Wine column | Wine Culture

Brys Estate's Stassen is on target with velvety reds, unique whites

Coenraad Stassen, the South African born winemaker and vineyard manager at Brys Estate on Old Mission Peninsula, has found his groove.

Stassen is a master of fruit-forward, velvety red wines — he can make Cabernet Francs and Pinot Noirs that sing — and dry whites like the newest Gewurztraminer and Dry Riesling that are packed with flavor and are multi-dimensional.

Stassen, reached this week at the winery, said his work ethic is this: “Don’t sleep too much. Love the challenge. Each year, create a style that brands the winery.”

Stassen, who will soon be sworn in as a U.S. citizen, has worked nine years on the scenic peninsula outside Traverse City and experienced the vagaries of the weather and vintages. In 2010, the final wines were spectacular, but a frost wiped out 40 percent of the crop. In 2011, the spring started out wet and cool, but it evolved into a long, hot summer and fall that filled the cellar with high-quality reds and whites.

Brys is about halfway up the peninsula and overlooks the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s at a former cherry farm dating to the 19th century that Walter and Eileen Brys transformed over the last decade into their home, guesthouse, winery, tasting room and vineyard. They have 80 acres but only 32 are plantable.

Brys is unique in that it grows 100 percent of its grapes in a single vineyard visible from the tasting room — Stassen oversees it — and they ferment, age and bottle the wines onsite. That’s the old European way — the meaning of “estate grown and bottled.”

Customer demand, according to Walter Brys, is pushing the capacity of the winery, and an expansion may be coming in the future. They sell most of the wines out of the tasting room or through the 700-member wine club — and pricing (not cheap) is never an issue.

Here’s a taste of some of the new wines:

Brys Estate Merlot 2010, $35: Lift the glass and inhale: The nose is a blast of blackberry, boysenberry, ripe plum and spice. The fruit is enhanced, not overwhelmed, by the oak, which seamlessly threads its smoke and spice throughout the flavors.

Brys Estate Pinot Blanc 2011, $24: My first thought: This would make an amazing sparkling wine. It’s rich, crisp and minerally, packed with flavors of apples, pears and lime. Perfect for pairing with Michigan whitefish, pickerel or lake perch.

Brys Estate Cabernet Franc 2010, $35: Caberent Franc is one of the grapes in a typical Bordeaux blend. It deepens the color, broadens and softens the palate, adds to the layers of flavor. Occasionally in California and more often in Michigan, New York and Virginia, you find wineries making single varietals, and it’s easy to get hooked. Many have a green pepper overtone, but not this one. It’s all berries and plums with a twist of cranberry and thyme. Tannins area velvet. It’s not green and stemmy — it truly ripened.

Brys Estate Naked Chardonnay 2011, $22: “Naked” is a reference to the absence of oak in in fermenting and aging. The fruit does all the talking, and Stassen keeps this one on the slightly green side with lime, kiwi and green apple notes to lead into a blast of tropical fruit on the midpalate. It’s one of the top sellers in the tasting room.

Brys Estate Gewurztraminer 2011, $22: This multi-layered wine expresses the spice and the floral notes of Gewurztraminer. It has a subtle sweetness to it, and lovely perfume of lichee nut, white flowers, lime and green tea. Stassen makes Gewurztraminer in two styles and then blends them. One is fermented a little dryer with more skin contact; the other fermentation is stopped early for a sweeter and more floral style. This demonstrates his effort to “brand a style.”

Brys Estate Dry Riesling 2011, $20: The ripe vintage helps make this wine so fleshy, so fruit-forward. It has wonderful core flavors of lime, nectarine and apricot. It’s dry, but not austere, which increases the charm. What a nice wine to pair with Michigan whitefish or lake perch.

Brys Estate Riesling-Gris 2011, $15: This off-dry beauty gets a rush of minerality from the Pinot Gris and lovely floral, tropical tones from the Riesling. It’s made to be an easy drinking summer wine to enjoy by itself or with lighter-style dishes.

BLOSSOM DAYS

The cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula are a blaze of blossoms in May, and to celebrate them the wineries will hold their annual Blossom Days with special tastings May 19-20. For a $30 ticket, visitors can taste samples of unreleased wines, including special barrel and reserve wines, in addition to the standard choices. Ticket includes a souvenir glass. Chateau Chantal will hold a ceremonial blessing of the blossoms at 12:30 p.m. May 20, followed by complimentary cherry pie. For information and advance tickets, go to the web site or call (231) 223-4110.