Northern Michigan Wine Country Visit

My wife and I have been meaning to get up to Traverse City for quite some time now, but every time we get up to MI our families have our visits planned for us and we struggle to break away for a weekend. So, we finally found a chance to sneak this trip in after the holidays.

When we lived in MI we made the trip almost annually, and it has been 6-7 years since our last visit. Historically when we taste the wines, we are most impressed with the Rieslings and the sparkling wines at L. Mawby. But on this trip, we were impressed to see that the quality of other varietals has really taken a step up – especially their Chardonnays and Cabernet Francs.

We have come somewhat full circle on our preferences for Chardonnay….for years wanting the oak treatment to be lightened up, then deciding the un-oaked Chards just don’t have quite enough soul (for our tastes) – now we really go for a chard with a light or neutral oak treatment, so there is just a kiss of the creamy butter flavor. While there are plenty of un-oaked Chards available in TC, the oaked Chards were right in our wheelhouse.

I also have really grown fond of the Peninsula Cellars Gewürztraminers, which are made in a dry style and offer a fantastic crisp, spicy flavor profile.

Below is a list of the wineries we visited, and the wines that we bought – though a couple bottles didn’t make it out of town with their corks intact. [drinkers.gif] We hauled in a good catch! The notes listed with the wines are not my notes, but were yanked off the winery websites. We were having too much fun to take notes. When I get home tonight I’ll attach a few pics.

Peninsula Cellars:
Our first stop, and a typical favorite for white wines. This trip was no exception. Their Rieslings are always my favorite, and their Gewürztraminers are bone dry and super crisp and spicy. Love them!

2007 Gewürztraminer
Rose petal aromas, Lychee fruit flavors, and anise spice accents

2006 Manigold Gewürztraminer
This single vineyard, limited production Gewurz has an intense floral bouquet complementing ripe grapefruit flavors, with a spicy, glycerol finish

2007 Semidry Riesling
Sweet blossom aromas and tropical fruit flavors accented with Semi Dry sweetness

2006 Select Riesling
A limited production collectors wine with ripe peach and apricot flavors accented by natural sweetness

2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve
A fine ageable red with harmonized fruit and oak flavors. Plum, black licorice, and dark roasted coffee flavors and aromas make this a great wine for years to come

2007 Cabernet Franc/Merlot
Layers of flavor, bright fruit, leather, violets, tea leaves in a cigar box. With a rich lasting finish.

Chateau Grand Traverse:
They always do well with whites as well. The Edelzwicker and the Whole Cluster Riesling were just great.

2009 Whole Cluster Riesling
The cool 2009 vintage required us to hone our “kabinett” making skills. We picked three adjacent vineyards at the beginning, middle and end of harvest in order to capture flavors ranging from crisp apple to ripe peach. The balanced structure of this wine comes not from intrusive winemaking, but from the fine joinery of the blend.

2009 Dry Riesling
This expressive dry white wine is crisp, fruity and fresh. Its assertive and clean style is an ideal match for most seafood, shellfish, or delicate cream sauce entrees. Intricate flavors of apple, pear and citrus are matched with a vibrant steely-dry finish. Serve slightly chilled.

2007 Edelzwicker "Noble Blend”
Edelzwicker is a premium white wine blend of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Muscat. Its off-dry style exhibits exotic flavors of apricot and melon combined with crisp acidity and a long finish. This is an ideal wine to match with piquant Thai, Indian, or Cajun cuisine.

2009 Chardonnay "Barrel Fermented”
This exceptional quality Chardonnay is bright with flavors of ripe pear, melon, citrus, and vanilla. Matched with the rich complexity of 10 months aging in small oak barrels, this dry wine will complement entrées such as sautéed mushrooms, cashew chicken, grilled tuna steaks, or a casual selection of cheese and fruit. Serve slightly chilled.

2 Lads:
A new winery…for us, since we haven’t been up in a few years. A truly stunning modern styled tasting room with a view to die for. The list of wines they do isn’t very long, but everything we had there was at least good. I rarely am wowed by a Northern Michigan Pinot Noir, but this was tremendous, and the Rose was light to medium in color, but jam packed with flavor. It got a WOW from both of us.

2009 Chardonnay
Our Chardonnay is planted on a small ridge with gentle east and west-facing slopes creating good air drainage and unique sun exposure. The eastern slope receives gentle early morning sun, while the western slope receives the bulk of the direct afternoon which affects the flavor development in the fruit. The juice is fermented in one of our 630 gal, neutral French oak tank (the first of their kind brought into Michigan).

