01
Sep
12

Weird Weather, Better Wine

You’ve heard about the havoc 2012’s weird weather wreaked on local cherry crops. But what about the grapes? Turns out, vineyards across northern Michigan are budding with the promise of a vintage to rival any other.

The unseasonably warm temperatures this spring did bring early buds, but several winemakers report their vines not only suffered minimal damage from the frost that followed, but might actually be better for it. “The early bud break and longer growing season will give us riper grapes come harvest time,” says Marie-Chantal Dalese of Chateau Chantal.

Bluestone’s Tom Knighton says buds on his vines began breaking last week. (Bud break is the first sign of life in the vineyard, when tiny green shoots emerge between the woody vine’s stem and leaf stems.)

“As long as there’s not a killing frost in the next couple of weeks, our vines should be in good shape,” Knighton says. “We’re never certain, but we are cautiously optimistic that 2012 will be another great vintage.”

Another? Indeed. The 2010 and 2011 vintages of northern Michigan wineries represent some of the finest ever produced in the region, with many wineries recently taking top honors in state, national and international competitions, and beating California and French wines in the process.

The 2010 Pinot Blanc produced by TC’s Left Foot Charley, for example, brought home the award for Best White Wine at the Long Beach Grand Cru international competition in California, beating more than 1,000 wines entered from five continents and numerous appellations.

Black Star Farms received two bronze, one silver and two golds – those for its 2010 Arcturos Riesling and 2010 Arcturos Cabernet Franc – at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC), which drew 3,200 entries from 22 countries and all 50 states.

Of the 53 wineries and 367 wines entered in the most recent Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition – judged by wine experts from around the country – the region’s wines dominated. Among the winners seizing Best of Class in their category of wine: Chateau Fontaine’s 2010 Dry White Riesling, L. Mawby’s Cremant Classic and Forty-Five North’s 2010 Rosé of Cabernet Franc.

Chateau Chantal’s Dalese credits the region’s climate – finicky though it’s been of late – as the reason for northern Michigan wineries’ standout performance above other regions. In northern Michigan, she says, “[Grapes] maintain a higher acidity level than warmer climates, and this makes them particularly refreshing and food friendly.” Chateau Chantal’s 2011 Late Harvest Riesling recently won a double gold in the Taster’s Guild International Wine Competition.

Despite the region’s recent winning streak, Alan Eaker of Cedar’s Longview Winery & Vineyard isn’t eager to predict the future of the 2012 vintage until after the danger of the final frost is behind him. But, he says, “If we have grapes, it’ll be wonderful.”

By Samantha Tengelitsch

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