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Into Michigan

Traverse City is a popular destination for people from the Sault, as it’s an easy get-away. I like it, too, because it has the nearest wineries.

Traverse City is a popular destination for people from the Sault, as it’s an easy get-away. I like it, too, because it has the nearest wineries.

The Grand Traverse Bay is formed by the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas stretching out into Lake Michigan. Out on these two land forms we find more than two dozen wineries, with the greater number on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Recently, my wife and I went cycling in the area. The Weather Network promising temperatures in the lower 20’s, was only off by 10 degrees! In spite of the heat, we cycled for a day on each Peninsula, taking our breaks when we could at the wineries along the way.

That they are able to grow noble grapes for wine in such a northerly area is a result of the moderating effect of Lake Michigan. Out on the peninsulas, especially on the side opposite the prevailing northwesterly winds, the grapes are able to survive the winters in a way impossible further inland.

When winter comes, the lake is generally warmer than the air. The warmer air over the water rises and carries over the crown of the peninsula to temper the cold on the leeward side. It also drops a blanket of insulating snow. The result, ultimately, is wine.

Out on the Leelanau, one of the newest wineries, Verterra, has its tasting room in the picturesque town of Leland. Owner Paul Hamelin told me that with 33 acres of 1 to 5 year old vines, they are the fourth largest producer in the region, growing all their own grapes and making 16 wines and 4 ciders.

Verterra has been particularly successful with its white wines. The 2010 Reserve Chardonnay, fermented and aged in French oak, was one of only 6 chardonnays made east of the Rockies to medal in the $25 and under class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The impressive 2011 Pinot Blanc was best in class at the Pacific Rim Wine Competition, combining good tropical fruit with bright acidity. Also best in class was Verterra’s blend, Chaos White Cuvée. 50% Riesling, its residual sweetness is kept in balance by the inclusion of 33% Vignoles, a hybrid grape known for its acidity.

Verterra’s wines are in the $15 to $25 range. This is typical for the region’s grape wines, though fruit wines made with cherries, etc. tend to be less expensive.

Just off the highway crossing the Peninsula from Leland to Suttons Bay is another newer winery, 45 North, taking its name from the fact that the 45th Parallel cuts right through the vineyard.

This winery, too, has had good success in significant competitions. The 2010 Riesling, $18, is considered their signature wine. It combines their own fruit with that produced from older vines in the area. It is clean and crisp with good melon, pear and citrus fruit.

Also $18, the 2010 Pinot Gris had a rich Alsatian character with some glycerin texture for which that style is known.

I enjoyed the lush 2010 Chenin Blanc at $20 with its suggestion of ripe peach and melon and touch of sweetness. In this case, the fruit was actually brought in whole cluster from the Columbia River Valley in Washington and vinified at the winery.

Like Verterra, 45 North makes a white blend, their 45 White at $15. While it took a gold in competition, I found that it wasn’t to my taste, with the sweetness overwhelming the acidity.

My last stop, having cycled enough for one day, was at Ciccone Vineyard and Winery, a short distance up Hilltop Road from M22 south of Suttons Bay. Winemaker Tony Ciccone planted his first vines in 1996, and is passionate about every aspect of the process

His pride in his Italian heritage shows through in many of his wines. He makes the only Dolcetto in the area, utilizing a grape from the Piedmont region. While the single varietal Dolcetto is currently sold out, Tony has created a tasty red combining Dolcetto and Cabernet Franc, which he calls “Pallino Red”. The label features Tony throwing the small target ball in a game of Bocce. Like the game, the wine is earthy and fun, a good wine to pair with simple Italian food.

Another wine Due Rossi, or “two reds”, is actually a blend of French hybrids, Marechal Foch and de Chaunac. These hybrids were created to withstand the rigors of cooler climates. While they are not seen as often as in the past, they still make good wines to accompany hearty fare.

Ciccone’s blend of Pinot Blanc and Muscat is Pacentro, named after the family’s home village in Abruzzi, Italy. The latest vintage, tasted from the tank is a pleasant, mellow wine with some grapefruit.

Controlling fermentation is a challenge, but a new cold stabilization tank should improve quality. Tony’s Pinot Grigio is in the old world style and delicious with good citrus character. The new equipment should make this even better in the future.

In all, there is great variety in the Ciccone line of wines, and they are certainly fair value in the $14 to $20 range.

The following day, we toured the Old Mission Peninsula. While there are only a handful of wineries, I found some of the best wines of the region at Brys Estate, Chateau Grand Traverse, and 2 Lads Winery. I’ll write about them in my next column.

Meanwhile in our local stores there are several wines of interest. On the July 21 release, look for Caruso and Minini Terre di Giumara Frappato/ Nerello Mascalese 2010. Not only is the name a mouthful, this Sicilian wine is well structured, medium bodied, and flavourful. It took bronze at England’s Decanter World Wine competition. Here’s a chance to experience a wine made from grapes rarely seen. It’s only $13.95.

Angel’s Gate Mountainview Bench Chardonnay 2010 is $18.95, but it is money well spent for a wonderful wine. One of the best I’ve tried recently, it’s a pleasure in every respect, with everything in harmony. For some, Chardonnay had become “ho hum”. This is a wine that would convince anyone to give it another chance.

Tahbilk Shiraz 2008 and Carpineto Chianti Classico 2010 are both Vintages “Wines of the Month”. The Shiraz, $20.95, had a ‘91’ from the Robert Parker Jr. team. It is firm and full-bodied with earthy and black fruit character. It will cellar for another 4 years easily.

Chianti is the classic wine of Tuscany. It has come a long way from the days of the squat, straw-covered ‘fiasco’ bottle. At $18.95, the Carpineto has spice and lavender aromas and ample dark cherry fruit. It is focused and lively.

South Africa’s Edgebaston ‘The Berry Box’ 2010, $16.95, is a blend of the traditional Bordeaux grapes along with Shiraz. It has tons of fruit, as the name would suggest, but there is a sophisticated focus.

Limited Time Offers (LTOs) extend from July 23 to August 18. Vintages features the Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel for $15.95 and the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc for $16.95. Also Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages is $13.95. These are all $2 off the regular price.

Beaujolais is a lighter, lively red made from Gamay Noir in a sub-region of Burgundy. “Villages” indicates that the wine is made from grapes grown in specific areas. It should be a cut above regular Beaujolais. There are also ten distinctive “Crus” in Beaujolais, such as Brouilly and Morgon. Each has nuances for which that particular village is known.

On the regular list, try the Castillo Almansa Reserva from Spain for $11.95. This oft-overlooked bargain has an appealing density along with soft balanced tannins.

Some LTOs worth trying in the next month include Dancing Bull Zinfandel in the “full-bodied and Smooth’ category at $11.95 and the Fazi-Battaglia Verdicchio Castello di Jesi at $9.50, a perennial favourite of mine for an enjoyable dry white wine. The Sandbanks Dunes Vidal from Prince Edward County is a good example of this hybrid, long a mainstay for Ontario wineries, and often used for Ice Wine. This example is medium dry with floral and peach notes for $11.95. Compare it to their Riesling at $13.95, which should show more complexity. All are $1 off.

Two reds to consider are the McWilliams Hanwood Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia and the Mud House Pinot Noir from New Zealand. The $12.95 Cab is a chunky red with a touch of vanilla, but significant tannin. It needs a steak to show its potential. The $15.95 Pinot Noir shows ripe red fruit and a bit of mocha and is much lighter in style than the Cab. Compare it to the Jadot Beaujolais for two wines supposedly similar it style, but distinctive in their own right. Both are $2 off.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to respond to the article or contact me at Thanks for reading.