October is the close of the wine season in Michigan — a time of year when the state’s 120-plus wineries begin to prepare their vines for the deep winter sleep ahead.
But their work is just beginning. This is also when the wineries take the 2016 vintage inside — putting the harvest through its paces to slowly turn juice from the grapes into rich, drinkable table wine, both dry and sweet.
By this time, most of the crop has been harvested and pressed. Grapes still on the vines are designated to become sweeter dessert wines in the months ahead, increasing in sweetness the longer they hang there. That includes those that will be kept on the vines into the January freeze. Those become our famous ice wines.
Meanwhile, the dry wines — chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and others — are already crushed, tanked, and bubbling through their fermentations, settling in to be guided and prodded gently by the winemakers into stylish big, bright wines.
While reds and whites go through early fermentation, the conversion of sweetness into alcohol takes place. In another month or two, winemakers will be stirring the massive vats of wine, and pouring off the pure wine, separating it from the “must” — the sludge and dregs of the crush — and letting it settle further, to ready it for bottling next spring.
The vast preponderance of those grapes are riesling, which has long made Michigan’s most dynamic wines. But while most people think of the state as white wine country, and sweet whites at that, that’s very much yesterday’s news.
Particularly, I recommend the reds, especially pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. These wines have been getting worldwide recognition, oddly and nearly exclusively outside of Michigan. You’ll be very surprised.
Tasting the Results
With coat and glove weather now underway, consider spending an afternoon, or even a day or two, traveling Michigan’s colorful and scenic wine trails.
The most famous trails are on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. But not all trails are four hours north of Detroit. Two other major trails are within striking distance of the city and suburbs.
The Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail is the closest. It runs in almost a straight line from Flying Otter Winery in Adrian in the south to Burgdorf’s in Haslett, near Lansing.
That route also takes in Pentamere, Cherry Creek, J. Trees, Sleeping Bear, Chateau Aeronautique, and Sandhill Crane wineries.
Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail has a number of wineries in the federal-designated AVA (American Viticultural Area). They extend along the shoreline from the Indiana border, up to Holland, and east to Kalamazoo, with a stop in Marshall.
Its wineries include Tabor Hill, Fenn Valley, Warner, Lawton Ridge, Cody Kresta, Karma Vista, Contessa, 12 Corners, White Pine, Gravity, Lemon Creek, Domaine Berrien, Free Run Cellars, Round Barn, and Hickory Creek.
These trips are fun and fulfilling, with marvelous fall scenery along the way. Enjoy.