A Visit to Nathaniel Rose at Raftshol Vineyards

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 started his own business operating out of Brengman Brothers winery were he worked at the time. Last year, he purchased the Raftshol Vineyard 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 Roses 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 a Master somm), 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 (~$250), Ridge Monte Bello (~$250), and Jos. Phelps Insignia (~$190), all of the 2012 vintage. 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. 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!).

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Nathaniel’s current residence. To know the grapes, one must live amongst them, or at least down the road from them.

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!

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Cody Kresta Peach

Maker: Cody Kresta, Mattawan, Michigan.20180509_202720.jpg

Fruit: Peach (100%)

Vintage: 2016 (!)

ABV: 11%

Purchased for $16 from Michigan by the Bottle.

Appearance: Light orange.

Nose: Big, overripe peach.

Palate: Medium-bodied, semi-sweet. Squishy, nearly rotten peach.

Finish: Sweet, fade quickly.

Parting words: Peaches are usually associated with Georgia, but California actually produces the most peaches of any state. New Jersey, Washington and New York also rank in the top ten. Those three states are also major cool-climate wine producers, like Michigan. While Michigan isn’t a major peach producer nationally, its climate is great for growing peaches. There are few things I love more than a perfectly ripe Michigan peach in the late summer.

When I first tasted this peach wine at MBTB, that’s what I tasted. It was a beautiful experience and I took a bottle home with me. That was in September 2017. I had a few fruit wines in the cue ahead of this one, so I didn’t get around to opening it until earlier this week. That was a mistake. I love fruit wines, but they usually don’t reward cellaring.

2016 Cody Kresta Peach is tasty and recommended. It has lost some of its freshness, though, so I also recommend drinking it promptly after release!

 

Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc, 2014

Maker: Sandhill Crane Vineyards, Jackson, Michigan, USA.20180425_094301.jpg

Grape: Vidal Blanc

Place of origin: Michigan (At least 75% Michigan Vidal by law)

Vintage: 2014

Style: Semi-sweet.

ABV: 12.5%

Price: $16 (current vintage on website)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: Peach, mango, papaya, wet limestone.

Palate: Full-bodied. Like pineapple syrup and mango nectar, but not cloying.

Finish: Clean, slightly tangy.

Parting words: Vidal is one of the best-known hybrid grape varieities in this part of the world. It’s most famous for its use in Canadian Ice wine, and is grown as far north as Nova Scotia and Sweden for that purpose. As you might have guessed from that last sentence, Vidal is cold-hardy and was able to produce good wine like this even in a Polar Vortex year like 2014. It’s grown fairly widely in Michigan, often for use in dessert wines, but not always, as in this case.

This Sandhill Crane Vidal is heavy on tropical fruit, but not overly sweet, which makes for nice porch sipping and pairs well with pork and chicken. $16 is a fair price, but much more would be pushing it for a non-AVA hybrid wine, even one of this quality. 2014 Sandhill Crane Vidal Blanc is recommended.

Hawthorne Lemberger, 2013

Maker: Hawthorne Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Lemberger/Blaufränkisch

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

ABV: 13%

Purchased for $35 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room, Auburn Hills)

Appearance: Dark ruby.

Nose: Cherry jam, bubble gum, cedar.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Blackberry jam, cherry juice, grows tannic as it hangs around in the mouth.

Finish: Tart, then cheek-filling tannins.

Parting words: Despite my lack of enthusiasm over this increasingly popular grape, I am continuing to drink and review wines made with Lemberger/Blaufränkisch. My thinking is that if I never actually like them, I can at least understand them and appreciate how they should taste.

I expected this wine to be another exercise in “understanding” but to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it! It had the same rustic, tannic character as the other Lembergers I’ve tasted, but this time balanced with acid, which made all the difference. I didn’t even have to chill it. I don’t know if it was the cooler vintage, the terroir, vineyard management, or the skill of the winemaker, but this Lemberger transcends its peasant heritage and becomes a sophisticated, balanced wine even Blau-skeptics like me can enjoy. Hawthorne Vineyards’ 2013 Lemberger 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.

Chateau Chantal 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling

Maker: Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180306_193716.jpg

Grape: Riesling (100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

ABV: 13%

Notes: .2% residual sugar, 3.1 pH

Thanks to Cortney for tracking down additional information for me!

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

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Lychee, lemonade, limestone.

Palate: Medium-bodied and quite dry. Fresh picked pears, medium-tart apple, sage, gravel dust.

Finish: Long and drying. Lemon thyme.

