Head to head: Left Foot Charley Dry Riesling 2016 vs 2017

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

16= 2016 vintage

17= 2017 vinatge

Places of origin

16: Terminal Moraine (43%), Seventh Hill Farm original block (32%), Longcore (13%), and Cork’s Vineyard (12%) vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

16: Seventh Hill Farm (44%), Terminal Moraine (28%), Bird’s Perch (20%), Rosi Vineyards (5%), Longcore (2%), and Chown (1%) vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Style: Dry Riesling.

ABV

16: 12.1%

17: 12%

Purchased for

16: $19 (Red Wagon, Rochester Hills)

17: $18 (Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room)

Nose

16: Fruity, a little musty at first, lemon thyme.

17: Lychee, dry peach, lemon thyme.

Palate

16: Tart. Lemonheads, pear, grapefruit.

17: Drier. Mineral water.

Finish

16: Gravely, somewhat tart, but sweetens as it warms.

17: Similar. Gravel, slightly tart, but gets lemony as it warms.

Parting words: This was another head to head tasting Liz & I had with friends of the blog Amy and Pete. They’re old hat at this now so they went in with the focus of experienced wine tasters.

The overall winner was the 2017, although Amy and I liked both. Liz thought the 2016 was much too tart and Pete wasn’t too hot on it either. The 2017 had an austere elegance that the 2016 (at this point anyway) lacked. They both went very well with our snacks.

Left Foot Charley is known for its single vineyard Rieslings, one of the most famous of which is named for one of the vineyards well represented in these blends, Seventh Hill Farm. It’s the largest of the vineyards represented at a whopping 5 acres and goes back to the late 1990s. It’s owned by Tom and Linda Scheuerman and is known for its sunny southern exposure and sandy loam soil.

The second best represented of these vineyards is Terminal Moraine. It’s farmed by Lisa Reeshorst, and is 1.8 acres large. It will celebrate its twentieth anniversary next year. The others are mostly smaller. For more information on these wines and the vineyards they come from, click here for the 2016 vintage and here for 2017.

I’m not sure if the differences in these wines are terroir or vintage drive (although it’s probably a little of both) but it’s an interesting contrast. 2016 was a good vintage in Michigan, but maybe a little too hot (yes, that’s possible here). 2017 was a more balanced vintage and produced some very elegant, well-balanced wines, so our preference was not surprising. The 2016 may be a little over the hill (no pun intended) as well, although it’s still drinking just fine, in my opinion, anyway. In general, I think 2016 Michigan wines are not as age-worthy as the 2017s (although there are always exceptions).

At under $20, LFC Dry Riesling is a real bargain, especially compared to its German cousins. Both vintages are recommended, but unless you have a very expensive, climate controlled cellar, 2016 is a wine to drink now. The 2017 will probably be fine for another year or two, but why wait? It’s great now.

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!

Beacon 17 Riesling

Maker: Charlevoix Moon, Chalevoix, Michigan, USA

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Charlevoix Moon estate, Tip of the Mitt AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: (Semi-) Dry Riesling.

Vintage: 2017

Purchased for $24 at the Boyne City Farmer’s Market

ABV: Forgot to write it down.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Pear, old golden apple.

Palate: Golden apple, green apple, Meyer lemon.

Finish: Chewy and acidic.

Parting words: When the Tip of the Mitt AVA in Northern Michigan was announced, I was very skeptical as to whether most of the winemakers there would be interested in making serious wine or just emptying tourists’ wallets. As I familiarize myself more and more with the region and its winemakers, I realize more and more how unfounded my skepticism was. Barring some sudden climate catastrophe, Tip of the Mitt will never be able to produce the same sorts of wines as Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau or Old Mission, but that’s ok. They can produce their own sorts of wines, though. Almost all of them are/will be cold-hardy hybrids, and not European vinifera varieties.

Note that I said “almost all of them” in that last sentence. The “almost” is where this wine comes in. There are a scant few acres of Riesling in Tip of the Mitt, some of which belongs to Tom Jaenicke, owner and Man in the Moon of Charlevoix Moon Winery. The rest of the Riesling in Tip of the Mitt is owned by an unnamed vineyard owner who sells it to another winery that blends it away, for reasons that baffle Tom (and me).

This is a tart, chewy, very food friendly Riesling, reminiscent of Oregon or Alsace, but with a big acidic kick those don’t always have. Tom’s wines take a little bit of work to get a hold of currently, with farmer’s market season over and a pandemic raging, but they can be ordered from the Charlevoix Moon Website or over the phone (the number is on the website). Tom’s hybrid wines are also very good, but a Tip of the Mitt Riesling is a very rare bird, so be sure you include some with your order. You won’t regret it!

$24 is a very fair price for such a rare and delicious wine. Beacon 17 is recommeded!

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.

Semi-dry Riesling Head to Head: 2017 Shady Lane vs 2017Arcturos

S= Shady Lane, A: Arcturos

Makers

S: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

A: Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA

Grapes: Reisling (at least 85%)

Places of origin

S: Shady Lane Estate, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

A: Montana Rusa, Capellla, Leorie vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2017

ABV

S: 10.8%

A: 12%

Price

S: $13

A: $15

Appearance

S: Medium light gold

A: Light gold.

