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.

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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.

St. Julian Riesling, 2013

Maker: St. Julien, Paw Paw, Michigan, USA20170703_202437

Place of origin: Magnificent Mile Vineyard, Baroda, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Michigan, USA

Style: Medium dry.

ABV: 12%

Purchased for $12 (Meijer)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Ripe peach, flint, orange thyme, canned pineapple.

Palate: Fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh red pear, meyer lemon.

Finish: Mineral with a squirt of citrus.

Parting words: The old saying is that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t think that’s true in most cases, but I think it does happen to St. Julian sometimes. St. Julian’s Heron series of sweet, plonky wines are best sellers in Michigan and elsewhere. Their tasting rooms are located in touristy areas and interstate exits. This could lead a person to dismiss St. Julian as an unserious winemaker only interested in trapping tourists or resting on its laurels as Michigian’s oldest and biggest winery.

Who thinks like this? Well, sometimes I do and that’s led to me unfairly ignore St. Julian’s wines. I’m hoping to rectify that with this review and some that will be coming later this year.

2013 St. Julian Riesling is a very enjoyable semi dry wine at a wonderful price. It does a nice job of representing both the grape and LMS terroir. It’s crisp, as a Riesling of this style should be, but as it warms a tropical fruit and a hint of petroleum appear. Nothing unpleasant, though. It pairs well with just about anything. $12 is a steal for a tasty, single vineyard Riesling from a good producer. St. Julian Riesling 2013 is recommended.

WaterFire Riesling, 2013

Maker: WaterFire Vineyards, Kewadin, Michigan, USA20170516_082046

Place of origin: WaterFire estate, Antrim County, Michigan, USA

Style: Medium dry.

ABV: 11%

Purchased for $18 (Holiday Market)

Appearance: Light gold.

Nose: Mandarin orange, meyer lemon, lychee, woodruff.

Palate: Lemonade, mineral water, navel orange.

Finish: Pineapple, lemon thyme.

 

Parting words: The WaterFire winery is located in Northwest Michigan, on the isthmus between Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay, opposite Old Mission Peninsula. It’s not within the bounds of any of the Northern Michigan AVAs but it is close to all of them. Antrim County is one of the county appellations that were grandfathered in when the new AVA system was rolled out in the 1980s.

Chantal Lefebvre, owner and winemaker of Water Fire does not have natural, organic or biodynamic certification for her wines, but she is firmly committed to growing grapes and making wine in a way that is in harmony with the natural world. I had a fairly long conversation with her about that topic at the 2016 Michigan Wine Showcase in Detroit. Water Fire wines are estate grown and limited production but are some of the best wines Michigan has to offer. They currently produce Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner.

2013 was a banner year for white wines in Michigan as you, the attentive Sipology reader, know. 2013 Water Fire Riesling ranks near the very top of great Michigan Rieslings in a year full of them. This wine’s minerality and herbal aromas provide the perfect foundation for the gothic cathedral of acidity that rises up through the palate. I love this wine and this winery. WaterFire deserves to be a household name, and their wines deserve a place at your table. 2013 WaterFire Riesling is highly recommended.

 

 

Shady Lane Sparkling Riesling, 2014

Maker: Shady Lane Cellars, Suttons Bay, Michigan, USA20170320_112711.jpg

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

ABV: 10.6%

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.

 

 

Cave Spring Riesling, 2013

20161004_191113.jpgMaker: Cave Spring Cellars, Jordan, Ontario, Canada.

Place of origin: Niagara Peninsula VQA, Ontario, Canada (approx. 75% from estate & family vineyards)

Vintage: 2013

ABV: 11%

Price: C$16/$12 USD (LCBO)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Mild. Lemon, orange zest.

Palate: Medium bodied, semi-dry. Lemon/lime soda, limestone, thyme.

Finish: Light. Underripe pear.