2009 Cabernet Franc Rosé
Cabernet Franc is one of the few red cool climate varietals in our area that can produce intensely flavored red and rosé wines. 2009 has been called the most challenging growing season in Michigan history which made grapegrowing and winemaking very difficult. Despite the cool season, the rosé shows great promise in fruit complexity and aging potential.

2009 Pinot Noir
I love the smell of Pinot in the morning… This wine contains a terrific menagerie of aromas that include the classic cherry and red plum notes that slide into dried rose hips and the savory hint of a roast in the oven. The texture is plummy and concentrated; there’s a rewarding freshness here that almost makes the wine taste and feel downright “juicy.” The grapes are 100% Old Mission Peninsula (woo hoo!) and come from three different farms: Grishaw Vnyd, Harbor Downs and from the 2Lads Estate block. The complexity we gain from sourcing fruit from these subtly different farms allows for a more dynamic finished wine.

Bowers Harbor:
As we drove up the back side of the winery, we got a glimpse of a trophy buck waking through the trees on their property. I snapped a pic but my camera doesn’t zoom very well. He seemed very proud to have survived hunting season. We were sad to hear Otis, the yellow lab that always greets us in the driveway, had passed. But onto the wines. They had a good variety, but three stood out. The RLS chardonnay had a really great almond profile to it. And the Cab Franc was juicy and bold.

2009 Wooded Chardonnay
Our Chardonnay, by design, showcases Northern Michigan’s quality fruit and delicately integrates oak flavors. This wine expresses fresh fruit flavors of apple, pear and citrus followed by a clean finish with elegant nuances of French Oak. By combining fresh fruit with a touch of wood, we created a well-balanced Chardonnay.

2008 Chardonnay RLS Reserve
The grapes for this RLS Reserve wine have been hand-selected from our best Old Mission Peninsula vineyards. Barrel fermentation and batonnage in new French Oak results in a full fruit driven wine with nuances of lightly toasted oak, ripe apples and a soft citrus finish. This wine is ready to enjoy now, but it will also age beautifully.

2007 Cabernet Franc, Erica Vineyard
2010 Michigan Wine and Spirits Best of Class! The best dry red wine in Michigan, cheers to you Erica!
Our Cabernet Franc is estate-grown and has an amazing nose of dark fruit, enhanced by the world’s finest oak. You will experience sweet cherries, plum and dark chocolate with hints of earthy spice.
2007 was the best growing year we have had since our vines were first planted in 1991. This is the fullest bodied Cabernet Franc we have every made. Enjoy the rich structure and long finish.

Shady Lane:
Another pretty diverse lineup here. If it wasn’t for Mawby (below) I’d always be impressed with their sparkling wines, they have a really good nutty/yeast profile. The chardonnay was really smooth and creamy without being over-oaked.

2003 Brut
58% Pinot Noir
42% Chardonnay
Winemaker Notes:
A classic blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced in the Methode Champenoise sparkling wine. This wine is rich and full bodied while retaining an elegantly clean crisp finish.

2007 Chardonnay
100% Chardonnay
Winemaker Notes:
Medium-bodied and rich on the palate, this wine has lots of lemon, apple, pear, vanilla and spice aromas and flavors with a light oak finish. Aged for 11 months in French and American oak. This wine is great with roasted or grilled poultry and pork, richer fish such as salmon or tuna, and cream sauces.

2008 Dry Riesling
100% Riesling, Estate Grown and Bottled
Winemaker Notes:
Made in a truly dry style, this wine exhibits classic Riesling aromas of peach, citrus, apples, wildflowers, honey and spice coupled with an intriguing lemon oil quality all together in a fuller, richer and drier style than our Semi-Dry Riesling. Great paired with anything from freshwater fish in a light lemon-butter sauce to roasted pork.

L. Mawby:
Basically the reason for the trip. I love their sparkling wines…I think they are competing hard to be the best lineup of American sparkling wines on the market. The 2002 Mille was just out of this world, and while the Talismon is my typical go-to selection, the Cremant knocked it to 3rd place this year with its nutty profile that struck a chord with me.

Cremant Classic
Estate Grown
Methode Champenoise
Leelanau Peninsula Sparkling Wine
‘Aromatic, yeasty, nutty notes… medium bodied… with piercing fruit flavors and well balanced acidity.’
Entirely estate grown in our Cremant vineyard, 100% from Vignoles grapes that are hand picked and carefully whole-cluster pressed. The juice is fermented in small oak barrels, then blended with reserve wines and fermented a second time in this bottle and aged en tirage before degorgement.

Estate Grown
Methode Champenoise
Leelanau Peninsula Sparkling Wine
‘Strikingly aromantic, aromas of toast, moderately full bodied and deeply flavored.’
A blend of vignoles, pinot noir, pinot gris, and chardonnay grapes that are hand picked and carefully whole - cluster pressed. The juice is fermented in a solera system in small oak barrels and puncheons, then fermented a second time in this bottle and aged en tirage before degorgement.

