Friday, August 21, 2009

Not-so-pithy Comments on our Michigan trip

We visited several wineries in southwest Michigan this past weekend, a few in northwest Michigan this week and I thought you’d like a report on what we found. Starting on Saturday, August 15, I got irked right off...

We stopped by Lemon Creek, but they wanted $5 for five tastes. Then we went to Round Barn, an old favorite, where they also wanted $5 for five wines, plus one dessert wine, and one vodka taste, - - -the trick was you could also get five tastes at their “sister” winery (Free Run) up the road for that same fee.

We walked out of both since I have a problem (read prior posts here) with fee-based wine tasting AND short wine flights for tasting. I talked to one tasting room manager who was apologetic, explaining why they charged and limited tastes. First, they get hundreds of visitors on weekends and pouring that much wine is expensive (boo-hoo! – my comment). Second, because the wineries are so close together, they worry someone who tastes a lot of wine at each winery will be too drunk to drive.

A basic responsibility of pouring wine samples is you may not pour for someone who is under the influence already. This limit of four, five, or six wines for tasting is supposed to help this problem; it might give them some help in a court case where they are being sued for negligence? Ask a lawyer, but I think better training is the answer…

Hickory Hills was the first winery where we tasted wine and we were very pleased with its efforts. The whites were above average and the reds very good. The tasting room had a window that allowed us to watch them bottling that day. The setting is modest and the tasting room is a bit small, but they got it going on where it counts, the wines were great.

Tabor Hill is the "big monkey" in this part of the state, St Julien’s covers more ground, but Tabor Hill is as well known regionally as ST.J. The tasting room and restaurant are nice, but not great. The tasting room seems geared towards groups and the tasting crew acted a bit bored with their repetitive job. The wine was good, we were limited to six tastes (no charge!). We found several good buys there, but the whole feel of the place was not to my taste. They featured a gourmet chocolate line made in Florida (?) and I thought their tasting room was a bit small for a winery where its known to pack-them-in on the weekends.

Our last stop this day was Founders Cellars, a brand new winery in Boroda, literally a week away from their opening celebration and not yet done decorating. But they were selling wine, so we did a tasting (no charge, no limit) and we met the winemaker. It seems he was formerly with Tabor Hill, then moved to Kentucky where he opened a winery for a number of years. Actually, a good bit of his wine on hand was from his Kentucky winery and labeled as such, but he has a few locally vinted wines already. Good wine, nice folks and reasonable prices too.

Later in the week, we stopped by a unique winery called Douglas Valley, near Manistee. They advertised the fact they were 100% organic based and they were selling lots on their 640-acre land for vacation homes in which you had to have an organic fruit or vegetable plot of one acre or more. I was trying to get whether this was a housing development using a winery to sell land or a winery selling land using a developer? I should say the wine was good, I especially liked their hard cider.

Our last winery jaunt was through the very popular Traverse City area, where wineries are springing up all over the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas where they grow grapes and cherries like we grow corn and soybeans. I’ll mention just a few of the more then 25 wineries in this area less then 30 miles across and 20 miles tall, we hit a few of our favorites and one new one.

Chateau Chantal is a favorite because it looks the way my winery would look if money was no object. Sitting on a hill overlooking more then 100 acres of vineyard, you can see water on both sides of the peninsula. The tasting room is well designed and handles a crowd well. The wines are top notch, both red and white. The tasting staff gives everyone six tokens to use for six tastes, so we were limited, but our pourer seemed to forget to take a token for each taste, so we got eight.

Next we went to a small winery making superior white wines, Bowers Harbor. I have been drinking their “unwooded” Chardonnay for many years and it is one of the wines I buy without much regard to price (almost no regard). We tried our six allotted tastes and our server was quick to offer a couple more.

The last stop I will write about is a new winery on the Leelanau Peninsula called 45 North. I wanted to stop there in particular because the owner had stopped by our little winery a few weeks prior and bought some wine. It was a huge surprise when we learned the owner hails from Warsaw, Indiana, just about an hour from our place! This winery is not yet complete, the tasting room is not yet done and there is much landscape to finish. The wines are finished, however, and I would like to recommend the 2008 Pinot Gris, which is one of the best I have tasted.

As an Indiana winemaker, I encourage fellow Hoosiers to visit our local wineries, but if you happen to pass a Michigan winery, it might be worth a taste, unless they charge you! J

Your anonymous comments can be made by clicking the “comments” right below this post…

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