town of Lake Leelanau, and began the process of planting vineyards in 1982. After years of selling high quality fruit to others, their meticulously planned, state-of-the-art winery opened at the beginning of the year. Don’t be fooled by the Old World chateau theme of the structure, it is as “green” as any building you will find in the area. Heating and cooling is predominantly geothermal, designed so the system assists with cooling the stainless steel fermentation and storage tanks, while also extracting heat from fermenting grapes to help heat the tasting room. The underground cellar and barrel room can be viewed through plate glass in the tasting room. Walking into the tasting room is all about old world elegance — slate floor, massive oak tasting bar, plum colored stucco walls, local artwork and even a gleaming grand piano and sitting area. And patrons are encouraged to express themselves by taking complimentary buttons expressing wine terms, or are they self-descriptions? Soft, bold, perky, smooth, sweet, complex, creamy, aged. You can find an adjective right for you.

All that ambience would be wasted without an appealing array of wines. Circa features regional standards, such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, all reflecting intensive vineyard management practices and meticulous winemaking. Proprietary wines include Cherry Bop, Improvisation (a combination of five white grape varieties) and Requisite (made from the Blaufrankisch grape, AKA Lemberger — which is not to be confused with Limburger), which presents with notes of tart raspberry, cherry and leather.

In the pipeline is 2007 Cabernet Franc, which will emerge from 18 months in French oak with dried cherry notes on the palate and a clean finish. Visit Circa on the Web at

To be among the first to sample this year’s “best of the best” among Michigan wines, head to The Kellogg Center on Thursday, Aug. 6, where from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the medal winning wines from this year’s annual Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition will be featured with an extensive array of complementary hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $40. (517) 432- 4000.

In vino veritas.

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