The State of Michigan Vineyards in 2020, part 2.

First off, I want to apologize for two things, 1. that this post is in two parts and 2. that I didn’t get it done during Michigan Wine Month, which is May. The excuse for both items is: No time. The school year is winding down and all the summer things are winding up and you know how it goes. I will later merge both posts together, just so it’s all in one spot for ease of later reading.

Last time, I took a broad, statewide look at Michigan’s vineyards. For this part 2, I will look at grape growing by region and by variety, the things this blog (and many others) talk about the most. I will again be using the 2020 Small Fruit and Hops Inventory published by the Michigan Craft Beverage Council.

Michigan’s grape producing regions are divided up into four regions: The Northwest (essentially Leelanau & Old Mission), North (Tip of the Mitt), Southwest (Lake Michigan Shore & Fennville), and everywhere else. For each region (further broken down by county), the number of farms and total vineyard acreage are both give for the years 2011, 2014, 2016, and 2020, with the exception of the North, which only has data for 2016 and 2020.

For the Northwest and North, there is a steady increase in the number of farms and total acreage during the period in question. The Southwest is a different story, though. In 2011, the region contained 288 farms and over 13,000 acres of vineyards. In 2020, those numbers were down to 166 and 8,600 respectively. In the other counties, the number of vineyards shows a strange bell curve, but shows a modest net growth from 2011 to 2020. The number of farms, however, steadily declines during the same period.

What do we make of these differing trends? First, since the vineyards of the Northwest and North regions are almost all dedicated to wine grapes, I think that growth represents the steady growth in the Michigan wine industry over the past ten years. The substantial losses in the Southwest, can be attributed to the decline of the grape juice industry in Michigan. While wine’s growth is good news for Michigan’s economy, the bottom dropping out of the grape juice market is not.

The picture doesn’t change much when broken down county by county, but the growth in the number of farms in Grand Traverse county (Old Mission Peninsula AVA and neighboring areas) is striking, going from 54 farms in 2011, to 60 in 2014 and 2016 (likely due to the Polar Vortex) and then to 66 in 2020. Both Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties added around the same number of farms during the period (220 vs 210) with Leelanau adding the higher percentage (I think).

As of 2020, the top county in terms of farms and acreage was Berrien (SW), followed by Van Buren (SW), then Grand Traverse (NW), Leelanau (NW), and Emmett (N) counties. If the other counties of the Southwest region were their own county, they would replace Emmett in fourth place.

Next up, we have the juiciest category (apologies for the pun), grape varieties. To no one’s surprise, friend of the blog Riesling came in at #1 for the most commonly grown wine grape variety by a wide margin. Here’s the top ten vinifera, and top ten hybrid wine grape varieties grown in Michigan, as of 2020, in acreage.

Vinifera

  1. Riesling 670
  2. Chardonnay 320
  3. Pinot Gris/Grigio 270
  4. Pinot Noir 250
  5. Cabernet Franc 180
  6. Merlot 130
  7. Gewurtztraminer 77
  8. Sauvignon Blanc 64
  9. Pinot Blanc 62
  10. Cabernet Sauvignon 56

Hybrids

  1. Vidal Blanc* 105
  2. Chambourcin* 100
  3. Marquette** 97
  4. Traminette* 81
  5. Vignoles 76
  6. Seyval 64
  7. [Marechal] Foch 63
  8. Frontenac ** 34
  9. Petite Pearl** 33
  10. Cayuga White 31

Combined Top Ten

  1. Riesling 670
  2. Chardonnay 320
  3. Pinot Gris/Grigio 270
  4. Pinot Noir 250
  5. Cabernet Franc 180
  6. Merlot 130
  7. Vidal Blanc* 105
  8. Chambourcin* 100
  9. Marquette** 97
  10. Traminette* 81

*”Noble hybrid” variety, something I made up

**University of Minnesota cold-hardy variety

Apologies for the formatting, WordPress’s block editing system is very bad. Aside from the asterisks, there are a couple things that should be noted. First, some wine is made out of Concord and other juice varieties like Niagara and Catawba. Second are the “others”: There are 95 acres of other (outside the top 20) vinifera varieties, 110 (!) acres of other hybrid varieties, and over 2,000 acres of non-Concord native grape varieties.