2002 Mille
Estate Grown
Methode Champenoise
Leelanau Peninsula Sparkling Wine
‘Softly effervescent mousse… lovely, creamy-rich fruit gently supported by ripe acidity.’
Entirely estate grown and from a single year’s harvest: chiefly Pinot Noir with some Pinot Meunier and Pinot Gris grapes that are hand picked and carefully whole-cluster pressed. The juice is fermented in small oak barrels, then fermented a second time in this bottle and aged en tirage before degorgement.

Blanc de Blancs
Methode Champenoise
Leelanau Peninsula Sparkling Wine
‘Spiced apple aromas… zesty and crisp… finishes in a complex, mature manner. Stylish.’
Chiefly chardonnay grapes that are hand picked and carefully whole-cluster pressed. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks, then blended with reserve wines and fermented a second time in this bottle and aged en tirage before degorgement.

Blanc de Noirs
Methode Champenoise
Leelanau Peninsula Sparkling Wine
‘Classy character… moderately full-bodied… elegant wine.’
Entirely Pinot Noir grapes that are hand picked and carefully whole-cluster pressed. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks, then blended with reserve wines and fermented a second time in this bottle and aged en tirage before degorgement.

Black Star Farms:
I typically only like their Rieslings, but once again, this trip threw me for a loop as we swooned for their Chards.

This Chardonnay is the most full-bodied white wine we produce. It presents a flavor-packed sensation on the palate. Because the flavors of Chardonnay are so compatible with oak, this wine has been fully fermented and aged in new French and American oak barrels

At Isidor’s Choice vineyards we know that it is not just good soil that contributes to great wine but the proper exposure and length will recognize similiar characteristics to other wines coming from grapes grown along the famous 45th parellel.

This wine presents classic Riesling aromas of delicate white flowers and stone fruit. Ripe flavors of citrus, peach and apple follow on the palate. This is a lovely off dry riesling. Our winemaking philosophy with this grape is to enhance the pretty fruit in the variety and the minerality of the soils in which it is grown.

45 North:
Another new one for us…located exactly on the 45th parallel…hence the name. A great setting on a really snowy day, the tasting room was a cozy, warm lodge with a very inviting staff. Overall, the reds were the best of the lot, as we really liked the Cab Franc and the 45 Red. But then we noticed the Gewerztraiminer icewine and had to try it. WOW, maybe the wine of the trip, along with the Mille from Mawby.

2008 Cabernet Franc
A dark, rich purple-red color with incredible aromas of plum and dark berries along with some tobacco undertones. Barrel- aged in French oak. Pairs well with red meats and rich sauces. Though enjoyable now, this wine will only improve with age; cellar until 2012 for even richer flavors and softer tannins.

2009 Vintner’s Select 45 Red
Our 45 Red Vintner’s Select is a blend of 50% pinot noir, 40% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon, and 5% regent. It’s also a blend of our '08 and '09 vintages — the '08 was aged in barrels for 24 months and the '09 for 12 months. It has notes of black cherry, plum, and blackberry with light tannins; it’s also food-friendly and not overpowering.

2009 Icebox Gewurztraminer
No notes on their website, but this rocked out world! A stunning icewine that was incredibly rich are powerful, yet not overly viscous or cloying. Just beautiful.

On a side note, we visited the Jolly Pumpkin brewery and had a great imperial red ale, and also discovered some sensational vodkas being made by Grand Traverse Distillery. Notes below, but the first one is fantastic on the rocks, and the second one is great with a little 7Up mixed in.

True North Vodka:
Ingredients in our True North Vodka originate from the beautiful Grand Traverse region that we call home. From the rich soils comes our quality rye. Our water originated in the crystal clean glacial waters of the Great Lakes. With these quality ingredients, True North Vodka is one of a kind. True North Vodka is an ultra premium spirit, hand crafted in small batches.

True North Cherry Flavored Vodka:
We couldn’t create world class vodka in the world’s largest cherry production region without capitalizing on the fruit that makes our region famous. We created an exquisite product that is light, crisp, and delicious, perfectly echoing the natural sweetness and delicacy of the fruit. Adding a hint of chocolate was the final touch.

Excellent post Scott! I grew up in Traverse City in the days when there was no drinkable local wines IMHO. I haven’t been up there to see wineries in years but plan to take a look this year. I’ve had the Mawby sparklers a number of times and have been impressed. I travel frequently to SW Michigan but have yet to find any local wines there that are worth the tariff, especially dry reds. Thanks for the peek and always open to suggestions for local ones to try.

