Episode 25: Michigan

Welcome to Episode 25, the halfway point of our first season! It is time that we, as Sufjan Stevens has done before us, say yes to Michigan.  (And mispronounce the name of the state repeatedly, a deliberate homage in this podcast to episode 99 of “Welcome to Night Vale.”)

Michigan’s wine story is one of great success, I think largely due to support from the state itself–versus other states that are still lurking at the edge of the Prohibition Era.  The state of Michigan currently has over 140 wineries, along with 5 unique trails for regions within the state, as well as a well-made website devoted to viticulture within the state–something many states lack.  Each of these five wine trails largely follows the landscape of Michigan’s five AVA’s: the Fennville AVA, Lake Michigan Shore AVA, Leelanau Peninsula AVA, Old Mission Peninsula AVA, and my personal favorite (for the name), Tip of the Mitt AVA.

The history of Michigan wine before Prohibition is spotty at best, but there does seem to have been an industry present there prior to that black mark upon America’s viticultural history.  Unlike many other states, however, wide plantings of Concord and other native grape varietals which were commonly used for juices allowed the state of Michigan to bounce back very quickly, with eleven wineries existing by the time of 1946.  Traditionally, these were sweet wines, and even today, many growers switch back and forth between the production of sweet wine and grape juices with varietals such as Catawba, Concord, and Niagara–only about 14% of Michigan’s grapes are planted exclusively for wine production.  Michigan also produces many fruit wines, with the Traverse City area being especially known for Cherry wine.

The Michigan viticultural landscape began to change in the 1970’s, with Tabor Hill Winery (located in Southwest Michigan) opening in 1971 as the first regional winery focusing on wines made from vinifera varietals.  A few years later in 1974, Chateau Grand Traverse opened, with a similar operation in mind.  Today, a host of different varietals, vinifera, hybrid, and indigenous varietals are grown in Michigan, with new varietals being tested on a consistent and regular basis; grapes like La Crecent, Frontenac, and other hybrid strains coming out of the University of Minnesota lab.  There are also fears that Global warming may affect some of these AVAs, as a warming climate may interfere with Lake Michigan, which is what makes most of these growing regions possible.

The wine in our first Michigan episode is the Cherry Riesling Wine, from Traverse Bay Winery, a subsidiary label from Chateau Grand Traverse.  The wine is a blend of 25% Cherry wine and 75% Riesling; the Riesling is sourced from the estate vineyard, located in the Old Mission Peninsula AVA.  My friend Aly Pocock bought this bottle for the podcast earlier this year while she visited family in the state.  I’m especially pleased she chose this bottle as I feel it is a good introduction to the Traverse City area, based on what I’ve heard from visitors to Arizona from this region.  We also introduce a fabulous concept called the Wine Spritzer in this episode, so stay tuned and enjoy.

episode 25
The Cherry Riesling Wine from Chateau Grand Traverse/Traverse Bay Winery is our introduction to both Michigan, and the fabulous cocktail known as the Wine Spritzer.

Episode 23: Rhode Island

The smallest state in the US, as it turns out, has a wine industry that rivals some of the biggest states.  Rhode Island is about the same size as the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area but has almost three times as many wineries as the capital of Arizona!  With 13 licensed and bonded wineries, the state (okay, technically Commonwealth) of Rhode Island has one of the most vibrant winery scenes in New England.

The history of wine in Rhode Island begins in 1663 when KingCharles II of England specifically included wine production among the land uses approved in the royal charter which established Rhode Island as a British colony.  As in so many other parts of the United States, the nascent wine industry in the region was wiped out by Prohibition in the early 20th century.  The industry picked up again in 1975 with the opening of Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard, located near Little Compton.  Half of Rhode Island lies within the Southeastern New England AVA, and most of the wineries found in the state are found in this region, with few exceptions. (Key among these exceptions is Verde Vineyards, which we will hopefully meet in a later episode in season 2 of this podcast.)

The wine we’ve chosen to look at for our first look at Rhode Island viticulture is the NV Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards, which is a blend of 50% Merlot, with varying percentages of Landot Noir (a French-American Hybrid), Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc.  This bottle was acquired by yours truly on the same trip I acquired the 2014 Cinco Cães for our Massachusetts episode. That episode also happened to be our introduction to the Southeastern New England AVA–in this episode, however, Gary and I focus a bit more on the nature and purpose of wine blends.

Cabernet Franc Count: 5

rhode island
The Gemini Red from Newport Vineyards is our introduction to Rhode Island wines.