There are not a lot of surprises in the top five vinifera varieties, There is a big drop off, though, between 1 & 2 in the vinifera and combined lists, though. I was surprised that there is as much Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Blanc grown in the state as there is, though neither made the combined list. The biggest surprise to me is the other meteoric rise of a grape that came in at 11 on the vinifera list: Lemberger, aka Blaufränkisch. Despite the lack of a catchy, elegant-sounding name, the grape is very popular with Michigan growers, and is finding its way into more and more blends and varietal bottlings across the state, but especially in the Northwest. I’ve reviewed a few. I think this one is my favorite so far.

Marquette’s meteoric rise to become one of the most commonly planted varieties in the state at a mere fifteen years of age, was the biggest surprise to me in the hybrid category. I was a little surprised that Vidal Blanc was the number one hybrid, but pleasantly so. I’ve been telling anyone who would listen for years that Michigan should be producing more brandy. Now I can add the knowledge that Vidal Blanc, descendent of the great Cognac grape Ugli Blanc, is the most widely planted hybrid grape in the state! One weird thing I learned is that there is a grape variety called Himrod and that there are 14 acres of it in the state. It’s apparently a table grape, but the name sounds like some sort of male dance review.

Anyway, the next table looks at bearing and non-bearing grape vines by category and color. There are over twice as many acres of vinifera grapes as there are of hybrids in Michigan and a little less than twice as many acres of white wine grapes as there are red (and pink) wine grapes. That’s to be expected when Riesling and Chardonnay are at one and two in the standings. Our climate is kinder to white wine grapes as well.

The next table examines acres of grapes by district and use. As other tables implied, table and juice grapes are king in Southwest Michigan. A whopping 7,425/8600 acres of Southwestern vineyards are deicated to them. So while the Southwest and four times as many acres of vineyards as the Northwest and North combined, the North and Northwest have nearly twice as many acres of wine grapes.

Finally, we get a brief glimpse into the future of Michigan vineyards in the Acres planted by variety 2017-2020 table. At least think we do. Since the numbers don’t correlate to any of the other data in the report, I assume that planted is the operative word in this description. These are, I believe, referring to varieties that were planted during that period. Riesling and Chard were the top two, but Lemberger was third, Marquette was fourth, and Pinot Gris/Grigio was fifth. Lemberger and Marquette seem like they are more than a passing fad at this point and they’re here to stay. One surprise is the University of Minnesota hybrid Itasca, which appears at number eight on the list. Could we be seeing that grape a lot more in the next few years? Stay tuned my friends!

Blue Water Unoaked Chardonnay, 2015

Maker: Blue Water Winery, Carsonville, Michigan, USA20181128_194004.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2015

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Sipper Club)

Appearance: Bright gold.

Nose: Classic Chard. Apricot, melon, ambrosia salad.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-dry. Peach, Meyer lemon, pineapple sage.

Finish: Dry and pleasantly bitter.

Parting words: There are a lot of wineries located in tourist areas in Michigan. Some of them are bad and serve no purpose other than to suck money from the wallets of tourists with garbage palates. Some are ok and take care to produce enjoyable, accessible table wines. Others are more ambitious and seek to join the ranks of their more established cousins in Northwest and Southwest Michigan. Blue Water is one of those. They haven’t always been successful, in my opinion, but they continue to try to produce fine wines with varietal and terroir character.

This unoaked Chardonnay is one of their successes. It has loads of fruity Chard character, is well-balanced, and is great with chicken and vegetarian meals. Blue Water Winery Unoaked Chardonnay is recommended.

 

Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Chardonnay, 2013

Maker: Chateau Grand Traverse, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180706_164834.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 85% by law)

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 10.5%

Purchased for $12 (Meijer)

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Sweet cream butter, papaya, mango, orange com? con? cow? (notes unclear)

Palate: Medium sweet. Butter, golden apple.

Finish: Pineapple, butter.

Parting words: Chateau Grand Traverse has a history of producing uncommon wines along with quality grocery-store varietals. This is one of the former, obviously. Before this bottle, I’d had late harvest Gewürztraminer and Riesling, obviously, but I had never even heard of late harvest Chard.

The result is very nice. It’s fuller-bodied than the usual style of Chard with big tropical fruit drenched in butter. I expected it to be sweeter than it was, but that may be due to the cool vintage. I’m eager to try a 2016 CGT Late Harvest Chard. Pick me up a bottle if you see one. 2013 Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Chardonnay is recommended.

 

30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180314_214642.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay

Place of origin: Chateau Chantal estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Oaked Chardonnay

ABV: 13.6%

Purchased for $30 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills).

