Maker: Boathouse Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA.
Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)
Purchased for $20
Appearance: Dark red.
Nose: cedar, blackberry jam, blueberry pie, clove.
Palate: Semi-sweet. Black cherry, raspberry, red currant jelly.
Finish: Blackberry jam, French oak, apple wood smoked pork.
Parting words: I discovered this bottle sitting on a dusty bottom shelf at Holiday Market in Royal Oak. The bottle was on the shelf, that is. I had heard of Boathouse, but never visited there. I wasn’t sure if a Pinot Noir from a small winery would hold up after seven years, but I decided to take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised!
This is a full-flavored and ripe Pinot, similar to some California ones I’ve tasted in the same price range. I prefer a softer, more acidic wine from this grape, but there’s nothing to complain about, really. This is a very food-friendly wine that has held up surpisingly well for being left to languish in obscurity. 2012 Boathouse Pinot Noir is recommended.
Maker: Shady Lane, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Shady Lane estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Style: Dry Riesling
Purchased for $26 (Michigan By The Bottle Sipper Club)
Appearance: Light gold.
Nose: Golden Delicious apples, lemon thyme, mineral water.
Palate: Mandarin orange, lime, chalk dust.
Finish: Drying and rocky. A little tartness.
Parting words: As I’ve written about before, 2014 and 2015 were essentially lost vintages in Michigan due to the infamous Polar Vortex. There were a few vineyards in Northern Michigan that didn’t get hit as hard as others, though. According to a tasting room employee last year, Shady Lane’s vineyards were among them.
The grapes and vines on Shady Lane survived, but it was still a cold vintage, and the wine reflects that. It has developed nice and slowly and hasn’t lost any of its fruit in its 3+ years in the bottle. It also has retained plenty of acid without being an acid bomb. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is great with food but also has the depth and complexity for solo sipping. It’s everything a dry Michigan Riesling should be. Shady Lane Reserve Riesling is recommended.
Maker: Bel Lago, Cedar, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA
Place of origin: Leelanau County, Michigan, USA
Style: Sweet/semi-sweet Riesling
Purchased for $19 (Holiday Market)
Appearance: Pale gold
Nose: Canned pear, gravel.
Palate: Full-bodied. Sweet but not cloying. Pineapple-mango-orange juice, mineral water.
Finish: Drying, peach.
Parting words: Bel Lago needs no introduction for long time readers of this blog. It’s one of my favorite Michigan wineries.
Like most of Michigan’s best, Bel Lago has a fine line of Riesling wines at varying levels of sweetness. Select Harvest is a style of late harvest wine roughly equivalent to German Auslese in terms of ripeness. As such, they are more age-worthy than dry Rieslings, which is why I waited so long to open this bottle. This wine is not especially complex (perhaps due to the brutal 2014 vintage) but it hits all the right notes for ripe Riesling: sweetness, citrus, and minerals. I have a few more bottles of this wine in my cellar and I look forward to seeing how this wine develops over the next 3 or 4 years. 2014 Bel Lago Select Harvest Riesling is recommended.
Maker: Good Harbor Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA
Grape: 100% Marechal Foch
Place of origin: Good Harbor estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $16 (winery)
Appearance: Very dark for a rosé. More light ruby Burgundy than pale Provançal pink.
Nose: Grape jelly, crushed mulberry.
Palate: Cherry soda, allspice.
Finish: Sweet and fruity.
Parting words: This is a simple but very tasty wine. It’s very fruity but not overly sweet. Goes down easy with food or on its own. I haven’t had a lot of Foch, but I think maybe the world needs to see more of it, at least in pink.
2016 Good Harbor Rosé is recommended.
Maker: Laurentide Winery, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA
Grapes: About equal parts Riesling, Chradonnay and Pinot Gris (according to owner).
Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi-dry white table blend
ABV: ~12% (according to owner. Table wines are not required to list an ABV)
Price: $15 (website)
Appearance: Very light gold, almost clear.
Nose: Musk melon, grapefruit, Sprite.
Palate: Medium-bodied, well-rounded. Fresh melon, mandarin orange.
Finish: Stonefruit, stones.
Parting words: I’m a fan of Laurentide, the wines, the people and the ice sheet, which shaped our beautiful Great Lakes. Emergence White is a well-balanced, easy-to-drink, food-friendly wine. A bottle is perfect for dinnertime on the patio. A case is perfect for a BBQ with grilled chicken. Emergence White is recommended.
On Saturday, June 9, Liz and I headed up to Traverse City, Michigan for the fourth City of Riesling Festival (For my review of the first, click here). We had a great time. We drank wine, we walked on the beach, we drank more wine, we learned about wine. On Sunday we also visited Good Harbor and Chateau Fontaine wineries and drank and bought wine.
On Monday we had one more wine stop: Nathaniel Rose winery at Raftshol Vineyards. Nathaniel Rose has been running his own winemaking business since 2010 operating out of whichever winery he was working at the time, starting at Raftshol and ending up at Brengman Brothers, with several in between. Last year, he purchased Raftshol Vineyards in Suttons Bay in Leelanau and is now using it as his HQ (and homestead!).
