David Miller ought to know how to make Riesling.
As a wine grape researcher for many years at Michigan State University, he designed and ran research plots, produced wine, wrote for scientific publications and picked up a Ph.D. in horticulture along the way.
As winemaker at St. Julian in Paw Paw, “Dr. Dave,” as he is known, helped establish new Riesling vineyards and introduced modern viticultural practices at the winery’s contracted growers.
So at midlife, his next move was no surprise: open a small winery.
Miller and wife Sandy, with daughter Sophie, 13, founded White Pine Winery in 2009 in the rural community of Lawton in southwest Michigan where they grow Riesling and Cabernet Franc.
In 2010, they opened a charming tasting room in the heart of St. Joseph, a block off the bluff in the merchant area, and now he is working on his third vintage and fine-tuning his skills in the retail business.
“It was a little scary at first, but I’m glad I took the plunge,” Miller said this week. “The wines are getting more recognition and a loyal client base.”
Miller’s White Pine Winery, named for Michigan’s state tree, specializes in aromatic, unoaked whites including Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Traminette; dry red blends; a single varietal Merlot; and Vidal Ice Wine. A Syrah will come out this fall.
“We don’t make Chardonnay,” he said. “I didn’t know how we could make one to stand out from all the rest; it’s the Grigios and aromatic whites that we can do well.”
Miller made the plunge the smart way: He uses grapes from his own vineyard but also buys from prime growers in Van Buren and Berrien counties, along with Fenn Valley Vineyards in Allegan County, and contracts with Doug Welsch at Fenn Valley, which has a custom crush operation, to make and cellar the wines.
Miller has taken a professional, practical approach to his wines: from how to grow and make them; to the elegant, understated label; to the across-the-board quality. And for added financial insurance, he maintains his work as a part-time visiting professor at MSU, where he is assisting professor Kris Berglund in developing a fermentation science program.
White Pine Winery and Vineyards is at 317 State St. in St. Joseph; summer hours are noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call (269) 281-0098 or go to www.whitepinewinery.com.
WHITE PINE WINES
The wines are sold at the tasting room in St. Joseph and at stores and restaurants in southwest Michigan.
2010 Riesling Reserve, $15.99: This is the real McCoy, a very Rhine-style wine that explodes with beautiful white floral notes, petrol, lime and green apple on the nose. It leans to the dry side with a river of minerality and luscious stone fruit on the midpalate. This is the star for me.
2011 Dry Riesling, $14.99: This popular seller at the St. Joe tasting room is dry without being bitter or overly austere. It’s crist and tart, packed with green apple, lime, floral notes, minerality — making it perfect for Lake Michigan whitefish.
2011 Traminette, $14.99: Expect the flavors of Gewurztraminer — floral, rose water, spice and lychee nut. It’s made in a sweeter style, but the sugar is masked by the blast of flavors and a good chill to the bottle. A versatile food wine.
2010 Serendipity, $24.99: This Bordeaux-style blend is packed with flavors of red berries, dark plums, cranberries and dried herbs. The spice and smoke off the oak is not shy. It’s a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It’s bold, intense and a candidate to age — if you can wait.