Episode 21: Missouri

Sorry for the slight delay in uploading this episode, as I am editing several new recordings.   Hopefully, there will not be any additional delays.  Onward!

Our focus for Episode 21 is Missouri, which has a very long history and pedigree of winemaking here in the United States.  It also has one of the largest viticultural industries in the Midwestern US, with roughly 1,600 acres under vine and around 400 wineries, producing approximately 971,031 gallons of wine.  Missouri is also home to the oldest AVA in the United States, the Augusta AVA, which gained its federal status on June 20, 1980–eight months before Napa Valley.  The state of Missouri also has the Herrmann AVA, and the Ozark Highlands AVA.  All three of these AVAs are enclosed within the greater Ozark Mountain American Viticultural Area, which is actually the sixth largest American Viticultural Area in total size, covering 3,520,000 acres. In short, wine in Missouri is big business and is one of the few states outside of California to actively focus on marketing its wines to the public and for tourism.

While perhaps leading the market in terms of vintages produced by the Norton Grape, Missouri is also the home of a lot of viticultural experimentation, which eventually lead to the bottle Tiffany Poth (the Wine Hippie) and I drink in this podcast: the 2015 Crimson Cabernet from Lachance vineyards in DeSoto, Missouri.  (Possibly within the Augusta AVA, though my geography of American Viticultural Areas in the Midwest is lacking) Crimson Cabernet is a new varietal; a hybrid cross between Norton (Vitus aestivalis*) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Vitus vinifera) that seems to be taking the Midwestern United States by storm.  I had never even heard of this varietal before Tiffany brought this bottle to me to drink, so this was a fun wine to try.

(This cross between Norton and Cabernet Sauvignon also produced a white grape, Cabernet Dore, which may be the focus of a future podcast, or maybe bonus episode once I create a Patreon for this podcast.)

*Probably.  As we talked about a bit in our first episode, the genetic origins of Norton are a bit mysterious.

As mentioned above, my friend and fellow wine geek, Tiffany Poth, brought this bottle for me after acquiring it directly from La Chance vineyard.  Next week, Gary returns and we catch a little bit of sun.

episode 21
The 2015 Crimson Cabernet from Lachance Vineyards is our first focus wine from Missouri.

 

 

 

Episode 19: Arizona

Arizona, as you might have guessed, is the state I call home. It is the state I focus on with my other wine blog and podcast, The Arizona Wine Monk.  With two registered AVAs, a third on the way, and an additional fourth region of growers, Arizona is making some noise in the Arizona wine scene.  In an article by Vogue Magazine (yes, THAT Vogue), the Verde Valley of Arizona was listed as an up-and-coming wine region to visit… even if the two varietals they listed in that article, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc, aren’t the grapes that Arizona is going to be known for in the long run, let alone in the Verde Valley.

Still, the point is Arizona is getting a lot of press right now. Right now there are about 1,000 acres under vine in Arizona, and as of the last time I checked, about 104 licensed and bonded wineries in the state; this number is increasing steadily. The two AVAs in Arizona currently are the Sonoita AVA, which was Arizona’s first, and the Willcox AVA, which is where the wine in question we will be exploring today is from. (The application for the Verde Valley AVA has been perfected, but has yet to be posted for public comments, or approved by the TTB.)

Say hello to the 2014 Malvasia Bianca from Sand-Reckoner.  Malvasia Bianca, in the opinion of many Arizona winemakers, is our best white grape in terms of reflecting local terroir; it is one of my favorite grape varietals, period.  This grape here in Arizona is known for its intense, aromatic character, which is why I sit with my friend Tiffany Poth (a.k.a. @wine_hippie on Instagram) with a Le Nez du Vin kit and talk about what we mean by wine aromatics and aromas.  We also talk a little bit about lees aging and what that means in wine.  Enjoy!

This bottle was acquired by yours truly from the winemaker himself at the Willcox Wine Country Festival, before the Sand-Reckoner tasting room in Tuscon opened to the public.

Arizona
The intense aromatic character of this 2014 Malvasia Bianca make it a fantastic wine to explore what we mean by wine aromas.

Episode 18: Georgia

It is said that Georgia is a state of mind, but perhaps in actuality, wine in Georgia can be considered a state of confusion! The reason for this, is, of course, the American state of Georgia shares a name with the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Mountains, which has a very long history of winemaking going back an absolute minimum of 6,000 years.

