Firelands Riesling

Maker: Firelands Winery, Sandusky, Ohio, USA20180807_100554.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85%)

Place of origin: Isle St. George AVA, Isle St. George, Ohio, USA

Vintage: 2015

Style: Semi-sweet

ABV: 12.5%

Note: No lees contact.

Purchased for $12.50 (Joseph’s Beverage Center)

Appearance: Medium light gold.

Nose: Canned pear, lychee, gravel, fruit punch.

Palate: Medium sweet. Lemonheads, dried thyme, Hawaiian Punch.

Finish: Light. Pinch of thyme, lingering sweetness in the cheeks.

Parting words: Isle St. George, AKA North Bass Island is a part of the Lake Erie Islands archepeligo, which includes the other Bass Islands and Pelee Island, among many others. Pelee is by far the largest. North Bass Island is the fifth largest at just over 1,000 square miles. It is (barely) inhabited but much of the island is given over to parks and vineyards. Like its Canadian cousin, Isle St. Geoge’s climate is moderated by Lake Erie and for that reason is a prime location for vineyards.

Firelands is the “vanguard” winery of the Lonz group, which owns other Ohio wineries and wine brands. Firelands claims to be the largest winery in Ohio (by what measure is unclear) and they produce a full line of the usual cool climate varietals, sparklers and dessert wines.

When I bought this wine, I also bought a bottle of their 2012 Pinot Noir, which I did not like at all. It was musty and tired, though in its defense it may not have been stored properly. I was apprehensive when opening this Riesling. There was some initial mustiness on the nose, similar to what I get in many Oregon Rieslings, but it dissapated within a few minutes. It was crisp and fruity with an odd but pleasant squirt of tropical punch on the back end of the palate. $12.50 was a fair price, but the website lists the current vintage at $11, which is even fairer. Firelands Riesling is recommended.

Advertisements

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer

Maker: Jackson-Triggs, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.20180328_195011.jpg

Grapes: Riesling, Gewürztraminer (% unknown).

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada.

Vintage: 2014

ABV: 12.5%

Purchased for around $10 US (Replacement product currently selling for $14.25 Canadian from the winery)

Appearance: Pale yellow.

Nose: White peach, limestone dust, citrus blossum.

Palate: Dry. Mango, peach, lemon meringue, pink peppercorn.

Finish: Also dry. Meyer lemon, pinch of clove as it fades.

Parting words: There’s not much about the history of Jackson-Triggs kicking around on the internet, but what there is doesn’t seem to be too exciting anyway. The winery was established in 1993 by Messrs. Jackson and Triggs. Jackson-Triggs’ parent company Vincor (also founded by Jackson and Triggs) was purchased by Big International Booze Company Constellation Brands (Mondavi, Corona, Black Velvet, High West) for $1.52 billion Canadian in 2006. With Jackson-Triggs’sibling wineries Sawmill Creek and Inniskillin, Consetellation brands is the largest producer of Canadian wine.

Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is a crisp, but relatively flavorful white blend. good for summer porch sipping or accompanying roast chicken. This particular wine is no longer sold under this label, but has been rebranded as Crisp and Lively White and is currently selling for $14.25.  Still a fair price. 2014 Jackson-Triggs Reserve Riesling-Gewürztraminer is recommended.

For my review of the 2011 vintage of J-T’s Vidal Ice Wine, click here.

 

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.

Smith-Madrone Riesling, 2014

Maker: Smith-Madrone, St Helena, California, USA.20180211_131117.jpg

Grape: Riesling

Place of origin: Smith-Madrone estate, Spring Mountain District AVA, Napa Valley, California, USA.

Vintage: 2014

ABV: 12.8%

Purchased for $30.

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Underripe pear, lemon thyme, lemon zest.

Palate: Medium-bodied. Lemon-sage butter.

Finish: Lemon meringue.

