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!

Domaine Berrien Syrah, 2016

Maker: Domaine Berrien, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Syrah (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Domain Berrien estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2016

ABV: Undisclosed (“table wine”)

Purchased for $22 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Oak, sautéed mushrooms, mulberry, white pepper, nutmeg.

Palate: Tart blueberry, oak, clove, mace.

Finish: Mild, but a little spice and oak on the back end.

Parting words: I reviewed the 2011 vintage of DB’s Syrah back in 2016. It had spent a little longer in the bottle than this wine, but only by a few months. 2016 was a very warm vintage so I expected the 2016 to be fruitier than the 2011 was. While it can be hard to remember what I was thinking four and a half years ago, that does not seem to be the case. The notes are similar enough to be nearly identical. The only difference seems to be the earthy mushroom aroma I got in the nose. Earthiness is a Domaine Berrien trait, so it’s perhaps a little surprising that the 2011 didn’t seem to have much in the way of earth at all.

Anyway, Syrah does well in Southwest Michigan when it can get ripe enough, and 2016 was one of those years. $22 is a steal for a relatively rare, high quality wine like this. Domaine Berrien Syrah, 2016 is recommended.

Cabernet Franc Head to Head: Dablon vs 2 Lads

D= Dablon

2= 2 Lads

Maker

D: Dablon, Baroda, Michigan, USA

2 Lads: 2 Lads, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape

D: Cabernet Franc (100%)

2: 85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot

Place of origin (at least 85%)

D: Lake Michigan Shore AVA.

2: Old Mission Peninsula AVA.

Vintage: 2016

ABV

D: 12.7%

2: 13.5%

Purchased for

D: $23 (Holiday Market)

2: $38 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Royal Oak)

Appearance

D: Dark ruby.

2: Very similar, maybe slightly lighter.

Nose

D: Plum, cedar, black currant

2: More subtle. French oak, cherry

Palate

D: Tart blueberry, red currant, leather.

2: More integrated. Chewy leather, unfoxy table grapes, ripe blueberry.

Finish

D: Drying with oak, a hint of ripe bell pepper.

2: Chewy. Clove, currant.

Parting words: Cabernet Franc is a “Workhorse” grape that does well in a wide variety of climates, particularly in cooler ones like Michigan. Many excellent examples of cool climate Cab Franc (like these two) are made here, in both the northwest and southwest parts of the state. That said, there are some big geological and climatic differences between the northern peninsulas and Lake Michigan Shore.

Although 2016 was a warm vintage and practically every vineyard in Michigan was able to get grapes as ripe as they wanted, I still expected Dablon’s Cab Franc to be riper and more lush, and 2 Lads’ to be more tart. I was surprised to discover that the opposite was true!

Dablon Cab Franc was quite acidic, but not unpleasantly so. 2 Lads was more elegant and subdued, perhaps helped in this regard by the addition of Merlot. The prices on these vary quite a bit, but every price I’ve seen for either has been within an acceptable range. If I had to pick a favorite between them, I’d say it was 2 Lads, but they’re both worth buying. Both go great with food too. They are both drinking well now, but probably wouldn’t come to any harm in another year or two (or more!) in the cellar. Dablon and 2 Lads 2016 Cabernet Francs are both recommended.

St. Julian Albariño/Riesling

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Varieties: Albariño, Riesling

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

Vintage: 2018

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $19

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Meyer lemon, ripe peach, pineapple sage.

Palate: Medium bodied and dry. Pineapple, peach, lemon verbena.

Finish: Talk, a little chalk.

Parting words: There’s not a lot of Albariño being grown in Michigan, but it grows well in its temperate homeland in Northwestern Spain so seems like a perfect fit for our climate. Riesling, we already know, is perfect for our climate. So why not stretch that Albariño with the noblest of grapes?

There’s more than just stretching going on here, though. These two grapes are blended seamlessly into a crisp, dry, but still fruity white wine that is very food friendly. Albariño/Riesling is part of St. Julian’s experimental black label line, but it deserves to be a regular offering. I hope there’s enough Michigan Albariño around to do that!

St. Julian Albariño/Riesling 2018 is highly recommended.

St. Julian Michigan Grappa

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grape: Traminette

Style: Pomace Brandy

ABV: 40%

Price: $20/375 ml (only available at St. Julian tasting rooms)

Appearance: Clear.

Nose: Alcohol, grape stems, white pepper, ginger, violets.

Palate: Full-bodied, semi-dry. Yellow cayenne, pepper melange, lavender.

Finish: Fresh, clean, more lavender.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa

Parting words: One of my common social media rants about the state of craft spirits in Michigan is frustration at the lack of brandy being produced in a state that makes quite a bit of quality wine. Along with Black Star Farms, St. Julian is one of the few wineries in the state actually making brandy. This “grappa” (Italian for pomace brandy) is the best brandy I’ve had from them.

It’s much drier and spicier than the other grappa I currently have open, one from Moscato grapes. It’s good, but Traminette’s spice does wonderful things to this spirit. I like it a lot. It’s my favorite brandy in my current rotation. At $20, it’s an easy buy, too. St. Julian Michigan Grappa is highly recommended.

St. Julian Dry Sparkling Rosé

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin

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

Vintage: NV

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $8 (? Winery tasting room, Troy, Michigan)

Appearance: Orangy pink, effervescent.

Nose: Strawberry, mulberry.

Palate: Fizzy, medium-bodied and mild. White raspberry, mineral water.

