2013 Michigan Wine Competition packed with surprises

From left: Peninsula Cellars Cabernet Franc, Black Star Farms Bedazzled, Brys Estate "Dry Ice" Riesling Ice Wine, Chateau Fontaine Pinot Blanc, Karma Vista Devil's Head Red, Boathouse Knot Too Sweet Riesling. (Image courtesy of Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council)

From left: Peninsula Cellars Cabernet Franc, Black Star Farms Bedazzled, Brys Estate “Dry Ice” Riesling Ice Wine, Chateau Fontaine Pinot Blanc, Karma Vista Devil’s Head Red, Boathouse Knot Too Sweet Riesling. (Image courtesy of Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council)

The 2013 Michigan Wine Competition in East Lansing Tuesday again proved something I have long thought: Wines are like children. Sometimes when you show them off, they are well-behaved, sometimes they act better than expected, and then there are times they have a bad day.

Some of the top winners this year surprised the wineries that produced them. John Kroupa, owner/winemaker at Peninsula Cellars, grabbed Best of Show Dry Red for his 2011 Cabernet Franc. When I caught up with him yesterday, he said: “That was unexpected, I’ll be honest. I was hoping for a Gold, but to be Best of Class made for a happy Tuesday.”

Karma Vista’s Joe Herman, who won Best of Class Semi-Dry Red with his Devil’s Head Red, confessed he made this red blend on a whim because he didn’t know what to do with the wines.

And even Black Star’s Lee Lutes was a bit dazed that his 2012 bubbly Bedazzled won top honors for sparkling wines because, well, the winery is just so much better known for Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Let the chips fall. Here are the top winners at the 2013 Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition held this week at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center on the campus of Michigan State University. Prices are those suggested by the wineries.


Peninsula Cellars Cabernet Franc Old Mission Peninsula 2011, $18

Winemaker/owner John Kroupa says it’s made off Hog’s Head Vineyard, the Kroupa family’s oldest Cab Franc and Merlot site  “I think it’s young and has lots more potential,” he commented Wednesday. It’s available at the tasting room in the old schoolhouse on Old Mission Peninsula and at Michigan By the Bottle Tasting Room in Shelby Township.


Brys Estate “Dry Ice” Riesling Ice Wine Old Mission Peninsula 2011, $75 (half bottle)

“Dry” has been the mantra at Brys since it opened in 2005. South African-born and trained winemaker Coenraad Stassen says the wine is similar in style to the 2007, which also won this award.  “I try and pick a yeast that can handle the sugar and make a dry-style wine,” Stassen said. But why does it cost $75? Because there is so little of it after you press the frozen grapes and ferment the juice. Stassen explains that pressing regular Riesling grapes yields 175-180 gallons of juice per ton while pressing frozen grapes yields 30-35 gallons of juice per ton. “You are pressing out the concentrate,” Stassen says.


Black Star Farms Bedazzled Old Mission Peninsula 2012, $15

This mannerly sparkler is a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It’s produced in a drier style and is made to emphasize the fresh fruit — not aging potential. Winemaker Lee Lutes describes it as a “fruit-forward, easy drinking” bubbly. It is sold at the winery and is distributed by Great Lakes Wine & Spirits in Metro Detroit. Just ask your local wine merchent to get it for you.


Chateau Fontaine Pinot Blanc Leelanau Peninsula 2012, $22

I caught Lucie Matthies, owner of Fontaine with husband Dan, yesterday in the tasting room that was buzzing with business. She was showing around Ellen Landis, certified sommelier who was a judge at the Tuesday competition. But first the wine: It was a repeat winner. The Pinot Blanc was Best of Show Dry White at the 2012 Michigan competition as well. It’s grown on the Matthies vineyard owned by son Doug of Big Paw Services, a local vineyard management company. It was made by Shawn Walters at French Road Cellars. Landis, a certified sommelier from Northern California, had this to say about the competition: “I am wowed by the quality of wine in Michigan.” She said she was particularly impressed by the Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Riesling and Pinot Noir.


Boathouse Vineyards Knot Too Sweet Riesling Leelanau Peninsula 2012, $16

Owner Dave Albert was in the vineyard when I found him. A former auto supplier in Ionia, he says he “loves” being in the vineyards. The Riesling, with a name that now reflects the boat theme, was also a Gold winner in the 2011 vintage. The Alberts hired nearby French Road Cellars to make the wines. French Road Cellars is a unique “custom crush” facility, owned by Doug and Laura Matthies of Lake Leelanau. The idea is that smaller growers without a cellar can take their grapes to French Road and pay for winemaking services. Albert’s vineyard is close to Chateau Fontaine, and the land is too rural for a tasting room, so he located his store on M-204 on the Narrows between North Lake Leelanau and South Lake Leelanau. “We can’t offer visitors a view of our vineyards but we’ll offer them a view of the water,” Albert said.


Karma Vista Winery Devil’s Head Red Lake Michigan Shore 2012, $11

Karma Vista’s wines are only available at the tasting room, which is so easy to find. Just exit west-bound Interstate 94 at Coloma, turn right on Ryno Road at the McDonald’s and drive up the hill to the winery. Devil’s Head is a blend of the New York-bred grape Noiret and the German-bred Dornfelder, both grown by owners Joe and Susie Herman. According to Joe, they are “blenders.” They deepen the color of a wine. But he confided that his European varietals don’t need any help with color and he had to come up with a use for these wines. So he created the off-dry, softer-style red blend named for a poem he crafted last year when he lost half of his agricultural crop — sweet juice grapes for Welch’s, plus peaches and cherries — to spring frosts and had a boring summer waiting for the wine grapes to ripen. Here’s an excerpt:

“An idle mind,” Mom used to say,

“Is the perfect place for the devil to play.”

But it’s summertime and the crops are all dead

And I’ve got a bad case of the devil’s head!

 I could study French, but it’s so hard to learn.

Might go to the beach, but I don’t want to burn.

 I could fly a plane, but I’m afraid it will drop.

I’d go have a drink, but I’m afraid I won’t stop.

 “An idle mind,” Mom used to say,

“Is the perfect place for the devil to play.”

Here is the complete list of medal winners sorted by wineries.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.