Raftshol is one of the oldest wineries and vineyards in Leelanau. It began at the turn of the last century as the dairy farm of Anders Raftshol. In 1930 the cows left home and the farm was converted to a cherry orchard. In 1975 the cherry business was bad so the trees had to go. Sometime after that, hybrid grape vines were planted. Anders’ grandsons, Warren and Curtis were not happy with the results so in 1985 they planted vinifera instead, being the first commercial vineyard on Leelanau to do so. Instead of the usual practice of grafting vinifera vines onto native rootstock, they grafted them onto the existing hybrid ones. Rose believes this unusual set up may contribute to the high quality of the fruit produced by the estate. When Warren decided to sell last year, Rose jumped at the chance to own some of the oldest vinifera vines in the state, including Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Rose, the vineyards had been neglected for the past ten years, but he’s in the process of whipping them back into shape using careful pruning.
Nathaniel Rose’s namesake project is mostly about making quality, single-vineyard red wines. They are currently sourced from vineyards in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA and almost entirely red except for an orange Marsanne and a dry Traminette (we bought a bottle of Traminette for $13 minus trade discount). Rose has worked at nine different wineries in various capacities over the years, including Raftshol and Brengman Brothers, which he operated out of until purchasing Raftshol. His extensive knowledge, experience and contacts in the Michigan wine industry allow him to get quality fruit from quality vineyards. His wines There may also be a Chardonnay in the works, but Rose says he doesn’t really have the proper equipment for whites at the moment.
Everything we tasted there was wonderful, but my favorites were his excellent Syrahs (we purchased a bottle of the single barrel #4 Syrah at $85 minus trade discount). They were the best Michigan Syrahs I’ve tasted and maybe the best Michigan reds I’ve tried overall. For the single barrel, Rose was aiming for a wine reminiscent of Côte-Rôtie in the northern Rhône valley, so he cofermented the Syrah with Viognier. When we were tasting, he helpfully provided a bottle of Côte-Rôtie for comparison and the two wines were indeed very close and I would be hard pressed to say which I liked better.
His signature wines are his Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Left Bank and Right Bank. They were both very good. Rose is rightfully very proud of these, especially the Left Bank. He loves to tell the story of the tasting he attended with several sommeliers (including Master somm Brett Davis), winemakers, writers and other experts in which his 2012 Left Bank Blend went up against a group of Second Growth Bordeaux and cult California Cabs, including Cardinale (~$270), Ridge Monte Bello (~$250), and Jos. Phelps Insignia (~$190), all of the 2012 vintage. Left Bank won. None of the experts could pick Left Bank out of the lineup blind and tasters could not tell the difference between it and the 2012 Cardinale Cab at all. In fact, they belived they had mistakenly been poured the same wine twice. Rose believes that Northern Michigan and his new vineyard in particular (which is not the source of Left Bank) has a climate that is very similar to high elevation viticultural areas in California and is capable of producing reds of the same high quality.
Left Bank sells for $150 (we also purchased a bottle of this at a trade discount) which puts it at or near the top of the price range for Michigan wines, even higher than wineries like Brys Estate or Mari Vineyards. When I asked him if he thinks consumers will be willing to pay that much for Michigan wines, regardless of quality, he responded with a few points. First, that his wines are plainly worth the money as tastings like the ones he’s entered Left Bank into prove. Second, that he’s had no trouble selling any of his wines so far. Finally, he pointed out that, while he is selling it at the Raftshol tasting room, the primary purpose of a wine like Left Bank is to enter into contests and tastings to bring attention to the quality of his wines. In other words, he’s not expecting Left Bank to fly off the shelf. It’s intended as a showpiece, not pizza wine (although it would be good with pizza!).*
Nathaniel Rose’s winery is one of the most exciting things happening in Michigan wine right now. I’m a cheap skate but his wines are as good or better than ones from more prestigious and expensive regions and if any wines deserve to push the price envelope in Michigan, Nathaniel’s do. A visit to Nathaniel Rose at Raftshol Vineyards is highly recommended! Joining his wine club is also recommended, so you can get the generous club discount!
*When I spoke to Nathaniel on August 29, 2018 he informed me that Left Bank has actually turned out to be his best seller! Collectors are stocking up.
Corrected and updated September 4, 2018.
Maker: Chateau de Leelanau, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Noir (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Chateau de Leelanau estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Purchased for $26
Appearance: Dark ruby.
Nose: Watermelon, cranberry juice cocktail, cedar.
Palate: Medium-bodied and semi-dry. Cranberry/raspberry cocktail, cherry juice, toasted oak.
Finish: Dry, oaky, slightly tart.
Parting words: In Michigan, 2016 is beginning to be spoken of in the same breath as 2012 as one of Michigan’s greatest vintages. Wines like this juicy beauty are why. It’s refreshing but never boring. It’s food friendly but also great for porch sipping. It’s all you want in a summer rosé. It’s very good now, but will surely improve or at least maintain its quality with another year or so in the bottle. 2016 Chateau de Leelanau Rosé of Pinot Noir is recommended.