Parting words: I don’t review many California wines on the blog, but when I do, there’s always a story behind it. This one comes out of an experience at the 2015 City of Riesling festival in Traverse City, Michigan. I first tasted this wine (from an earlier vintage) at one of the Salon Riesling sessions on the final day of the event. Here’s how it went:

After tasting a bone dry 2013 Domaine Wachau (Austria) and the very dry and very good Domaine Weinbach Personal Reserve (Alsace) we tasted a Riesling made by an old family winery in the Spring Mountain area of Napa. I thought it tasted like those awful buttered popcorn jelly beans that used to come in the Jelly Belly variety packs. [Vineyard owner and importer] Barry [O’Brien] had us taste it and asked what we thought. There were a few seconds of silence then I piped up. “I thought it was awful. Didn’t like it at all,” then I gave my jelly bean note. Eric Crane got a quizzical look on his face and said something like “That’s surprising” and sniffed the wine a couple times. Brian Ulbrich [of Left Foot Charley] piped up and told a story about a great experience he had working at that winery and others mentioned how great the family was and how great it was that they gave prime Napa vineyard space to Riesling. Karel [Bush of the Michigan Wine Council] then said that stories like those are the ones we need to tell to consumers to change perceptions. None of them said anything about how the wine actually tasted, though.

See here for the original post.

Smith-Madrone’s Riesling is almost universally loved, at least online, so I figured I needed to give it another shot. So I did. I liked it much better this time, but the butter note was still there, albeit hiding at the back of the palate. It might have been the abrupt change from the very dry Austrian and Alsatian wines in the tasting that made the butter so shocking at Salon Riesling or maybe it was the vintage.

I can appreciate the care that went into this wine and the importance of supporting independent growers and winemakers. I still found the butter note distasteful. It doesn’t make the wine bad, but it does mean I will probably not be paying $30 for this wine again with so many better local options. 2014 Smith-Madrone Riesling is mildly recommended.

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.

Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling, 2013

Maker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.20171228_181501.jpg

Place of origin: Cave Spring Vineyard, Cave Spring Estate, Beamsville Bench VQA, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada.

Grape: Riesling

Style: Off dry

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $17 from Red Wagon Wine Shoppe, Rochester, Michigan. $18 Canadian from the LCBO.

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Fresh thyme, sage, orange-flavored spring water.

Palate: Minerals, marjoram, peach skins, lime juice, car wheels on a gravel road.

Finish: Tart but slightly herbal.

Parting words: Not many Ontario wineries get distribution in Michigan. Luckily one of them is Cave Spring. Cave Spring is famous for Gamay and most of all for its world class Rieslings. The estate bottled Cave Spring Wineyard Riesling is consistantly one of their best and best values. The herbs and fruit and acid are all in perfect counterpoint like a JS Bach concerto. Cave Spring’s 2013 Cave Spring Vineyard Riesling is highly recommended.

 

 

Seventh Hill Farm Riesling, 2013

Maker: Left Foot Charley, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171205_175835.jpg

Grape: Riesling (at least 85% by law)

Place of origin: Seventh Hill Farm vineyard, Old Mission Penninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11.4%

Purchsed for $20 at Holiday Market

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee,  minerals, dried apricot,

Palate: Mineral water, mandarin oranges, lemon thyme, underripe peach.

Finish: Peachy and mineral-y.

Parting words: I’ve said before that I think Left Foot Charley is the best winemaker in Michigan. Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is more evidence to support that claim. 2013 was a difficult vintage for many growers in the state, but one that ultimately produced many wonderful whites (and some good reds too!) According to the label, this wine was fermented for a relatively long time to soften the edgy nature of the vintage. What has emerged is a sophisticated, complex (but not busy) semi-dry Riesling that offers up everything you’re looking for: minerals, herbs, fruit and acid in perfect harmony. This wine is like that extremely chill friend who is at his or her best just lounging in the backyard with you some summer afternoon and talking or even not talking. No awkward silences at Seven Hill Farm.

Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is drinking great right now but would probably hold up for at least another year or two. It goes very well with food (we drank it with grilled porkchops) and is a fair price. There still lots of 2013s hanging around (it’s still available on the LFC website) so buy some if you see them! I’m not sure if there’s going to be a 2016, but if there is, it’s sure to be great too. 2013 Seventh Hill Farm Riesling is highly recommended.

Bowers Harbor Block II Riesling, 2013

Maker: Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Traverse City, Michigan, USA20171116_190716.jpg

Grape: Riesling (German clones)

Place of origin: Block II, Bower’s Harbor estate, Old Mission AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Style: Dry

ABV: 12%

Price: $32 (winery)

Note: received complementary media tour in conjunction with 2015 City of Riesling festival (see here).

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Lychee, lemon thyme, dry gravel.

Palate: Medium-bodied and dry. Mineral water, Meyer lemon, fennel, winter savory, clementine.

Finish: Dry and tart. A little pineapple.

