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.
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!).
The tasting room with its awards, photos and piano.
Warren Raftshol (top).
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 behind the bar.
Liz in front of it, tasting the orange Marsanne.
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.
The carefully pruned vines
Sandy vineyard soil.
Rows of Cabernet.
Pruned hunk of vine
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.
Left & Right Bank
Back labels featuring actual photo of Nathaniel performing a feat of strength.
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.
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.
Maker: Boskydel Vineyard, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA
Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)
Place of origin: Boskydel Vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi sweet white wine.
Purchased for $12.75 at winery.
Appearance: Light gold.
Nose: Mango, papaya, peach, vanilla.
Palate: Dry, medium-bodied. Thyme, navel orange.
Finish: Dry. Fades to lemonhead candy.
Parting words: Vignoles is one of the better white wine hybrid grapes grown in the Northeastern US. It’s associated with the Finger Lakes wine country, but is grown fairly widely in the region and even a little bit in Ontario. It’s mostly used to make fragrant dessert or sweet table wines, but can be used for dry too.
Boskydel founder Bernie Rink (b. 1926) is a Michigan wine pioneer. A librarian by trade, he was the first to establish a vineyard on the Leelanau peninsula and, after a few years of experimentation, in 1971 he planted his twenty-five acre plot with the hybrid wine grape varieties he thought performed best, including Vignoles. He intially sold his grapes, but in 1976, Boskydel opened up as the first bonded winery in Leelanau, producing 639 cases that year. As the Leelanau wine industry grew around him, Bernie kept doing the same thing he had been doing all along, producing affordable table wines from Franco-American hybrid grapes. By the 1990s and 2000s Boskydel had become a bit of a time warp. Other than putting up new newspaper clippings, the tasting room with its piles of paper and formica had not changed. In the ’00s, Bernie became as famous for his gruff, forgetful persona as for his pioneering work thirty years prior. When I visited in 2017 Bernie was not working in the tasting room. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get the first hand Bernie experience I had heard so much about, but the tasting room and winery building were a refreshing change after a day of drinking in tasting buildings that looked like upscale condominiums.
It was announced in the summer of 2017 that Boskydel would end its winery operations and the tasting room would be closed effective December 24. It was announced that vineyard operations will continue so maybe we’ll see a Boskydel single vineyard bottling from Left Foot Charley or another winery soon! It would be a fitting tribute to Bernie Rink and his groundbreaking winery. In the meantime, this wine is a pretty good tribute itself. It’s affordable, light and sweet but not dull. Very food friendly too. The winery is closed but ask around. Maybe someone you know has a few bottles squirreled away in a spider webbed cellar. Boskydel 2015 Vignoles is recommended.
Maker: Black Star Farms, Sutton’s Bay/Traverse City, Michigan, USA
Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 75%)
Place of origin: Michigan (56% Leelanau Co, 44% Grand Traverse Co), USA
Price: $28.50 (website, 2013 vintage)
Appearance: Dark burgundy. Opaque.
Nose: Roasted red pepper, sautéed mushrooms, raisins, crushed blueberry.
Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Chicken jambalaya, oak.
Finish: Tangy and oaky.
Parting words: Chicken jambalaya is a weird tasting note, I know, but I think it’s apt for the combination of vegetal (bell pepper, celery), sweet (tomato, onion), tart (tomato), toasty (toasted rice) spicy (bell pepper, black pepper) and earthy (tomato, celery, chicken) flavors I got in this wine.
I reviewed the 2004 Arcturos Three Black Lot Old Mission Peninsula Cab Franc back in 2011 in the early, halcyon days of this blog. It was more subtle and refined than this wine, but it was also two years older. At the time I thought it was too old, but my palate has shifted toward lighter, fruitier reds so it sounds really good to me right now. The 2012 Cab Franc is good right now but I think it will continue to improve into the first couple years of the next decade. $28.50 is a fair price, especially if one holds on to it for a few more years. There are probably a few 2012s still kicking around, but 2016 and 2017 should be as delicious as this vintage and as age-worthy. Goes well with beef, pork, turkey and spicy Latin chicken dishes. 2012 Arcturos Cabernet Franc is recommended.
Palate: Juicy on entry. Medium bodied. Cherry, red currant, blueberry, pink peppercorn, strawberry.
Finish: Juicy with growing oak.