Finish: Acid, a little tannin.

Parting words: I recall tasting this wine at the tasting room and I must have liked it a lot since I ended up buying three bottles of it! Oddly, two of those bottles are listed at $8 and one is listed at $14 in my Cellar Tracker account, so I’m not really sure how much I paid.

This is a decent, quaffable sparkling rosé that tastes best when chilled. There’s not much in the way of balance or integration, though, and the palate is a little flat. For $8 (if that’s what I paid for it), it’s fine. At $14, not so much. I’ll err on the side of generosity, though and give St. Julian Dry Sparkline Rosé a mild recommendation.

Note: This wine is no longer on the St. Julian website, but seems to have been replaced by something called Dry Bubbly Rosé. Hopefully the name change means that the wine has been revamped.

Domaine Berrien Merlot, 2014

Maker: Domaine Berrien Cellars, Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA

Grape: Merlot (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Domaine Berrien Estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2014

ABV: Unknown

Purchased for $20 (Michigan by the Bottle, Royal Oak)

Appearance: Brick red.

Nose: Black currant, cedar, pick peppercorns, sauteed mushrooms.

Palate: Medium-bodied and juicy. Blackberries, raspberries, leather.

Finish: Oaky and tannic.

Parting words: In a vintage like 2014, it’s close to a miracle that any estate wines were produced in Michigan at all, let alone one this good! It’s pretty chewy for a Merlot, but the combination of acid and tannin makes for a pairing with beef or lamb. A little more sweetness might have made for a more balanced product but, hey, this is 2014. $20 is a bargain. 2014 Domaine Berrien Merlot is recommended.

St. Julian Reserve Riesling

Maker: St. Julian, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA20190717_201947.jpg

Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Style: Semi-dry.

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $9 (Costco)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: peach cobbler, roux.

Palate: Peach, citrus, lemon butter, grave.

Finish: Clean and dry. Lemon thyme.

Parting words: This wine was also a part of June 2019’s Twitter Riesling Roundtable. It was the most impressive Riesling from LMS in the tasting. I dodn’t usually go for buttery Riesling but this wine was so perfectly balanced that I didn’t mind the butter. In fact, it worked with the fruit notes to create baked good aromas and flavors. $9 is hard to beat for a wine this good. As I’ve said before, don’t sleep on St. Julian. Tbere’s a lot more to them than Blue Heron. St. Julian Reserve Riesling is highly recommended.

West Coast vs North Coast: A Pinot Noir Head to Head blind tasting

Four wines: A, B, C & D. Four tasters: Josh, Liz, Amy & Pete. Notes are a combination of mine and those of the other tasters.

Makers: Revealed at the end.

Grape: Pinot Noir

Places of origin (in no particular order): Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon, Russian River Valley AVA, California.

Vintage: 2016

ABV

A: 14.5%, B: 11.6%, C: 13.1%, D:  14.3%

Price

A: $23, B: $18, C: $15, D: $14

Appearance

A: Dark ruby.

B: Light. Translucent.

C: Medium dark red.

D: Darkest. Brick red.

Nose

A: Cherry jam, plum, cedar.

B: Wild blackberry, hint of brett (fades quickly), wet earth, black pepper, cedar.

C: Mild compared to the others. Crushed strawberry, a little oak.

D: Crushed mulberry, oak, coffee, pepper.

Palate

A: Cherry juice, black pepper, smoke, almost no acid.

B: Light mouthfeel. Broken grape stem, tangy. Raspberry, toasted oak.

C: Light bodied. Strawberry, red currant, lightly acidic.

D: Black current jam, blackberry, lemon, earth.

Finish

A: A little oak, black cherry.

B: Chewy. One taster noted an unpleasant aftertaste.

C: Toasted French oak, a little fruit.

D: Light. Fruity  with a little oak and leather.

20190322_172719.jpgTHE REVEAL

A: De Loach PN, Russian River Valley AVA, Sonoma County, California.

B: Domaine Berrien PN, Martha’s & Katherine’s Vineyards, DB estate, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan.

C: Chateau Chantal PN, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan.

D: Kirkland Signature PN, Willamette Valley AVA, Oregon.

Parting words: I got idea for this head to head after I noticed that I had purchased a lot of 2016 Pinot Noir in the past couple months. I thought comparing an LMS Pinot to an OMP Pinot and comparing both of them to ones from Oregon and Sonoma might be a fun and educational excercise. They had to be around the same price, too, to keep us from tasting the price differences rather than the terroir and technique of the wine makers.

I know this is a Michigan wine blog, but I will say that my personal favorite was the Kirkland. It was the most balanced and was a delight to drink from beginning to end. My least was the De Loach. It tasted overripe and was nothing but sweet fruit. Of the two Michigan wines, the Chateau Chantal Pinot was the most balanced and drinkable, but it was very mild compared to the others. I’ve complained about this before. Domaine Berrien was good, but tasted a little green and unrefined compared to the others. I know from experience, though, the Wally’s wines can take a while to blossom, even in a warm vintage like 2016. Another year or two in the bottle is recommended for DB PN.

The other tasters varied in their choices, but the differences were all a matter of taste not of disagreement of quality or flaws. One taster liked the fruity sweetness of De Loach, but disliked Domaine Barrien strongly. Another found Chateau Chantal delightful, but Kirkland overbearing.

These are all good value wines. Kirkland and Chateau Chantal are recommended. Domaine Berrien is recommended with further cellaring and De Loach is mildly recommended.