Michigan has always had a place in my life. My mother was born in Detroit, and many of my relatives live in different parts of Michigan; therefore, my life has been filled with stories of Michigan family adventures. I was a teenager when I visited relatives and went out to their lake house. Today as a wine writer, one of my bucket list trips has been discovering the Michigan Wine Trails and their AVAs. My first indoctrination into Michigan wine occurred with a webinar I co-hosted for IFWTWA, International Food Wine Travel Association. One would never know that Michigan ranks in the top ten wine-producing regions in the United States.
This webinar enabled me to learn about what I want to experience in the Michigan wine scene. It enabled me to discover where to begin my wine journey. I had heard that Traverse City is an ideal place to start this journey because of Its close proximity to several wine trails. Traverse City lays closest to the oldest wine trail, Leelanau Peninsula, home to 27 wineries and established in 1983. Michigan is divided into five appellations, including Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and Tip of the Mitt AVA. Within all Michigan’s AVAs, the state features 160 wineries.
You would think being located so far north in a colder climate, hybrids would be more prevalent, but 70% of the grapes grown are vinifera with the most largely planted variety, Riesling. The environment lends itself to cool-climate varieties similar to Alsace. Other varieties include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris in the whites. Red varieties consist of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot in reds.
What makes Michigan wine unique is the lake effect coming off Lake Michigan. The warmth from the lake keeps the roots of the vines warm. This phenomenon is similar to some regions in Italy, Austria, and New York. The lake’s winds delay bud break until later in the spring when the frost disappears. The winds also create diurnal swings during the hot summer.
Michigan Wine Collaborative
Our webinar featured the Michigan Wine Collaborative. In addition, it featured two wineries, St Julian, the oldest winery in Michigan, established in 1921, and Rove Estate, one of the younger boutique wineries going back to 2016.
The Michigan Wine Collaborative mission is to “To enhance the sustainability and profitability of the Michigan wine industry by supporting wineries, growers and other businesses and individuals connected to the industry – today and for future generations.”
St Julian Wine Co.
St Julian Wine Co., a family-run winery, now in its fourth generation, established its roots in 1921. Italian immigrant Mariano Meconi founded The Meconi Wine Company in Ontario, Canada. In 1936 the winery moved to Paw Paw, Michigan, and changed its name to St Julian. Next year will be the winery’s 100th anniversary. Today, the 3rd and 4th generations of the Braganini family continue operating the longest-running and largest winery in Michigan. Not only do they produce wine, but they also create spirits and hard ciders.
St Julian has their estate vineyard and also sources grapes from local growers. The Braganini Family purchased the Mountain Road Estate Vineyard in 2007. Ideally located 5 miles from the lake in the Lake Michigan Shore Appellation, this 30-acre vineyard grows all the grapes for the Braganini Reserve Estate wines.
BR Mountain Road Riesling: This Riesling shows the depth of quality from St Julian. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle nuances of this Riesling. It was not an overbearing Riesling but rather an enjoyable one that paired nicely with a fish dinner. The wine exhibited soft flavors of peach, apple accented with hints of citrus.
Located in the Leelanau Peninsula AVA, the land has been in the Gallagher family for five generations and has been part of the Traverse City history. Forced to flee their homeland, Irish immigrants came to the area. Many established wineries, so they were called Winegeese. Paying homage to their Irish background, the Winegeese, and their family heritage of farming, Creighton and McKenzie Gallagher established Rove Estate. In 2010 the Gallagher’s had an opportunity to purchase a portion of the family farm, including a 15-acre plot with Cherry trees. The cherry industry at that time was in a recession, so out went the trees and in went the grapes, nine varieties. This small winery now produces artisan wines.
Although I could not get a sample of the Rove Estate Pinot Noir, because the winery cannot ship to California, I heard positive reviews of the Pinot Noir from other IFWTWA members who live outside of California.
Hopefully, one day, I will explore the Michigan Wine Trails in person, but for now, I will make do with experiencing the area virtually.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted wine sample. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.
Feature photo courtesy of Michigan Wine Collaborative.