Parting words: Bel Lago winery lives up to its name, Italian for “beautiful lake”, with one of the most beautiful views on the Leelanau Peninsula. It overlooks Lake Leelanau, which is named after the peninsula & county which was itself named by Indian agent and ethnographer Henry Schoolcraft in honor of his wife Jane Johnston Schoolcraft who wrote under the name Leelinau, a neologism created by her or Henry. Henry used the name for Native American women in some of the stories he wrote. Henry created several other pseudo-indigenous place names in Michigan, including Lenawee, Alpena, Kalkaska and Oscoda, combining native words with Latin or Arabic elements.
Pinot Noir was one of the varieties hardest hit during the disasterous 2014 and 2015 Polar Vortex vintages. I recently spoke to a Northern Michigan winemaker who told me that he was burnt out on the grape. This winemaker said that Pinot Noir is not worth growing in Michigan because it’s a pain in the ass to grow and it’s rarely any good (my paraphrase).
Bel Lago’s Moreno Vineyard Pinot Noir is a brilliant counterpoint to that view. Oak and spice provide the right amount of contrast to highlight the fruit that drives this wine. This wine is an excellent example of how good Pinot can be in Northern Michigan, at least in a long, hot year like 2012. $45 puts it at the top end of Michigan reds, but I think it’s worth the money. It’s as good as Pinto gets in Michigan. Bel Lago Moreno Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 is highly recommended.
Maker: Laurentide Winery, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA
Grape: Pinot Gris/Grigio
Place of origin: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Style: Semi-dry Gris.
Purchased for $20
Thanks to the Laurentide and the retailer who helped me get a replacement for my original tainted bottle.
Appearance: Pale gold with tiny stationary bubbles.
Nose: Mozzarella cheese, toasted pizza crust.
Palate: Medium dry, full bodied. Underripe peach, minerals, oregano, candied lemon peel.
Finish: Clean, slightly tart, then dry
Parting words: After meeting Laurentide co-owner Bill Braymer and his charming daughter Calla at the opening of Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills, I got excited about opening the one bottle of Laurentide wine I had in my cellar, a bottle of the 2013 Pinot Gris. The moment I uncorked it, I realized there was something wrong. One sip confirmed it. Taint. Luckily I was able to get a replacement from the winery along with an assurance that future vintages will use screw caps.
This one was flawless. No, I wasn’t eating pizza when I took these notes, but I felt like I could have been. Mozzarella, pizza crust and oregano sound weird in a wine, I know, but they were all delicate and delicious in this one. There’s enough sweetness and acid to balance those slightly funky pizza notes and create a harmonious beverage.
Nothing not to love about this wine or the Braymers for that matter. Bill impressed me at that tasting room opening. I remember him taking a sip of another winemaker’s product after a few glasses and saying something like, “Something not right about this one. Picked too soon, maybe? No excuse for that in 2012!” A winemaker who can’t shut the critical winemaking part of his brain off even at an event like that is somebody whose wine I want to drink. 2013 Laurentide Pinot Gris is recommended.
Maker: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA
Grape: Riesling (100%)
Style: Medium dry sparkling white wine (secondary fermentation was using the cuve close, aka “tank” method)
Place of origin: Shady Lane estate (Blocks M, I & N), Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA
Price: $25 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)
For more information, scroll down to this wine’s entry here on Shady Lane’s website.
Appearance: Very pale straw with steady, delicate bubbles.
Nose: Whiff of yeast then classic Riesling profile. Big peach, plum, jackfruit, fresh squeezed blood orange juice.
Palate: Light bodied and medium sweet with moderate acidity. Mineral water, grapefruit, lemon peel, vanilla bean.
Finish: Clean & crisp. Minerals, acid.
Parting words: Shady Lane, one of Leelanau’s best wineries, is named after the founder’s favorite Pavement song (ok, probably not but I like to pretend that it is). Almost all their wines are made from estate grown grapes. That sets them apart from most of their peers. It also makes their wines harder to find and a little more expensive, but it’s worth it.
Sparkling Riesling is relatively rare in the US or anywhere else for that matter. The last one I had was this one but it doesn’t really count since it was the result of an accident. I enjoyed Shady Lane’s intentional version quite a bit, as did a friend I served some to. My wife didn’t like it as much. She found it to be lacking in flavor and aroma. I will say that it is a little bland right out of the refrigerator. Letting the glass or bottle warm for a couple minutes before drinking brings out all the deliciousness described above. It is balanced enough that it pairs very well with spicy Thai or Middle Eastern food.
Sparkling Riesling is rare and a wine this well made at $25 is even more rare. It’s like that easy going but never boring friend with a bubbly but never unbalanced personality you always want to have around at a party (once she comes out of the cold, anyway). Shady Lane Sparkling Riesling is recommended.