Nose

S: Semi-sweet apple

A: Gravel, peach.

Palate

S: Full-bodied, semi sweet, a little chewy.

A: Full-bodied, drier. Underripe peach.

Finish

S: Sweet and apply.

A: Semi-dry, clean.

Parting words: A few weeks ago, I was perusing my cellar and I discovered I had two or three bottles of Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling and Shady Lane Semi-dry Riesling so I decided to invite friends of the blog Amy and Pete over for some homemade jambalaya and a head to head tasting.

The jambalaya

Everyone seemed to enjoy both of these wines, but Arcturos won the night by a nose, as it were. It’s flinty dryness paired perfectly with the toasty spice of the dish and was a little more balanced and true to type. Shady Lanes’ Semi-dry tasted much more like how I expect a semi-sweet Riesling to taste and was a little chewy (a little lees contact maybe?), not a style that typically does as well with food.

That said, both of these wines are good and worth the price. 2017 Shady Lane Semi-dry Riesling and 2017Arcturos Semi-Dry Riesling are both recommended.

If you want to do more comparing, check out my review of the 2017 St. Julian Semi-dry Riesling!

Mackinaw Trail Late Harvest Riesling, 2013

Maker: Mackinaw Trail, Petoskey, Michigan, USAwp-1580342023816.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 75%)

Place of origin: Michigan (at least 75%)

Style: Late harvest Riesling

Vintage: 2013

Note: 24 brix at harvest

ABV: 10%

Purchased for $14 (forgotten liquor store)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Peach, pear.

Palate: Medium bodied. Mandarin oranges, ripe peach, gravel.

Finish: Peach then canned pear.

Parting words: This is the first bottle from Mackinaw Trail I have purchased in the last five years at least. Why? Well, several years ago, my friends and I visited the Mackinaw Trail tasting room in Petoskey and had a very pleasant time. Liz and I both liked the Merlot, so we bought a bottle and took it home.

When I opened it a few months later, it tasted terrible and was fizzy. I don’t mean Vinho Verde or Beaujolais Nouveau fizzy, I mean Vernor’s Ginger Ale fizzy. I dumped it out and vowed never to buy another bottle from them. I should have contacted someone, I know, but it was so disgusting that I didn’t want to have anything to do with them again.

A few months ago, I was killing time in a local liquor store and came across this bottle. I love late harvest Riesling (almost any Riesling, really) and this bottle was pretty mature so I thought I’d give Mackinaw Trail another chance. I’m glad I did.

This wine is not complex, and not as good as LHRs produced by some of the larger Michigan wineries like St. Julian, Black Star Farms and Chateau Grand Traverse, but it’s good enough for the price and it held up well for sitting on the shelf of a party store for five years. I’m glad I gave  Mackinaw Trail another try. Makinaw Trail’s 2013 Late Harvest Riesling is recommended.

Scriptorium Riesling, 2016

Maker: Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.20191023_205658.jpg

Grape: Riesling (100%)

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

Vintage: 2016

Style: Semi-dry Riesling. Light lees contact.

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $26 (winery)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, canned pears, gravel, pineapple sage, pinch of epazote.

Palate: Full-bodied and lush. Underripe bartlett pear, mandarin orange, and lemon sherbet but without the sweetness of all those things. A little tarragon too.

Finish: Acid first, then gravel.

Parting words: Scriptorium is a semi-dry Riesling, but it drinks like a lucious late harvest one. There’s a lot of fruit and big acid up front with some minerality and herbs bringing up the rear.

Riesling might not seem to fit the profile of Mari Vineyards at first glance. Mari is known for elegant red blends, especially ones featuring grapes not commonly grown in Michigan like Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (they can grow these grapes because of their nella serra system). Riesling very much fits the profile of Mari winemaker Sean O’Keefe, though. His family founded, and still owns, Chateau Grand Traverse just five miles up the peninsula from Mari. So when he was hired as winemaker at Mari, he knew he had to make Riesling too. It’s in his blood.

I’m very glad it is too. Scriptorium is a wonderful wine that is a bargain at $26. Drink it now or drink it later, but just drink it! 2016 Scriptorium Riesling is highly 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.

Block II Riesling, 2017

Maker: Bowers Harbor, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.20190626_203810.jpg

Place of origin: Block II, Bowers Harbor estate, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Vintage: 2017

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $16 (Holiday Market)

Thanks to Holiday Market Wine for ordering this for me.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Golden apple, orange zest, lemon thyme, peach,

Palate: Full-bodied. Meyer lemon, Valencia orange, mineral water.

Finish: Drying with a little tartness.

Parting words: When I heard that 2017 Block II was going to be a part of a Riesling Roundtable hosted by the Michigan Wine Collective on Twitter on June 24, 2019, I was very excited. Block II is one of my all-time favorite Michigan wines and is the gold standard for dry Riesling in Michigan, in my opinion. I reviewed the 2013 vintage a couple years ago and I’ve been madly in love ever since. I also reviewed the 2010 vintage back in 2015.

The 2017 vintage is already showing itself to be another strong one, if this wine is any indication. I love the freshness and acid here and I can’t wait to see how the other bottle I bought will develop in my cellar. Drink now or cellar for another year or two. 2017 Block II Riesling is highly recommended!