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Oak, roux.

Palate: Buttered toast with marmalade and a slice of melon on the side.

Finish: Sage, lemon zest. Fruit fades, but butter lingers.

Parting words: Last week I reviewed Chateau Chantal’s 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling, so this week it’s the Chard’s turn. I usually like to review wines that have spent more time in the bottle than these, but since they’re special releases that will likely sell out quickly, I thought I should go ahead and review both.

It helps that they’re both very good! The Riesling, while good now, is a year or more away from its peak as I said in my review last week. This Chardonnay is firing on all cylinders right now. I’m sure it would hold up fine with another year or two in a cellar, but why wait? It’s already delicious. For me to enjoy an oaked Chard, there have to be other things going on besides oak and butter. Oak and malo flavors are in the foreground here without question, but there is enough fruit and acid to round things out. More than that, this is one of the best examples of this style in Michigan.

Like the Riesling, the only place to get this wine is at the Chateau or at the Auburn Hills location of Michigan by the Bottle. Unlike the Riesling, the 30 year Chard is on the menu, so I would guess that more of it was produced, but why wait? Go out and buy some now. Chateau Chantal 30 Year Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay is highly recommended.

Lawton Ridge Vintner’s Select Chardonnay, 2013

Maker: Lawton Ridge Winery, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA20171113_102251.jpg

Grape: Chardonnay (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

Style: Oaked, malolatic fermented Chardonnay

ABV: 12.7%

Price: $15 (winery)

Appearance: Very pale gold.

Nose: Creamy, slightly bitter, French oak, lemon thyme.

Palate: Full-bodied and medium sweet. Oak, citrus peel, white peach, pineapple sage.

Finish: Clean and fruity with a hint of oak.

Parting words: Lawton Ridge winery is located west of Kalamazoo, Michigan, but thier vineyards (around 10 acres planted) are near Lawton, Michigan, south of Paw Paw. It has been in commercial operation since 2005 or so. According to their website, they pride themselves on producing terroir-focused food-friendly wines.

This Chardonnay was one of my favorites when we visited the tasting room last year. It’s a departure from their standard, all stainless Chard. According to the label, this wine is finished in oak barrels for three months immediately before bottling. It’s a good example of judicious use of oak in Chard. It has a hint of the brown butter aroma that California Chardonnay is known for, but it’s balanced by fruit and herbal aromas. It’s one of the best oaked Michigan Chards I’ve had and a steal at $15. 2013 Lawton Ridge Vintner’s Select Chardonnay is highly recommended.

 

Wyncroft Avonlea Chardonnay 2011

Maker: Wyncroft/Marland, Pullman, Michigan, USA20170502_111830

Place of origin: Avonlea vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

ABV: Unknown.

Price: $35 (Michigan by the Bottle, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Medium gold with a thin robe.

Nose: Rancio, golden raisins.

Palate: Full bodied and medium sweet. Sherry, gruyere cheese, sweet butter, hint of oak.

Finish: Sweet. Apricot, croissants.

Parting words: Wyncroft/Marland is a very limited production, estate winery in the Southwestern Michigan co-owned by winemaker Jim Lester. Jim was one of the earliest boutique winemakers in Michigan, as he frequently reminds people. He’s one of the rare big talkers who lives up to his own hype, though.  The Wyncroft label is used for limited production estate wines with Marland used for their line of more affordable wines from vineyards they don’t own. I’m very fond of his reds, but I haven’t always liked his whites. It’s not that they’re inconsistent, it’s that I haven’t always enjoyed the style in which they’ve been made. No accounting for taste, as they say.

Avonlea vineyard is Wyncroft’s flagship, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. Avonlea was hit hard by the Polar Vortex in 2014 with substantial loss of Chardonnay vines, according to Wyncroft’s website. The surviving Chardonnay vines had their fruit devoured by a murder of crows shortly before harvest. The damaged area has been replanted. In the meantime the 2011, 2012 and 2013 vintages are available.

This heavy, buttery style of chardonnay is not my favorite, especially not when from Michigan. Avonlea Chardonnay was pleasant but heavy handed  when first opened. As it opened up, it became even more unbalanced and took on unpleasant oxidized and burnt butter flavors. Even Mrs. Sipology, who normally enjoys oaky chards, didn’t like it. I can’t say I liked it either. I don’t know if this wine is flawed or tainted (I don’t think it’s the latter) or what, but I really can’t recommend it, especially not at $35.

Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay, 2012

Maker: Dablon Vineyards, Baroda, Michigan, USAwp-1484144619731.jpg

Place of origin: Moraine (now Dablon) estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Unoaked, dry Chardonnay.

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 13.1%

Price: $20 (winery)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Tangerine, brown butter, peach, mango, minerals.

Palate: Dry. Butter, melon, mineral water, banana.

Finish: Bitter butter batter, gravel dust.

Parting words: 2012 is a vintage best known for its excellent reds in LMS and the northern Michigan AVAs. The whites I’ve had from 2012 have been inconsistent, even from large producers. I tasted this wine at the Dablon tasting room and I was pleasantly surprised.

Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay is unusual for Michigan.  The unoaked ones tend to be round, fruity and mild but Moraine is boldly dry, even drier than its ABV would suggest. It’s more like a Chablis or Mâconnais than a  typical Michigan Chard. Fatty fish or creamy cheese would be excellent pairings, but chicken and pork chops would work too. I really enjoyed this wine. Worth the money and then some. 2012 Moraine Vineyards Chardonnay is highly recommended.

Hawthorne Barrel Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USAwp-1472691746227.jpg

Style: Oak aged Chardonnay (17 months in oak).

Place of origin: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 12.3%

Price: $22 (winery)

Appearance: Bright straw.

Nose: Brown roux, lemon thyme, oak.

Palate:Mandarin orange, bitter oak.

Finish: Strong oak with a bit of tartness and sweetness.

Parting words: This is a pretty good buttery, oaky  Chardonnay. I was a big fan of it at the winery but for whatever reason (probably the state of my palate), it’s not thrilling me currently. Nothing remotely objectionable here, though. It’s not complex but it does serve up pleasant citrus, butter and oak flavors. The oak is strong but some people like that sort of thing (even I do sometimes). If you’re a fan of big Cali Chards, you will also enjoy 2013 Hawthorne Barrel Reserve Chardonnay. It is recommended.

Wente Vineyard Riva Ranch, 2013

Maker: Wente, Livermore, California, USA20160224_170838-1.jpg

Place of origin: Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey, California, USA

ABV: 13.5%

Purchased for around $20 (lost the receipt)

Appearance: Light gold,

Nose: Canned pears, lychee, dab of brown butter.

Palate: Medium sweet. Golden apples, then buttery with a little bitter oak on the back end.

Finish: Oak, then green apple with a little bit of butter, then acrid oak.

Parting words: I don’t remember where I picked this up. It may have been Trader Joe’s. Before I dove into Michigan wine, I used to buy a lot of California Chardonnay, especially Wente. It’s nice to go back and check out a wine like that, especially a line extension like this Riva Ranch Single Vineyard. Riva Ranch is a Wente family owned vineyard.

It’s firmly in the California style, of course, Wente being one of the inventors of that style. Going by memory, it’s more intensely flavored than Morning Fog and as it warms up some unpleasant bitter tastes creep in, but overall it’s a tasty wine. I would appreciate more fruit, but those who enjoy the oaky/buttery style of Chard will probably enjoy this more than I.

The price is fair (though I wouldn’t pay much more than $20) and it’s nice that it’s single vineyard. Wente’s Riva Ranch Single Vineyard is recommended.

Verterra Reserve Chardonnay

Maker: Verterra, Leland, Michigan, USAwpid-2015-03-25-14.54.50.jpg.jpeg

Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

Price: $20 (website)

ABV: Unknown (not listed on label or received from producer by press time)

Appearance: Medium gold with some necklacing.

Nose: Butter, toasted oak, plum, white peach, mineral water.

Palate: Golden delicious apple, lychee, oak, white pepper.

Finish: Chewy oak, canned pear, brown butter.

Parting words: Verterra is one of the best producers on Leelanau and it shows in this wine. They make two Chards, an unoaked (a popular style in these parts) and this one that spent several months in french oak before being bottled, also undergoing malolactic fermentation. It tastes pretty Californian to me, which isn’t a bad thing if you like that style like I do (usually).

As the wine sat and warmed in the glass, some of the fruit seemed to disappear, which was disappointing. It was still tasty, just not quite so well balanced as it was when the cork first came off. Unfortunately, due to poor meal planning, I was unable to taste it with food, but based on experience with similar wines I think it would pair well with chicken, swordfish, shark and the like. The price is very nice for a quality Michigan wine. The 2012 Verterra Reserve Chardonnay is recommended.