Parting words: Block II is a very sandy section of the Bowers Harbor estate, known for its old (by northern Michigan standards) stand of Riesling vines, planted in 1991. Block II is one of three single vineyard Rieslings BHV currently produces. The others are Smokey Hallow (also dry) and Langley Vineyard late harvest.

This is the second review of Block II Riesling I’ve written. I did a review of the 2010 vintage in 2015. It was running out of gas at that point but still good. The 2013 seems to be at its peak or close to it right now. While the 2010 tasted a little tired, this one is vibrant and still full of fruit, with lots of mouth-puckering acid, especially at room temperature. That combo makes for a classically food friendly wine, one that would make for a great addition to the Thanksgiving table.

With some work, you can probably still find a few 2013s kicking around but your better bet is to stock up on 2016s which are sure to be fantastic. The 2016 vintage of Block II Riesling is selling for $26 on the BHV website which is more than fair for a wine of this quality. If you love dry Riesling, stock up now! 2013 Bowers Harbor Block II Riesling is highly recommended.

 

2012 Late Harvest Riesling Head to Head: St. Julian vs Black Star Farms

St. Julian Lake Michigan Shore Reserve Late Harvest Riesling= SJ20170915_083849

Arcturos Old Mission Peninsula Late Harvest Riesling= Arc

Makers

SJ: St. Julian Winery, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA

Arc: Black Star Farms Old Mission, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Places of origin

SJ: Burgoyne Ridge vineyard, Berrien County, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Arc: Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

VinSugar at Harvest (in brix)

20170920_163846
More information on the back of the SJ label

SJ: 21.1°

Arc: 22°

ABV

SJ: 12%

Arc: 9.5%

Price (current vintages)

SJ: $13 (website, though I have seen it for under $10)

Arc: $17.50 (website)

 

Appearance

SJ: Medium gold

Arc: Light gold, almost green.

Nose

SJ: Pear, orange juice

Arc: Kerosene (I was the only one who got this note), lemon thyme, peach.

Palate

SJ: Medium bodied but rich. Big pear. Like getting one stuffed up my nose, in a good way.

Arc: Fuller bodied but drier. Crisp apple, lime, candied lemon.

Finish

SJ: Sweet, almost sherry-like.

Arc: Cleaner. Bitter sage.

Tasting panel

Liz: Preferred SJ. Found it more complex and fruitier.

Amy: Preferred SJ. Arc is for summer sipping by the lake. SJ is also for sipping by the lake, but fall is coming soon!

Pete: Preferred Arc. Found SJ too harsh.

Parting words: Michigan is known for Riesling. It’s the most planted wine grape in the state. It’s grown both in the “Up North” wine regions and in West Michigan. Riesling wine is made in a broad array of styles from bone-dry Austrian Smaragd to syrupy Mosel Trockenbeerenauslese. Michigan Rieslings don’t (yet) span that entire spectrum, but they have the middle of it well-covered. On the sweet end are Late Harvest Rieslings like these. The ripeness of the grapes used to make these wines is in the neighborhood of the grapes that would go into a German Spätlese.

I have been wanting to do something like this for a while. LMS vs OMP, West Coast vs Up North. It seemed like the best way to do that was to do it with two wines from two big producers in each area. Black Star Farms is the Up North titan with a winery in both Leelanau and Old Mission and there’s nobody in LMS (or the state) bigger and older than St. Julian. Also both of these wines are commonly found at bigger grocery stores in my area, often at discounted prices.

We all thought both wines were very good, but I was a little surprised at how much almost everyone (including myself) preferred St. Julian. While I didn’t find it as complex as Arcturos, it was richer and more enjoyable. Although St. Julian had less sugar (at harvest and residual) than Arcturos it tasted much sweeter and fruitier. Although the folks at the winery described it as “a bright, clean wine designed to be consumed shortly after release” here, it has held up very well, and probably even become richer. Arcturos held up well too. Both are good values, but St. Julian has the edge there too especially considering it’s a single vineyard wine (albeit a very large vineyard). 2012 St. Julian Lake Michigan Shore Reserve Late Harvest Riesling and 2012 Arcturos Old Mission Peninsula Late Harvest Riesling are recommended.

 

A Visit to WaterFire Vineyards

20170707_143820
A panoramic photo from the WaterFire parking lot. Tasting room/winery on left, vineyards and apple trees center and right.