Go Blue!

I dont get to drink Michigan wines (not from prejudice- they just aren’t out here). I always thought the TC area had great white wine potential (in addition to being a spectacular slice of the world- jet skiing on the east bay after 3 pm can be epic). Sounds like a fun sidetrip- but next time, do it in the summer!!!

Thanks Rick! I’ve heard Wyncroft wines are very good in SW Mich, but have never tried. We just love TC and always seem to head that way.

SOOOO true! Sunday while we were there it never got above 2 degrees. Oh my.


Loved the summers, hated the winters.

Scott, I’ve heard good things as well about the Wyncroft wines, but I believe they’re only sold directly and you have to purchase a case minimum. They’re too pricey to be laying that kind of cash out for an untasted producer. Too many known lists I buy from already.

A couple more pics…

This may be a double post as I just submitted one and it did not take???

Thanks for your notes on some of the wineries in this area. I visit my familys cottage on Crystal Lake almost annually in the summertime and seek out whats happening with the local wine region, especially, L. Mawby whose sparklers are definitely above average. I`ll look forward to checking out some of these you mention.

Wyncroft no longer requires a case minimum. You can buy in increments of 6, and mix/match by 3s (e.g. - 3 Chard, 3 Pinot).

You can also order online:

Used to vacation there in the summer when I lived back that way.
A few years ago a cousin sent a Pinot Gris from someone in that area (can’t remember who). It was very nice.

Great post Scott - I’m working with some of these wineries in the Midwest and having a blast turning people on to Michigan Rieslings - Another terrific white wine producer there is Brys - and of course the terrific Left Foot Charley Winery in town -

Killer post- I’ve been wanting to make it up there to see what’s what with their Riesling and Gewurtz for some time now. [cheers.gif]

Yeh, Brys was not open because they sold everything (good for them!) and we got to Left Foot Charley just as they were closing. We were having dinner at Stella, which was fantastic!

Just go visit them… they’re only 2 hours away and well worth the visit. Send Jim Lester, the owner, an email and arrange an appointment - once he gets your passion for wine he is very accommodating with his time and wine (we tasted through everything he had in the bottle and the barrel - about 4 hours total. On the whole he’s doing some impressive work… his Chardonnay is way over oaked, but i really like the rest of the lineup. The value is fairly poor compared to West Coast wines but they do seem to be the quality champion of South West Michigan.

Stella rocks - terrific wine by the glass list as well - lots of Northern Italian whites mixed in with the local stuff -

great setting too - kind of spooky in the cellar of an old mental institution - I couldn’t stop thinking of the things that must have went on there 50 years ago -

Thanks for this report Scott!

This was the first ever wine country my (now) wife and I visited many many years ago. Our first time there were a total of 8 wineries, 4 in Leelanau & 4 on Old Mission Peninsula.

We’re in the same boat as you in that TC is one of our favorite areas in the world but we can never find the time to drive up on our MI visits. We’ve been talking about trying to find the time to drive up on one of our next visits (but I must say you’re a masochist to do this in the Winter).

L. Mawby is an old favorite and I’ve been thinking about trying to order some as a ringer for an upcoming Champagne blind tasting in our tasting group.

I know!! Walking through the tunnels was creepy, even though they were filled with fancy shops now. We’d turn a corner and expect to see a ghost or something. Had a glass of Taylor Fladgate 20 yr Tawny after dinner, my first time trying a good port. Very nice!

Hey Larry, even though I am now a wussy southerner [wink.gif] - I loved the scenery with all that snow falling. It made the temps rather bearable.

Sounds like a great trip. Thanks for writing it up!

I regularly taste the wines from Michigan as part of a little showdown project between Ohio and Michigan wines. Despite my roots, I do very much like the wines from the peninsulas.

Shady Lane makes a very nice Blaufrankisch “Blue Franc.” No less than David Schildknecht raved about it to me last year. Really, really liked the '08. We are going to have it and another MI Blaufrankisch from Circa this weekend as part of a larger tasting of the grape.

2 Lads really knock it out of the park on a regular basis. Their '07 Reserve Cab Franc is the only MI/OH wine I would ever give over 90pts (if I gave points.) Just a gorgeous wine.

I haven’t had that Peninsula Cellars Manigold Vineyard 06 in a couple of years. Impressed that it is still going strong. Former (still consulting, I think) winemaker Bryan Ulbrich now has Left Foot Charley which is a really top tier producer now.

Wyncroft is on his own plane. Jim is really making wines for the long haul. I agree on the Chardonnay being too oaked though the style is changing.

I think it is really cool that MI wines are getting good discussion here.