Best of the best

By Michael Brenton

Sampling the top drawer at the Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition

Michigan vineyards continue to expand, Michigan wineries continue to multiply and Michigan wines continue to reach new qualitative heights. With every new vintage, it gets harder to be the best of the best.

Each year, Michigan wineries submit selected wines for judging at the annual Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition, held this year at MSU’s Kellogg Center Aug. 8. Expert tasters from around the state and across the country, picked by the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council, spent two days evaluating samples.

The judges included wine purchasers, wine makers, wine writers, winery proprietors, master sommeliers, masters of wine, wine educators, and others.

The panel was seriously highend.

So were many of the wines.

Some happy statistics wafted a background buzz across this year’s wine competition. Michigan’s wine grape acreage has more than doubled from 1,300 acres to 2,650 in the last 10 years, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture. Acreage devoted to Riesling, considered by many to be Michigan’s signature grape, has

nearly tripled, as has acreage devoted to Cabernet Franc and Pinot Gris. More than 40 grape varieties have at least two acres plantezd in Michigan, with even more varieties on smaller experimental plots. In 2011, Michigan ranked fourth in total grape production in the United Stated and fifth in wine grape production. (A substantial percentage of Michigan grape production is devoted to juice.) The number of commercial wineries in the state is up to 101, producing more than 1.3 million gallons of wine, from 32 wineries producing 400,000 gallons of wine in 2002.

These increases in production follow demand, and demand follows the ever improving and expanding quality of Michigan grapes and wine.

This year, 450 wines from 55 wineries were divided by “class,” e.g., dry red, dry white, semi-dry white, etc. The entrants were pared down to a manageable number of medal winners: six double gold, 36 gold, 42 silver, and 112 bronze.

Many perennial medal-winning wineries were in the gold, such as Bel Lago, Brys Estate, Chateau Fontaine, Chateau Grand Traverse, St. Julian, Black Star Farms, Fenn Valley, Gill’s Pier, Chateau Chantal, Karma Vista, Lawton Ridge, Left Foot Charley, L Mawby, Bowers Harbor Vineyard, Good Harbor Vineyards, and Peninsula Cellars. That was to be expected.

But newer wineries also made the grade, including Northern Natural Winery, Blustone Vineyards, Mackinaw Trail Winery, Boathouse Vineyards, big LITTLE, Hawthorne Vineyards, and White Pine Winery. Most of the wines were from the 2011 and 2012 vintages, both excellent yet very distinguishable from each other, 2012 being a much hotter, riper year. All of these wines are available direct from the wineries, and specialty retail shops should be able to secure any of them.

Great wine is being made all over the state, and medal winners represented all wine growing regions, but it appears that this year the judges were most impressed with juice from the Grand Traverse Bay region. The best of class winners include two Leelanau Peninsula wineries, two Old Mission Peninsula wineries, one winery producing wines on both peninsulas, and one winery from the southwest Michigan Lake Michigan shore.

And the 2013 Best of Class winners are…

Dry White: Chateau Fontaine 2012 Pinot Blanc Dry Red: Peninsula Cellars 2011 Cabernet Franc Semi-Dry White: Boathouse Vineyards 2012 Knot Too Sweet Riesling Semi-Dry Red: Karma Vista Vineyards 2012 Devil’s Head Red Sparkling Wine: Black Star Farms 2012 Be Dazzled Dessert Wine: Brys Estate 2011 “Dry Ice” Riesling ice wine All medal winners were available for sampling, with food pairings, at the annual Gold Medal Wine Reception. Next year’s reception will be held at Kellogg Center on Aug. 7. Mark your calendar. For wine lovers, this event is not to be missed.

Harvest season is just around the corner, and it’s a great time for color touring and wine tasting. Many wineries host special events this time of year, so be sure to check them out.

In Vino Veritas (Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintner’s Club. His column appears monthly. You can email him at

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about Michigan wines and the 2013 medal winners, check out