Aromatic Michigan Pinot Blanc: Summer’s Sublime Wine

Pinot Blanc has been rooting itself in Michigan soils since at least the mid-1990s.

Pinot Blanc has been rooting itself in Michigan soils since at least the mid-1990s. It was in 1999 when wine maestro Bryan Ulbrich of Left Foot Charley was tapped to manage a young acre of Pinot Blanc and, as he says, it was a, “happy accident or fate.”

Ulbrich’s Left Foot Charley Pinot Blanc and Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery’s Pinot Blanc were among the first of this varietal I tasted — and my love affair with the wine’s expressive fruit aromas was ignited. This varietal especially appeals to me when the heat index rises above 70. It’s also one of my go-to, crowd-pleasing, white wines, along with Pinot Grigio and unoaked Chardonnay.

Vintner Paul Hamelin of Verterra Winery grows four acres of Pinot Blanc on Leelanau Peninsula. His plantings were inspired after travel to Germany’s Mosel and Rhine wine regions (where Pinot Blanc is called Weissburgunder) and France’s Alsace region. He became enamored and then was wowed again after tasting Ulbrich’s Pinot Blanc. These tastes inspired Hamelin to research various clones and cultivars for his own vineyards.

Verterra Winery Pinot Blanc was a stand-out white wine for me on a recent foray to Leelanau Peninsula. “Pinot Blanc is well suited to Michigan’s climate with its warm summer days and cool nights,” says Hamelin. The varietal offers, “crisp, clean beautiful finishes with a lot of aromatic characteristics.”

Winemaker Brian Hosmer of Chateau Chantal and new Hawthorne Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City loves the yearly challenges of growing and producing a really good Pinot Noir. In comparison, “Pinot Blanc is a more perfect variety for this region. It comes through for us, year after year. It’s pretty … bright … and aromatic.” Pinot Blanc is a close relative of Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Auxerrois.

Hosmer describes the taste of Pinot Blanc as a “laser beam” compared to the taste of Grigio as a “LED,” and Chardonnay as an “iridescent light bulb.”

Ulbrich also paints a vivid picture: “I often call (Pinot Blanc) the prodigal daughter — she left on sabbatical and returns more cultured, inquisitive, and open to possibility. Her sister Noir is the popular kid/class president type. Sister Gris is the intellectual poet philosopher who is unconcerned with making impressions, but is intriguing in her quiet self confidence.”

Ulbrich is expanding his Pinot Blanc production. Likewise, other vintners are adding acres and embracing this varietal that is well suited to Michigan’s climate.

“Our 2012 Island View Vineyard Pinot Blanc is a hotter vintage. The wine reflects this with lush fruit qualities, lower acidity, and high alcohol,” says Ulbrich.

Hosmer is excited about the microclimate of the Hawthorne Vineyards’ three-acre Pinot Blanc vineyard. It’s on a narrow, warmer site on Old Mission Peninsula. The varietal is growing in a site with pockets of clay, which, he says, adds a bit more texture to the wine. Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Pinot Blanc has a lush, buttery feel to it, as well as the inherent fruit characteristics.

Other vintners featuring the lovely Pinot Blanc wine include Black Star Farms and Chateau Fontaine of Leelanau Peninsula; and Chateau Chantal and Bowers Harbor Vineyards of Old Mission Peninsula.

The O’Keefes of Chateau Grand Traverse of Old Mission Peninsula were among the first to plant Pinot Blanc in 1995. Pinot Blanc is the star of popular Ship of Fools, a blend with Pinot Blanc at 65% of the blend, followed by Pinot Gris at 30% and Pinot Noir at 5%. Winemaker Sean O’Keefe really likes the blend of Pinot “cousins” that is very well received; and even more so in the Chicago, Washington D.C. ,and Minnepolis/St. Paul markets.

For pairing, Ulbrich and Hamelin recommend seared scallops with cream sauce. Left Foot Charley’s 2011 Pinot Blanc’s crisp, aromatic, pear flavors complemented my recent grilled feast of seasoned shrimp and Michigan asparagus.

Patrick Brys suggests pairing Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery’s 2012 Pinot Blanc with a split pea soup with pancetta and rosemary this spring and a cold heirloom tomato gazpacho soup in late summer. Brys shares recipes for these soups online.

Many of the aforementioned Pinot Blancs have garnered impressive state and national awards. Find Michigan Pinot Blanc wines and more Michigan wines at specialty markets, like Plum Market and Hiller’s in the metro Detroit area, and at Ann Arbor’s Produce Station. If you don’t find the wines, ask for them. Wine buyers can often accommodate requests. And, of course, you can always escape to the vineyards.

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