Parting words: I got this bottle a few months ago when I made a run to the border to pick up some Canadian whisky and wine. The whisky selection was as expected, but the selection of Canadian wine was very disappointing. Luckily they had a few bottles from some better known producers like Jackson Triggs and Cave Spring so I grabbed some of those.

I was first turned on to Cave Spring after tasting their Dry Riesling at the City of Riesling event in Traverse City in the summer of 2015. The geology of the Niagara region is special and it shows in this bright and refreshing, but not dull, Riesling. It’s well worth the price. I look forward to exploring more from them in the near future! I hope they ship to Michigan or maybe I can convince my wife to take a Niagara getaway next summer.

 

Semi-dry Riesling Head to Head: Chateau Grand Traverse vs Gill’s Pier

Chateau Grand Traverse (Traverse City, Michigan, USA)= CGT20160531_195230-2.jpg

Gill’s Pier (Traverse City, Michigan, USA)= GP Now defunct.

Place of origin

CGT: Old Mission Peninsula AVA, Traverse City, Michigan, USA

GP: Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Leelanau County, Michigan, USA (estate)

Vintage: 2013

ABV

CGT: 11%

GP: 10%

Appearance:

CGT: Medium gold.

GP: Pale gold

Nose

CGT: Rich. Slightly musty, old Riesling aroma when first opened, then peachy all the way through.

GP: Crisp yellow apple, Meyer lemon, lemon thyme.

Palate

CGT: Full-bodied, old Riesling feel. Mandarin orange, sage.

GT: Bracing, but still sweet. Tangerine, bottled lemon juice.

Finish

CGT: Dry, with a little bitterness.

GP: Cheek-filling tartness. Fades slowly.

Parting words: I got the idea for this head to head when I pulled a wine out of our liquor cabinet to put in our china cabinet for near term-consumption (we have an overly complex three-part staging system for wine in our house). I pulled out the CGT Semi-dry Riesling and then went to move up the bottle below it and noticed it was the Gill’s Pier Semi-dry of the same vintage. I’ve done a lot spirits head to heads, but not many wine ones so I thought this was the perfect opportunity.

I didn’t expect there to be much of a difference between these two, honestly. I was quite surprised at the contrast between two wines made from grapes grown a few miles apart in the same style and year. It’s a testimony to the varied terroir of northwest Michigan and the flexibility of Riesling. CGT is lush and decadent where Gill’s Pier is focused and elegant. If I had to choose one over the other, I would probably opt for Gill’s Pier, but just by a hair. Both are recommended. Unfortunately, Gill’s Pier estate is now an alpaca farm, but Chateau Grand Traverse is still going strong and readily available all over Michigan.

Forty-Five North Dry Riesling, 2011

Maker: Forty-Five North, Lake Leelanau, Michigan, USA20160405_115701-1.jpg

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

ABV: 11.25%

Purchased for $19 (Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan)

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Dry and flinty. Lychee, water chestnut, Bartlett pear, dried savory, epazote.

Palate: Peach, tangerine, ruby red grapefruit, mineral water, dried chicory.

Finish: Medium length. Dry, herbal with a slight bitterness.

20160402_182008-1.jpgParting words: Having had an odd experience when I visited Forty-Five North last summer, I had been put off from reviewing any more of their stuff. I’m very glad I reviewed this one, though. I found it languishing on a shelf at store at which I usually buy Scotch and decided to pick it up earlier this year, even though I was unsure if it would still hold up.

Held up it did. This wine was wonderful. It’s one of the driest Michigan Rieslings I’ve had. I ate it with a couple different meals, including a cheese tart, made with Raclette from Leelanau Chesse (it’s all they make). It did well with everything. It’s drinking very well now, obviously, but it will probably still be good a year or more from now. $18 was the original MRSP but it’s easily worth $19-$20 or more. 2011 is still showing very well for Michigan whites. Forty-Five North’s 2011 Dry Riesling is highly recommended.