Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Whimsical Wednesday: Wine Tastings

One of the many interests that my husband, Dan, and I share is a passion for wine. Pinot grigio, riesling, cabernet franc, shiraz, merlot, port – you name it, we’ve probably tried it. While I must admit that Dan is much better at the actual art of tasting wine – with an uncanny ability to discern the individual flavors that contribute to a particular vintage – I am nevertheless an avid wine lover. Although I might not always be able to differentiate between plum and cherry, oak and coffee, I sure as heck know what I like – and don’t like.

Given our mutual interest in wine, we were thrilled, earlier this week, to explore Michigan’s Traverse City area, a region that has slowly won acclaim for its grape growing and wine production. Surprising as it might seem for those more familiar with California’s Napa Valley, Michigan is an ideal place for vintners, vineyards, and viniculture. Two of the state’s most celebrated regions – Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula – lie north of Traverse City, on either shore of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The reason for the success of wineries in this region is fourfold: The sandy soil, hilly terrain, moderate temperatures, and lake-effect snows nurture the grapes and protect the vines during the winter.

On Monday, we decided to visit the Leelanau Peninsula, which lies northwest of Traverse City. Our first stop was Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. Although Cherry Republic doesn’t have a vineyard of its own, its intimate tasting room offers cherry-influenced wines produced especially for sale at the Republic. While neither Dan nor I is a fan of fruit wines, we thoroughly enjoyed our laidback experience at Cherry Republic’s Stomp House, where we were able to sample (for free) as many varieties as we desired. My favorites were the cherry white wine (made from pinot grigio), cherry spiced wine (perfect for the winter holidays), and sangria (a blend of cherries, pineapple, lime, and lemon).

Afterward, we headed to Black Star Farms (10844 E. Revold Rd.) in Suttons Bay. A complex that includes a vineyard and winery, a creamery, and a bed-and-breakfast, Black Star actually charges for its tastings, but we were nonetheless curious about its offerings. In the end, I wasn’t enamored of the reds I tried, but I did enjoy the sparkling white wine and late-harvest pinot gris that I sampled.

On Tuesday, we toured the wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula. Our favorite stops were Chateau Chantal (15900 Rue de Vin), where I relished the Tonight and Celebrate! champagnes, and
Peninsula Cellars (11480 Center Rd.), situated in a converted one-room schoolhouse built in 1896. Not only are Peninsula’s wines quite good (like the 2006 Gewurztraminer), but the winery also has a more relaxed, fun-loving vibe than many of the others in this region. After all, staff members celebrate their schoolhouse history by writing lines like “I will only drink good wine!!! I will only drink good wine!!!” on the chalkboard and naming some of their wines clever things like Detention and Homework.

Since it would have been impossible to sample all of the more than 25 wineries that comprise the Grand Traverse Bay region, we were grateful for our abbreviated trip into wine country. If nothing else, it inspired us to (finally) take a wine-tasting class together. Perhaps then, I’ll learn to do as real wine connoisseurs do and spit out each sip before I'm tempted to swallow. The way I gulp it down now, I can’t usually visit more than two wineries in a row before feeling the adverse effects of such a haze-inducing hobby – if you know what I mean.


jbchicoine said...

My husband and I make wine ( from kits, and have produced some consistently amazing pinot noir, AND SOUTH AFRICAN PINOTAGE. One week ago, some friends and we did the Old Mission Peninsula wineries. Since we want to branch out to a nice, moderately dry white, we sampled many Pinot Grigios. The one we liked best was at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. When it comes to wine tasting, I’m definitely a gulper; by winery number five, I was pooped, but I think that was more from the whoopla than the minute samples.

Laura Martone said...

Wow, that's cool to find another wine lover in Michigan. Dan and his father make wine together, too. And how funny that you were exploring the Old Mission Peninsula wineries so recently! We missed Bowers Harbor this time, but we'll be back soon. It was a bit of a rushed trip - trying to pack too much into two days - but I'm glad we did it at all. It was a lot of fun, and OMP is simply gorgeous, even on a cloudy day.

Stephanie Faris said...

I've never liked wine but I think it's wonderful that there are so many different varieties...and so much history in many wine cellars.

Steph Damore said...

I love Traverse City's wine culture. My hubby and I got married at Ciccone Vineyard a few years back. It is so beautiful up there and the wine is fabulous!

Laura Martone said...

Steph F. - I love the history of wineries, too!

Steph D. - Few people know (outside Michigan) just how wonderful and beautiful the state's wine country is. How lovely to be married over there - I bet it was memorable indeed. (I got married in Vegas, and though certainly memorable, I'm sure it was nowhere near as gorgeous a setting.)

Steph Damore said...

You got married in Vegas? That's awesome! I've never even been there. I hope to make it out to Sin City one day soon!

Laura Martone said...

Yeah, it was pretty cool, Steph. Dan had been married before and experienced the whole to-do, so he was over that - and I'd never wanted a wedding anyway (frankly, I never thought I'd get married until I met Dan), so Vegas seemed like a good idea. Plus, we were living on the road then (in a little RV), so it was kind of on the way to California, our ultimate destination. We got married in a tasteful little place called Little Chapel of the Flowers, and we had, like, 13 guests there, which is pretty good for a Vegas wedding. My mom, dad, stepmom, and stepsis came - but no one from Dan's family was able to attend, so they watched the ceremony on the Internet!

Although I could never live in Vegas, I definitely enjoy visiting a lot (three days is usually all I can handle in a row). I even plan to write about it soon on my blog. So, whenever you plan a trip to Sin City, let me know - I'll give you some pointers!