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Five Michigan Pinots of the Pale Persuasion

George Heritier and Rhonda Riebow, sales director at Chateau Grand Traverse - Click to enlarge

Riesling may be king on Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula, but the more wines that we taste from that neck of the woods, the more inescapable becomes the conclusion that some really good white Pinot varieties are being produced there as well. This was brought home to me again on three different occasions recently, including the Michigan Food and Wine Showcase, a visit to Left Foot Charley in Traverse City and the latest MichiganByTheBottle Tweet & Taste Michigan. I had thought at first to focus only on the three Pinot Grigios noted in this report, but, happily, a couple of other little numbers showed up and I thought, “Why not?”

While attending the aforementioned Michigan Food and Wine Showcase, I happened upon my friend Rhonda Riebow, sales director at Chateau Grand Traverse, who poured me a taste of the latest releases of both their Pinot Grigio and Ship of Fools White Table Wine. I was mucho impressed with both, but wasn’t taking notes that day, which is unfortunate, because the PG would have been perfect for inclusion in this report, and I haven’t run into any since. I DID get to retaste Ship of Fools as part of the June Tweet & Taste, a wine which Vice President of Trade Relations and Specialty Winemaker Sean O’Keefe refers to as “my reverse engineered Sauv Blanc.” This wine is always welcome at Gang Central, as we’ve enjoyed several vintages previously; the last one we reviewed, the 2006, was a blend of Pinots Blanc and Gris, along with Chardonnay. The Chardonnay has been replaced by Pinot Noir in the current model, and it’s very tasty indeed.

2008 Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Peninsula Ship of Fools, 55% Pinot Blanc, 35% Pinot Gris, 10% Pinot Noir, 13% alc., $13.99: Clean medium straw color, with a slight tinge of peach; under-ripe apple shaded with some minerality and a hint of beeswax on the nose. Slightly pungent tart green and yellow apple with a pleasing streak of lime-like citrus, and again, a bit of mineral and beeswax. Medium-to-medium-full body, with good acids and nice intensity. Tart and moderately ripe at the same time. As usual, this hits all the right notes for me. Find this wine (click label to enlarge)

“My reverse engineered Sauv Blanc!” – Sean O’Keefe

During the June Tweet & Taste, Sean O’Keefe remarked, “(Pinot) grigios and blancs were the only varieties that had normal chemistry in 2009,” referring to the fact that a lot of grapes in the Traverse Bay region just never ripened. Here are impressions of four of them, three of which are quite delightful.

Chris Baldyga and Cornel Olivier are doing some terrific things in the relatively few short years since they opened their 10,500 square foot 2 Lads facility located on 58 acres on the Old Mission Peninsula. They are turning out wines that are as good as, and sometimes better than, some of their neighbors who’ve been established for considerably longer, and the following wine is an excellent example of the high quality wines that they’re producing.

2009 2 Lads Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 13% alc., $17: Clean medium color, with very good intensity and varietal character; lime and grapefruit dominate the tart green apple flavors and aromas, with the lime setting the tone. Despite its tart, citric nature, this is fairly ripe, especially considering the very cool vintage; medium bodied, with excellent acids and good length, this is certainly one that can be pointed to in order to demonstrate that Michigan can and is producing excellent wines these days. Right up there with the fine Pinot Grigio being produced by the likes of Chateau Grand Traverse and Left Foot Charley. Find this wine (click label to enlarge)

Not all of the five wines in this report excited me. This next one is just OK, and is included here as a reference point. Opened as a bed-and-breakfast, winery and vineyard estate in 1993, Chateau Chantal strikes me as being something of an underachiever, considering how long they’ve been around. I’d happily be proven wrong, but this isn’t the one to do it.

2009 Chateau Chantal Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Grigio, 11.6% alc., $13.99: Clean pale color, with straightforward grapefruit and green apple flavors and aromas that Kim describes as a bit bitter; medium bodied, with good acids, but lacking the depth and character of the 2 Lads, and falls off sharply at the end. Certainly drinkable, even enjoyable chilled on a hot summer’s eve, but not particularly compelling. Find this wine (click label to enlarge)

I thought this next selection would be a good one to bounce off the previous two, as we’ve never had a wine made by Left Foot Charley’s Bryan Ulbrich that we didn’t like, and frankly, it acquitted itself admirably.

2009 Left Foot Charley Michigan Pinot Grigio, 12% alc., $15.00: Made from fruit sourced on Old Mission Peninsula and Antirim County (50% Tale Feathers Vineyard, Old Mission Peninsula, 16% MacDonald Vineyard Old Mission Peninsula, and 34% Torch View Vineyards, Antrim County), the latter which Bryan says is every bit as good as those on OMP. Clean pale-to-medium color, with nice grapefruit and green apple flavors and aromas, shaded with an herbaceous note that adds interest and appeal. Medium bodied, with good depth and acids and a reasonably long finish. Not quite as ripe or intense as the 2 Lads. but shows more character and charm than the Chantal. About this, Kim remarks, “It’s just so easy to drink,” and she has a good point there. Nice stuff, this. Find this wine (click label to enlarge)

Finally, we picked this one up during a recent visit to the LFC facility in “The Village” in Traverse City, and enjoyed it so much went back for more. We’ve enjoyed each vintage of this that Bryan has produced, going back to the ’06, and took great delight in meeting Werner Kuehnis, owner of Island View Vineyard, last November. There’s something special about this little vineyard, because it just keeps turning out wines that I’ve come to love, and the ’09 continues the string of successes beautifully.

2009 Left Foot Charley Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Blanc Island View Vineyard, 12% alc., $20: Clean pale-to-medium color, with peach, green apple and grapefruit-lemon flavors and aromas; subtly floral on the nose and rich and tart at the same time in the mouth. Medium bodied and more, with racy acidity and nice length, this is a killer glass of wine to sip while sitting on a beautiful boat in the Sutton’s Bay Marina after a day of sailing, and it’s a great match with seafood as well. It’ll age for at least a few years, and continues to open and improve with air as long as there’s some left in the glass right now. Find this wine (click label to enlarge)

Accuse me of being a homer for Michigan wines if you like, but for the longest time, I wasn’t. It’s only in the last decade that the state has really started to show its true potential for producing excellent wines, and four of the five here are prime examples. As long as Mother Nature keeps giving us even halfway decent summers, Michigan wines will continue to improve as the culture, vineyards and winemakers mature, and I, for one, couldn’t be more geeked.

Related posts:

  1. A Tale of Two Michigan India Pale Ales
  2. Blog Watch: Tweet & Taste Michigan with Michigan By The Bottle
  3. Six 1999 Rochioli Pinots
  4. The Michigan Wine & Food Showcase

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