Michigan wines just keep getting better and better. Need hard evidence? Sales of Michigan wines are up 12 percent, and longtime wineries, such as Chateau Grand Traverse on Old Mission Peninsula, are garnering oodles of accolades at national and international wine competitions. Chateau Grand Traverse, for instance, earned a Best of Class for its 2009 Lot 49 Riesling at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and scored six medals at the 2012 event in early January, as well as numerous other medals last year. And they’re not alone. Dozens of longtime wineries are earning medals at renowned wine competitions and, surprisingly, new wineries are scoring impressive victories, too. (Get the full list here)
Verterra Winery of Leland, which opened in 2011, won big at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The winery’s 2010 Pinot Blanc won double gold, Gewürztraminer won gold, and three white wines (including two Chardonnays) won medals as well. (I’m particularly excited to taste their Pinot Blanc and 2011 dry Gewürztraminer to be released this year.)
Verterra’s wines are crafted by experienced winemaker Shawn Walters, who operates out of French Road Cellars, a custom-crush facility in Lake Leelanau. Verterra co-owner Paul Hamelin says he and his partners, Skip and Lynn Telgard of The Bluebird restaurant in Leland, routinely meet with Shawn to discuss styles of wines. With hundreds of grape clones available and terroir unique to three vineyard sites, wines take on a style of their own. “It’s a terrific team effort,” says Hamelin. “We’re all about crafting high-quality wines.”
Speaking of high-quality Pinot Blancs, I am a big fan of Left Foot Charley’s and am excited to taste Winemaker Bryan Ulbrich’s newest vintage this summer. His 2010 Pinot Blanc won a prestigious “Sweepstakes” award for Best White Wine at the Long Beach Grand Cru Wine Competition last year.
The opportunity to taste Michigan wines is getting easier and easier with 90 wineries open in 2012 and more than 100 tasting rooms located throughout the state. Though not all wineries compete in wine competitions, many do. When you visit a tasting room, inquire about medal winners – that is, if you’re interested in comparing your palate to those of wine judges. Or, simply follow my lead and savor the flavors you enjoy. Before you know it, you’ll need a much bigger wine rack or cellar for the cases of wines you’ve purchased along Michigan’s wine trails.