Bright sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70s were a fitting backdrop for the Michigan Wines Showcase in Detroit on May 23, as many winemakers celebrated what is shaping up to be a promising growing season.
“I have buds on my vines this year,” Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery co-owner and winemaker Charlie Edson announced with a grin.
It may seem like a small triumph for a layperson, but it feels huge to the winemakers who endured back-to-back brutal winters and late-season storms that decimated many vineyards — at least temporarily — and dramatically lowered production.
“We are all very optimistic about this growing season,” says Karel Bush, executive director for the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council, which partners with master sommeliers Claudia Tyagi and Madeline Triffon to organize the showcase. “What I’m hearing is that they’re pretty confident the threat of a damaging hard frost has passed and they’re seeing evidence of normal growth on vines that were in question. Some have even speculated that this should be an outstanding season because the vines have been allowed to ‘rest’ for two years.”
Recipe for Success
Traditionally held in April to coincide with Michigan Wine Month, this year’s Michigan Wines Showcase was shifted to May due to a scheduling conflict. The nearly two dozen wineries that convened at The Rattlesnake Club in downtown Detroit represented many familiar faces that have been in attendance for years, plus a few newer ones, including Mari Vineyards, the latest addition on Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula, and Nathaniel Rose, the eponymous private line created by the young winemaker from Brengman Brothers and Three Fires Wine.
As usual, the festivities featured an afternoon trade portion that allowed distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, wine writers, and other industry professionals a chance to taste through the offerings and chat with the winemakers. In the evening, the event turned into a ticketed public party for 300 that had sold out weeks prior. So if rubbing elbows with winemakers and trying dozens of wines from throughout the state under one roof sounds appealing, best to keep this event on your radar and purchase tickets early next year.
Bush was particularly pleased with the number of new visitors this year.
“More than half the guests had never been to the showcase, so we’re pretty excited that the word has spread about the quality of this event,” she says. “It certainly helps that the Rattlesnake Club is recognized for throwing a grand party. Add to that the increase in interest and excitement about the wines being made in Michigan, and you’ve got a recipe for success.”
If you missed the Detroit event and you’re up for a road trip, there will be an encore in Chicago on Aug. 29 at The Gage. It marks the Chicago version’s third year of offering an opportunity for that region’s restaurateurs and retailers to get more acquainted with the wines that are being made just across the border.
The delicious reds, whites, rosés, bubblies, and hard ciders represented at this year’s showcase were too numerous to call out individually. Here are just a few of the day’s standouts:
• Mari Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Franc: Rich, dark chocolate cherry through and through. The only single varietal wine currently offered by Mari, which just opened its tasting room on the Old Mission Peninsula, though its wines have been available at some retailers and restaurants for the past few years. While Mari is using a “nellasera” (hoop house) growing system for some of its varietals, winemaker Sean O’Keefe says all of the grapes for this wine were grown traditionally. Aged in French oak for 12 months.
• L. Mawby Grace: A traditional method brut rosé sparkling wine made entirely from Pinot Noir. Extremely fruit-forward and fresh, with a hint of the yeastiness often imparted by the traditional method (in which the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles takes place in the bottle) on the back end. Ripe strawberry flavors with a hint of pomegranate.
• Wyncroft 2011 Chardonnay (Avonlea Vineyard): This big white spent one year on the lees, and it comes through on the palate. Layer upon layer of flavor, including rich caramel, butterscotch, and creme brûlée, accompanied by a full mouthfeel.
• Black Star Farms 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling: Light, crisp, and dominated by green apple flavors, shot through with river rock-like minerality.
• Chateau Chantal 2012 Double Barrel Reserve Cabernet Franc (Krupka Vineyard): Winemaker Brian Hosmer says this limited edition wine (only 23 cases produced) came about after a tasting with Cherry Creek Winery owner John Burtka, who encouraged Hosmer to blend two of his very best barrels from 2012. Aged in 100 percent new oak, this wine has notes of mocha, caramel, and blackberry.
• Hawthorne Vineyards 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir: Flavors of dark chocolate-covered raspberries and cherries, accented by distinct spice and a hint of earthiness.
• Nathaniel Rose 2013 Pinot Noir: Distinct raspberry flavors with notes of coffee and smokiness. A blend of Swiss and Dijon pinot noir clones, harvested from two different vineyards.
• Chateau Fontaine 2014 Chardonnay: This fresh and fruity unoaked chard was chock full of tropical fruit and pear flavors, with just a hint of residual sugar.
• Good Harbor 2015 Rosé: This medium-sweet rosé created from the hybrid grape Marechal Foch is a charming easy drinker, bursting with ripe strawberry and cherry flavors and perfect for summertime.
• Aurora Cellars 2014 Blaufränkisch: I’ve long been convinced that Blaufränkisch — a.k.a. Lemberger — is underappreciated, and Michigan has the ability to do it well. This one, which was 100 percent estate-grown, has the characteristic medium body and spice notes, with a pleasant gaminess. Due to the short growing season in 2014, Aurora owner Taylor Simpson says the crew placed the grapes on drying racks, appassimento-style, in a heated room for two weeks to concentrate the sugars and heighten the flavors, then aged it in French oak for nine months.
What were your highlights from the Michigan Wines Showcase? Comment below!
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, tasting rooms operated in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township, Royal Oak, and (coming soon) Auburn Hills. Contact her at email@example.com.