Parting words: Chateau Chantal is one of the oldest estates on the Old Mission Peninsula and in Northern Michigan wine country. Founded in 1983 by Nadine and Robert Begin (a former nun and former priest respectively) as Begin Orchards, it was incorporated as a winery in 1991 and named after their daughter Marie-Chantal (now the winery CEO).

The vineyard this wine and its sister wine the 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Chardonnay, come from a vineyard on the estate planted in 1986. Luckily for the Chateau, the 2016 vintage was a stellar one, so the anniversary can be celebrated properly with two (or more?) wonderful wines.

Thirty-year-old vines are pretty old for Michigan, due to the climate and youth of the wine industry in the state. This wine shows the characteristics one would hope for in an old vine selection. It has complexity, depth and a surprising intensity. It tastes great now, especially with food, but with another year or two in the cellar the flavors should intergrate a little better to make a truly great wine.

So drink now or cellar? Yes. Head up to Chateau Chantal or to the Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room in Auburn Hills (the only two places to find this wine) and grab yourself two or more bottles. Hurry though, this wine was produced in very limited quantities! Chateau Chantal 30 Year Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Riesling is recommended.

Look for a review of the Chardonnay in the near future.

Bowers Harbor Medium Sweet Riesling, 2013

Maker: Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20180125_120014.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

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

Style: Semi-sweet Riesling

ABV: 12%

Price: $16 (2016 vintage, winery)

Note: Received a media discount and reduced price tour at time of purchase.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Very ripe peach, gravel road, sage, grapefruit.

Palate: Full-bodied. Orange push pop, pineapple juice.

Finish: Long and tart.

Parting words: Practically everybody in Michigan grows Riesling. For some wineries in Michigan, Riesling is a part of their identity. Bowers Harbor is one of those. I reviewed BHV’s 2013 Block II dry Riesling a few weeks ago and the 2010 Block II a while back.

This wine has almost all the same aromas as those wines, but with the sweetness dialed up. It reminds me of a relatively dry German Kabinett, but with the signature characteristics of OMP Riesling.

Pairs well with spicey food and the price is very good for a wine of this quality. There should still be a few 2013s lurking on shelves around Michigan, but if you can’t find any, pick up a bottle or twelve of the 2016 Medium Dry Riesling. Bowers Harbor Medium Sweet Riesling is recommended.

Blind Gamay head to head: Beaujolais vs. Old Mission

Yes, it’s another head to head! This time I decided to pit a 2014 Gamay Noir from Chateau 20180131_170642.jpgGrand Traverse on Old Mission Peninsula against a 2014 Beaujolais-Villages from Joseph Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s biggest négociants (wine buyers/blenders/bottlers). I enlisted the help of friends of the blog Amy and Pete to help us out (last seen here). Just to make sure we were tasting the wine and not our biases, we tasted these two wines blind. I’ll review them that way too, revealing which is which (and price and ABV) at the end. I’ll integrate the co-taster’s notes into my own, noting if they differ from mine.

Appearance

A: Dark rose.

B: Similar, but a little darker

Nose

A: Fruity, berries specifically. I also smelled pepper and a drop of balsamic vinegar (in a good way)

B: Very similar, maybe a little more oak and a little less balsamic.

Palate

A: Light bodied. Strawberry, blackberry, oak.

B: Same flavor palette, but a little drier, chewier and more intense. That said, none of us knew if I could tell these two apart in a wider tasting. They both grew tart as they warmed, shifting into raspberry.

Finish

A: Drying. Balsamic, oak.

B: Similar but drier and longer.

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I forgot to take pictures of the Gamay tasting, so here’s Amy & Pete tasting Riesling.

THE REVEAL

A= Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages, 2014. 12.5% ABV. $16 (Holiday Market)

B= Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir, 2014 (Old Mission Peninsula AVA). 12% ABV. $15 (Holiday Market)

The CGT Gamay Noir performed slightly better, but as I wrote above, the wines were virtually identical. Both were delicious and paired well with the chocolate and cheese we nibbled on during the tasting. They’d both do well with grilled or roasted chicken, salmon or pork. Both are recommended, but why not save yourself a buck while supporting the Mitten state and pick up a bottle of CGT Gamay Noir the next time you buy wine!

 

 

 

2012 Cabernet Franc head to head tasting: Free Run vs. Brys Estate

A few months ago we invited my friends Pete and Amy over to taste two 2012 Late Harvest Rieslings (one from Lake Michigan Shore and one from Old Mission Peninsula) and I wrote it up for the blog. A couple weeks ago I noticed I had a few bottles of 2012 Michigan Cabernet Franc in my cellar and I thought it would be a great opportunity for another four-person wine tasting.