I first met Chantal Lefebvre at the 2015 Michigan Wine Showcase. Since it’s the only Michigan wine industry event I get invited to, I try to make the most of it when I’m there. I seek out new wineries or at least ones I haven’t heard of to try. WaterFire was located near the center of the room with the food, so I strolled on over. The table wasn’t crowded so I was able to strike up a conversation with Chantal who was there pouring herself. Chantal is an introvert but not shy, if that makes any sense. As soon as I started asking her questions about the vineyards her passion for sustainable viticulture and winemaking poured out.

Like Mari Vineyards, WaterFire is a relatively new winery but, aside from both having great winemakers making great wine, the two operations couldn’t be more different. There’s no big money behind WaterFire, just Chantal’s (and husband Mike Newman’s) dream and skill. The property was purchased in 2008, planted in 2009 and the first vintage was 2012. The tasting room opened memorial day weekend of 2017, just a few weeks before we visited! They looked for property on Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas but land was too expensive. They eventually found a cherry orachard in Antrim county that was promising and purchased it. It’s located between Torch Lake (WaterFire? get it?) and the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay, opposite Old Mission Peninsula, north of Elk Rapids. Chantal has heard rumors of other properties being purchased for in the county but has no idea who or where they are.

Before starting her own winery, Chantal worked at many wineries across Michigan, including Left Foot Charley and Bower’s Harbor. WaterFire only has one other employee, also a woman. This makes it the only winery in Michigan with a 100% female workforce! She informed me that the dogs are male, however.

img_20170707_144030_768.jpg
The winery/tasting room building with dogs greeting us.

In the tasting room they currently offer five selections for tasting, including one wine they don’t make themselves, a Williamette Valley Pinot Noir (for any “I don’t like white wine” types that may straggle in). The estate wines are Rieslings from 2013 and 2014 respectively, a 2012 Grüner Veltliner and a Sauvignon Blanc from 2013. As you may have noticed, WaterFire only produces white wines. Why? White wine grapes do best at this site and in Northern Michigan in general. Why waste time with a fussy grape when you’re just starting out?

Waterfire also produces a hard cider, made from feral apple trees of on the estate and accross the road. The cider is very well balanced with some chewy tannins. It’s only available out of the tap at the tasting room, so bring a growler if you want to take some home.

IMG_4607
Chantal in the tasting room. Photo courtesy of WaterFire Vineyards.

As I alluded to earlier, Chantal’s passion is growing grapes and doing so in a sustainable way. WaterFire has two Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) certifications, for cropping and farmstead practices. Chantal uses no herbicides and only one pesticide, a natural, fermented product to control beetles. She has considered getting an organic certification for WaterFire, but the pesticide does not qualify as an organic. Chantal thinks the organic certification process is a pain and could stand to be simplified.

20170707_143853.jpg
Two rows of Sauvignon Blanc in the front with Riesling behind. Yes, they’re weedy, but Chantal doesn’t care. “Plants have many kinds of relationships, why focus only on competition?”
20170707_153037
Baby Sauv Blanc.
IMG_2586
Chantal and her grapes (Sauv Blanc?). Photo courtesy of WaterFire Vineyards.
20170707_153450
The back block planted with Sauvignon Blanc. Feral apple trees in the midground. 

Chantal’s immediate plans are to put in another vineyard block in front of the tasting room, probably with a (not fussy) red variety, possibly “something Austrian”. Lemberger is grown in Michigan and would be the obvious choice, but Zweigelt is grown widely in Ontario and might also be a possibility. If she asked me, I would suggest Gamay. It’s not Austrian, of course, but it is a grape that does very well in Northern Michigan but is not grown nearly enough.

Something I would also like to see is an East Grand Traverse Bay AVA (or something like that) in that area, if more vineyards do go in. If WaterFire’s vineyards are typical of the terroir there, it’s deserving of AVA status.

20170707_153135
Future home of the next block of vines, possibly red wine grapes.

We didn’t take a look around the winery itself because we were short on time, but we had a lovely visit and conversation with Chantal. I love her wine and I love her committment to growing grapes in a sustainable way. We’re grateful that she was able to spend time talking to us for my little dog and pony show. The next time you’re in the area, stop into WaterFire and try some of the best white wines in Michigan. Then take home a few. Look for reviews of the wines we brought home over the next few weeks.

For more on the beginnings of WaterFire, check out this interview with Chantal and Mike from 2013 by Michigan By The Bottle.