Ours and Theirs: Lake Michigan Shore

Southwestern Michigan winemakers, winery owners weigh in on ‘must-try’ wines

Asking winemakers to name their favorites from among their own repertoires is like pulling teeth. Most hem and haw, insist it varies day to day, or decline to answer at all.

Many compare it to choosing between children. Asking what they would deem the current “must-try” wine among their lineups — a simple tweak of phrasing — often elicits better results.

But over time, I’ve found that adding a slight twist to the question yields even more interesting responses. Besides identifying a label from their portfolios that stands out, which wines do they consider praiseworthy among the offerings of neighboring winemakers? In an occasional feature, “Ours and Theirs,” we’ll take a look at winemakers and winery owners’ responses to those two questions.

Today’s answers come from the Lake Michigan Shore region, in the southwestern part of the state. The organized wine trail in the area, Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, encompasses 15 wineries. Several other non-member wineries are scattered along or just outside of the formal trail area.

Dave Miller, owner/winemaker, White Pine Winery, St. Joseph
Ours: “I would pick our Reserve Riesling as the wine to try at our place. Michigan rieslings are world-class and those from the Southwest are really coming into their own. We have the best, aromatic riesling clones in our vineyard and are using the latest viticulture techniques to ensure perfectly ripened fruit every year. We use the German technique of stopping the fermentation to retain a small amount of sweetness in the finished wine to perfectly balance the acidity. The result is our best-selling wine.”

Theirs: “My favorite wine at another area winery is Karma Vista’s Syrah. Fine wine starts in the vineyard and they are doing a great job growing the grapes. Then they are paying attention to details in the cellar to produce a fantastic example of syrah wine.”

Dean Bender, co-owner/winemaker, Lawton Ridge Winery, Kalamazoo
Ours: “My pick from our offerings at Lawton Ridge is our 2013 AZO White. This is a semi-dry wine that has a slightly floral nose and a taste that begins with hints of honeydew melon and ends with a crisp citrus finish. People who say they only like dry wines like this wine.”

Theirs: “My pick for wine from another winery is the St. Julian Sauvignon Blanc, Braganini Reserve 2013. Sauvignon blanc is one of my favorite grapes, and this wine shows that we can grow it and make it in Michigan. Crisp from start to finish, grassy, herbaceous and a bit of ‘tomcat’ in the aroma and a nice tartness on the finish. Good for food.”

Joe Herman, owner/winemaker, Karma Vista Winery, Coloma
Ours: “We are extremely proud of our Reserve Syrah, which won a gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle wine competition in January of this year. It was the only medal winner (gold, silver, or bronze) in its category that wasn’t from the West Coast. How cool is that? This corner of the state is where the big reds are able to thrive like nowhere else in the Midwest.”

Theirs: “I am also a huge fan of Lemon Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Another heavy hitter from the Lake Michigan Shore wine appellation. Different latitude, different attitude!”

Wally Maurer, owner/winemaker, Domaine Berrien Cellars, Berrien Springs
Ours: “Currently, my ‘must-try’ wine is our 2012 Lemberger. I think the 2012 vintage is the finest lemberger that I have made to date, and I am very excited about it. Known as the pinot noir of Eastern Europe, this lemberger benefits from 10 or 15 minutes of breathing prior to serving.”

Theirs: “When I am not drinking my own wines, my favorite wine is a Lemon Creek Cabernet Franc. Love, love, love this grape. And Lake Michigan Shore grows it well.”

Matthew Moersch, winemaker and distiller for Round Barn Winery in Baroda
Ours: “Black Walnut Creme, because no one in the world makes a black walnut creme wine. It is extremely versatile and delicious.”

Theirs: “Tabor Hill’s Grand Mark. It is a great expression of a classic champagne.”

Jayne Wagner, co-owner, Hickory Creek Winery, Buchanan
Ours: “I would recommend trying our grüner veltliner, as we are presently the only winery in our (American Viticultural Area) making it! It’s also unfiltered, making it fuller-bodied, as grüner veltliner can be on the lean side. Some Chicago restaurants have ours on their menu, and it seems to be one of the ‘it’ varietals among sommeliers and restaurateurs, as it pairs well with many foods.”

Theirs: “I adore any of Karma Vista Winery’s reds — especially their syrah and merlot. Joe Herman (he and his wife, Sue, are the owners) is a phenomenal viticulturist, and I can’t help but call him Merlot Joe!”

Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, a joint offsite tasting room in partnership with several Michigan wineries, with a location in Shelby Township and another on the way in Royal Oak. Contact her at cort@michiganbythebottle.com.