Monday, July 1, 2019

Michigan Riesling Capturing International Attention

1040788Winemaking has been around in Michigan since the 1600s. Today its Riesling is garnering worldwide acclaim.

Rooted In History

The first record of winemaking in Michigan was in 1679 when French explorers made wine from grapes found along the Detroit River. Two decades later settlers planted a vineyard at Fort Ponchartrain in Detroit.

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Michigan’s romance with Riesling didn’t start until 290 years later. Riesling was first officially planted at southwest Michigan’s Tabor Hill Winery in 1969. In the mid-1970s Riesling was planted at Chateau Grand Traverse in Old Mission Peninsula.

At the time, it was a risky venture as Michigan’s climate was considered too cold to successfully grow commercially viable grapes.

My how times have changed. In October, Black Star Farm’s 2017 Arcturos Dry Riesling was awarded the title of best Riesling in the world at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge. The Black Star Riesling topped 567 Riesling from six countries.

Right For Riesling

Having spent more than two decades in nearby northwest Ohio, the quality of Michigan wine was no surprise to us. Part of Michigan lies near the 45th parallel, just like premium French wine regions Burgundy, Alsace and Bordeaux. In addition, the moderating effect of Lake Michigan and waters around Grand Traverse Bay soften the chilly blasts of winter and translate to ideal conditions for growing Riesling.

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The state now has more than 3,000 acres of vineyards devoted to winemaking with 1.7 million visits to state wineries annually. Results of a recent economic impact study determined Michigan's wine industry to have a $5.4 billion economic impact, including $253 million in tourism spending in Michigan.

We explored the virtues of Michigan Riesling during an online tasting hosted by the Michigan Wine Collaborative. The MWC was formed to support the sustainability and profitability of the Michigan wine industry by supporting wineries, growers and other related businesses.


Swimming In The Harbor

Participants in the tasting had a option to order Riesling from five different wineries with a discount. Participating wineries included: Amoritas Vineyards, St. Julian Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Chateau Chantal and Fenn Valley Vineyards.

Having tried wine from several of the wineries – and it not being practical to order a bottle from each – I settled on Bowers Harbor. I’ve always wanted to try their wines and now was my chance.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards was founded in 1991 and is located in Old Mission Peninsula overlooking West Grand Traverse Bay. Originally a horse farm, the winery has 20 acres of vines and the tasting room occupies the former stable.

We selected the Bowers Harbor 2017 Block II Riesling, Old Mission Peninsula, for the tasting. To me, there is nothing better than an excellent Riesling – and nothing lamer than a poor one. Inexpensive Riesling from California barely qualifies to carry the name – it’s just too hot there to develop the acidity and nuanced flavors that make Riesling shine. I was delighted to find that the Bowers Harbor Block II was outstanding.

The Spicy Shrimp Test

As you might guess, for tastings like this I do the difficult tasks – like uncorking the bottle. My wife meanwhile had the easy job of whipping up an elaborate gourmet meal to accompany our Riesling. The meal was grilled spicy shrimp with butternut squash sprinkled with cinnamon. Also front and center was an avocado-yogurt dipping sauce.

Riesling pairs fantabulously with seafood. Ditto for spicy food. This is true for Riesling at most sweetness levels. The Block II is a dry Riesling that packs plenty of flavor.

I look for balance in Riesling. The acidity has to mesh with the fruit flavors. If either outweighs the other, the winemaker has missed her or his mark.

The Bowers Harbor Vineyards Block II, which retails for $32, is one of the best Rieslings we’ve had in recent times. The flavors are bright with lemon zest, a popping acidity and light minerality. It was spot on with the shrimp entree. The shrimp was marinated in a sauce that included chili powder, so the heat was cooled by our nicely chilled Block II.

You’re encouraged to check out the fine wines of Michigan and Bowers Harbor Vineyards.

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