On a mission
|By Michael Brenton|
Touring the wineries of Traverse City's Old Mission Peninsula
Jutting north from Traverse City is Old Mission Peninsula, a
jagged tendril of land separating the west and east arms of Grand Traverse Bay and
home to some of the finest vineyards in Michigan. Its rolling hills and varying
soil types, combined with the moderating influence of Lake Michigan, create a
superb environment for growing fruit which reflects its terroir. Of course,
vintage variation can always be expected, and that is part of the intrigue of
producing great wines. Old Mission Peninsula boasts eight wineries: Black Star
Farms, Peninsula Cellars, Chateau Grand Traverse, Brys Estate Vineyard &
Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Chateau Chantal, Two Lads Winery and Hawthorne
Brys Estate’s vintner Coenraad Stassen is one of the most
decorated winemakers in the state. Born, raised and educated in South Africa, he
brings a varied background to the art of creating wine in the Grand Traverse
Bay region. I asked Stassen to comment on the 2010-‘12 vintages, which
encompass the majority of wines on Michigan retail shelves.
Stassen said an early frost in 2010 caused a crop loss of approximately 20
percent; however, the ensuing warm summer, which continued into the fall,
created the opportunity for deep, concentrated reds and whites with lower
acidity levels. Sometimes crop loss in the spring can create the blessing of
higher quality among the grapes that survive. He also said that 2011 was the
largest crop in history for most Old Mission wineries. The 2011 vintage
generated many clean, lean whites and medium-bodied reds with good aging
2012 was an atypical Michigan vintage; the summer was hot and dry, with below
average rainfall, but the weather cooled in the fall. Virtually all varieties
of grapes achieved full ripeness, in many cases far greater ripeness than
growers had previously experienced. Stassen notes that the wines are amazing
with lower than normal acidity, but bigger fruit on the mid palate. The reds
are still in barrel, but look for rich, full flavored wines upon release. The
white wines have generated such buzz that some of the 2012s are already sold
Each year, Trattoria Stella, an exquisite Traverse City restaurant, hosts a
dinner which serves as the inaugural presentation for many Old Mission wines.
Tasting through these wines certainly supports the buzz about wine
quality. A Bowers Harbor Cuvee
Evan Blanc de Blanc, a white sparkling wine made from white grapes, displayed
rich fruit with a great acid backbone. It was refreshing and clean.
Three 2012 Pinot Blancs were sampled, one from the new Hawthorne Vineyards, one
from Brys Estate and one from Left Foot Charley, a perennial award winner for
its Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc. The three wines had very different
styles. The Hawthorne had a dry presentation with a leaner, crisper mouth feel.
Brys Estate Pinot Blanc displayed a strong floral component to the nose and a sweeter,
more viscous presentation with nice acids but still broad mouth feel. A good
companion to halibut with morels and caramelized onions. Left Foot Charley
Pinot Blanc has a touch of natural residual sugar and is riper and fuller than
past iterations of this wine.
A 2012 Riesling flight included Left Foot Charley Terminal Moraine, Chateau
Grand Traverse Whole Cluster and Chateau Grand Traverse Lot 49. The Terminal
Moraine was dry, crisp, and clean: my style of Riesling. The Whole Cluster
presented with a sweeter profile and a softer mouth feel, while the Lot 49 was
still softer, with more subdued acids. These were good accompaniments to smoked
pork belly with green tomato jam and arugula.
Two 2012 Rosé wines — Black Star
Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir Rosé and Two Lads Rosé of Cabernet Franc — were
paired with tortellini with squid ink pasta shrimp filling, Calabrese sausage
and tomato. The Black Star Rosé was a medium rose color and clean with a hint
of sweetness, strawberry overtones, and a bright clean finish. The Two Lads was
a bit less fruit forward, clean and crisp — an excellent food wine, perhaps
with a peppery overtone.
Two 2011 Pinot Noirs were paired with foie gras. Bowers Harbor Nicholas
Vineyard had great nose, nice mouth feel, broad flavors, good depth of flavor
and a good finish, belying its modest pink color. The Two Lads Beatrice, aged
12 months in French oak, presented with moderate tannin, bright red berry flavors
and a touch of vanilla. Give it a bit more time to fully integrate the oak, then
The 2011 Bordeaux varieties including Black Star Farms Leorie Vineyard Cabernet
Franc, Chateau Chantal Trio Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Pinot Noir, and Brys Estate
Merlot. The excellent Leorie Cab Franc was rich, broad, deep, and concentrated.
The Chateau Chantal Trio has a flavor profile emphasizing red and dark fruits
under an oak backbone. The Brys Merlot presented with a fruity, soft bouquet
emanating from a wine that was concentrated with peppery overtones, modest
tannins and good acids.
For dessert, a 2011 Black Star Farms Tribute Montague Vineyard Riesling, despite its sweetness, tasted surprisingly dry, probably a testament to great acid balance. Find more information about the wines and wineries of Old Mission Peninsula at wineriesofoldmission.com.
In Vino Veritas(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)