From those 2012 Cab Francs I picked two from two boutique-y wineries, one in Lake Michigan Shore and one on Old Mission Peninsula. Free Run is a sub-label of Round Barn specializing in estate grown and/or single vineyard wines run by Matt and Christian Moersch. Brys Estate is one of the most popular destinations on Old Mission with a dark, swanky tasting room and a beautiful deck that stretches out into the vineyards. It is known for its upscale reds and dry Riesling.

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Jessica and Brian

For this tasting we asked our bordeaux varietal-loving friends Jessica and Brian to join us. They suggested we make a dinner of it and so we and our kids gathered at their place for a delicious meal and hopefully delicious wines to go along with it! Big thanks to them for hosting! Now, on to the tasting.

FR= Free Run Cellars Cabernet Franc, Berrien Springs, Michigan USA (Round Barn)20180113_165641.jpg

BE= Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Grape: Cabernet Franc (at least 85%)

Place of origin

FR: Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

BE: Brys Estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2012

ABV

FR: 12%

BE: 13.5%

Price

FR: $25 (winery) At time of purchase I received a complimentary tour, tasting, lunch and discount.

BE: $50 (winery)

Appearance

FR: Dark ruby.

BE: Darker. Plum.

Nose

FR: A little reserved at first. Cherry, strawberry jam, oak.

BE: Big lavender, blackberry.

Palate

FR: Cherry juice, chewy tannins, raspberry, blackberry.

BE: Less fruity and less tannic. More reserved. French lavender, fig, mulberry, chocolate.

Finish

FR: Tart. A little cherry.

BE: Tight, clove, lavender again.

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The casserole

Pairing: Baby spinach salad, sausage and lentil casserole, chocolate tarts.

FR: The spinach salad clashed a bit with the tannins in FR, but FR was wonderful with everything else, especially the casserole. The earthiness of the lentils and spice of the sausage complemented FR’s fruit and tannin perfectly.

BE: While BE wasn’t unpleasant with the main dish, it did sort of stand aloof from it. When we got to the chocolate tarts it seemed to feel more at home. Its floral aroma was a great complement to the dark chocolate and sea salt.

Tasters other than me

Jessica: Liked both. Thought FR took a long time to open up, but once it did, she liked the fruit and tannins and thought it paired very well with the casserole (which she made after seeing lentils listed as a good pairing for Cab Franc). Thought BE was good, but not very food friendly, except as an accompaniment for the chocolate. She did not think either was a good value compared to the similar wines from Napa and France that she and Brian usually drink. On BE: “This is not a $50 wine.”

Brian: Wasn’t aware that Cab Franc was grown in Michigan before this tasting! He agreed with most of what Jessica said. He found BE to be easy drinking with almost no tannin. He found FR to be more aggressive but agreed that FR was more food-friendly.

Liz: Seemed to like everything and agreed with everyone else.

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The chocolate tarts

My parting words: I enjoyed both of these wines, but I do agree with the consensus opinion. FR was what I expect when I buy a Cabernet Franc: Food friendly, with fruit, tannin and some oak and spice. The food friendliness is not surprising given the “full culinary experience”-type tastings Free Run wines are made for.

BE was surprising. The lavender aroma dominates and makes it difficult to pair with a meal. There was also very little tannin. It was subtle and elegant, but almost too much so. Some chewiness would have brought things together a little better.

I think FR was worth the money, but BE was not. Brys wines are overpriced across the board. I’d probably pay $30 or $35 for BE Cab Franc, but at $50 I expect more going on. My final verdict: 2012 Free Run Cabernet Franc is recommended and 2012 Brys Estate Cabernet Franc is mildly recommended.

Boskydel Vignoles, 2015

Maker: Boskydel Vineyard, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA20171216_175831.jpg

Grape: Vignoles (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Boskydel Vineyard, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Semi sweet white wine.

ABV: unknown

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.

20171214_162151.jpgParting 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.

For more information on the history of Boskydel, see here: https://www.michiganwines.com/docs/About/history_boskydel.pdf

Some journalistic tributes:

http://www.record-eagle.com/news/the_biz/boskydel-vineyard-bids-farewell-at-year-s-end/article_8773a494-54fb-544e-acf6-59d168e733bd.html

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/life/food/wine/2017/12/29/boskydel-winery-leelanau-peninsula-michigan-hybrids/109012252/

http://www.hourdetroit.com/Hour-Detroit/July-2017/Last-call-for-Leelanaus-oldest-winery/

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Boskydel winery and tasting room.
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View of the vineyard from the tasting room parking lot with Lake Leelanau in the background