Leelanau wineries: What's new, what's hot in Northern Michigan

The new Brengman Brothers Winery is at the junction of Crain Hill Road (off M-22) and Center Highway) on the Leelanau Peninsula. (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

The new Brengman Brothers Winery is at the junction of Crain Hill Road (off M-22) and Center Highway on the Leelanau Peninsula. (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

Longing for Leelanau? The beaches, the wineries, the winding roads, the cherry pies?

Spring has been slow in coming up north, but the buds on trees and vines are starting to swell as witnessed by more than two dozen scribes who recently converged on Traverse City for the annual Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association Media Day.

Brushing off snow flakes were wine bloggers, authors, tourism specialists, economic development people and publishers — all the kinds of folks who appreciate the value of Michigan wines. They tasted everything from the region’s flagship Rieslings and Chardonnays to sips of what could be the future — Gruner Veltliner and Sauvignon Blanc.

They visited the newer wineries — Laurentide, Boathouse, Blustone, Brengman Brothers, French Valley Vineyards. They came upon some of the newer faces: Matt Gregory at Chateau de Leelanau; Robert Brengman and Nathaniel Rose at Brengman Brothers; Mike Laing at L. Mawby; Jay Briggs at Forty-Five North.

The more than two dozen media people included Kim Adams and George Heritier, co-founders of the Gang of Pour; Lansing attorney and Lansing City Pulse wine columnist Mike Brenton and wife Deborah; Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau media chief Mike Norton; Paul Howland of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.; Cortney Casey, co-creator of Michigan by the Bottle; Charlie Wunsch, publisher of Edible Grande Traverse; and Michelle Begnoche, PR director of Pure Michigan.

It was clear to all that the wine landscape in Leelanau County has matured — growing to more than two dozen estates. It’s so big that the wine trail for promotional purposes has carved the peninsula into three “loops” to simplify touring for visitors.

  • The Grand Traverse Loop consists of the wineries closest to Traverse City and the bay — think M-22.
  • The Northern Loop is a circle skirting both coasts of the peninsula.
  • Sleeping Bear is not really a loop but a route that stretches between Sleeping Bear Dunes (Glen Arbor) and the tip of South Lake Leelanau.

Here’s the map at the Leelanau Wine Trail Web site.

And if you are wondering if these loops are do-able in one day or two: Except for Sleeping Bear, I would say good luck!

Wunsch, a close follower of the food and wine scene up north commented: “Five years ago, the Grand Traverse area had 11 farmers markets; today there are 32.” I might add, five years ago, the Leelanau Wine Trail had 17 wineries; today there are 25.

NEW … AND FUN

There are many new vintner faces, new wines and hot restaurants across the Leelanau Peninsula, which I will be writing about in future blogs. Here’s a little bit of what’s happening across Leelanau County.

>> The founders of Shady Lane Cellars, two Grand Rapids doctors, recently sold the winery to Richard Fortune who has a summer residence in Lake Leelanau. The sale was completed in March and means Adam Satchwell, winemaker at Shady Lane since 2000, has his eyes on new projects at the winery. Satchwell will soon release a new dry Muscat and his first Merlot for tasting room sales only.

>> The new partnership that owns Chateau de Leelanau has refreshed this large operation, which has 27 acres in mature vines. Cardiologist Roberta Kurtz sold the winery in 2010 to neighboring cherry growers — Matt Gregory, brother Andrew Gregory, their uncle Don Gregory, and Mark Miezio and Roger Veliquette. The Gregorys own Cherry Bay Orchards. You will notice they remodeled the tasting room on M-22 at Hilltop Road and expanded the offerings with new wines and hard cider — and have new gold medals to show for the efforts of winemaker Matt Gregory. Their cherry wine won Best of Class Fruit Wine at the 2012 Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition.

>> Younger people are owning wineries, taking on managerial positions and/or influencing the direction of the wines: Sam and Taylor Simpson, son and daughter of Debbie and the late Bruce Simpson of Good Harbor, now have leading roles — Sam in making the wine, Taylor in marketing it. Sam is tweaking oldtime favorites such as Trillium and Harbor Red to make them a bit drier. His new “Small Lot” series targets restaurants and is food-friendly and dry — Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and Gewurztraminer.

>> Charlie Edson at Bel Lago has planted every wine grape, and certainly every Pinot Noir clone, in the world. He is famous for his passion for Pinot Noirs and their wonderful varietal character — think dark cherries. He tells the story that winemaker Lee Lutes at Black Star Farms accused him of adding cherry wine to his Pinot Noir — so just to yank his chain, he did add cherry wine to one of his Pinots — an unoaked fun wine called Bouquet.

>> A sense of humor never grows old. Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor makes you smile with the its Customs sign at the entry “Declare All Bananas” and the abundance of cherry products indoors — everything from cherry ginger ale to serious cherry wine (made at Bel Lago) to the cherry salsa with a burn and those two-fisted cherry cookies. But be careful when you enter Cherry Republic — the playful staff may plant a banana in your backpack and put you under house arrest.

Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor sells all things cherry (including wine) but never ... banana! (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor sells all things cherry (including wine) but never … bananas! (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

Please revisit this blog for more reports on Michigan wineries and the changes up north and around the state. You can contact Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.

NEXT LEELANAU WINE TRAIL EVENT

Spring Sip & Savor

May 4-5

Information: Details, tickets