The history of winemaking in the State of Georgia, on the other hand, is decidedly recent by this timescale.  While Georgia was an important winegrowing region of the United States in the 19th century (ranked sixth in production among U.S. states by 1900) this state suffered very early on from Prohibition.  The prohibition movement in Georgia took hold in 1907, derailing the industry here until, like so many states, the early 1980’s.

Today, Georgia is the leading producer of wines made from the various Muscadine grape varietals–a type of grape we will eventually meet on this podcast, I promise.  Georgia is also home to two AVAs, the Upper Hiwassee Highlands AVA, a bi-state appellation which covers parts of Cherokee and Clay counties in the southwestern North Carolina; along with Towns, Union and Fannin Counties in northwestern Georgia, and the Dahlonega Plateau AVA, (established in 2018) which covers most of Lumpkin, Dawson, White, Pickens, and Cherokee Counties. This AVA is about 133 square miles in size and includes (at last count) 7 wineries and 8 commercial vineyards totaling just over 110 acres of planted vines.

The wine we are looking at today, the 2011 Propaganda from Frogtown Cellars, comes from the Dahlonega Plateau AVA itself.  This wine is a blend of 57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, and 13% Malbec.  This, as we discussed in the Idaho episode, makes this wine a Bordeaux-style blend, which are often called Meritage blends in the USA–though that’s a subject for a later episode.

(As a tangent, I found myself rather impressed with the list of varietals they’re growing as a whole, incidentally: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Tannat, Touriga National, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Chambourcin, Teroldego, Norton, Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Seyval Blanc, Petit Manseng, Vidal Blanc, Greco di Tufo and Muscato.  Dang.  Some of these are grapes we will visit in future podcasts, but I digress.)

This bottle of the 2011 Propaganda was kindly provided by friends Aileen and John, who also form my drinking cohorts for this episode, alongside an appearance from Mark Beres, the CEO of Flying Leap Vineyards.

It’s time for some Pro-Georgian wine Propaganda. Specifically, the 2011 Vintage.

Episode 15: Wisconsin

Apologies for this late post; I was working for the last few days on the crush pad in Willcox, and I was too swamped to post on time. Future episodes should continue loading every 10 days. Onto the show!

Episode 15 focuses on Wisconsin.  This state is part of the largest American Viticultural Area, the Upper Mississippi Valley AVA. There are also two smaller AVAs in the state: the Lake Wisconsin AVA and the Wisconsin Ledge AVA. It must also be noted that Wisconsin has a surprisingly important role in the history of wine in America. As it turns out, Agoston Haraszthy, back in the mid-19th century, was the first to plant and grow wine grapes in Wisconsin. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Mr. Haraszthy eventually migrated to California, and kickstarted the wine industry there when he founded the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, in the year 1863.

The vineyard he planted was located overlooking the Wisconsin River, at what is today the Wollersheim Winery, located near Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The bottle that Elizabeth and I talk about today is from this very same vineyard: the 2016 Prairie Fumé. This wine is 100% estate-grown Seyval Blanc, and is the center point of our discussion. This wine has more or less been declared the best wine that Wisconsin makes, so I was eager to try it: vintages of this wine have won 2018 Best of Show, 2017 Best Seyval Blanc, 2015 Best Seyval Blanc & Hybrid White, 2013 Best Wisconsin White Wine and 2013 Sweepstakes Best White.

This bottle was provided by my friend and fellow Arizona wine blogger Elizabeth Krecker, and was purchased from the winery when she visited Wisconsin earlier this year. Thanks Elizabeth!

The 2016 Prairie Fumé from Wollersheim Winery was a very enjoyable Seyval Blanc and a fun introduction to Wisconsin wines.

Episode 14: Washington

In Episode 14, we focus on Washington. Washington produces the second largest amount of wine per capita in the United States, after California.  Established in 1984, the Colombia Valley AVA is the largest wine region in the state of Washington. This AVA includes over 11,000,000 acres (4,500,000 ha), of which over 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) are under vine.  Indeed, about 99% of the vineyard area in Washington is under this AVA, and subsequent Sub-AVAs.  (American Viticultural Areas, like some of their Old World Counterparts, can be nested within each other like Matryoshka dolls.)  This particular suite of AVAs has become well known for producing traditional Bordeaux varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

But you know me. (Or, at least, are getting to know me at the very least.) I don’t like to review and look at the common stuff, necessarily. I like to look at the less usual things, when possible. Which is why I chose to look at the 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery, instead of, say, a Washington Merlot. (which I do have lined up for the second episode discussing Washington Wines at a much later date).  Gary and I found ourselves extremely disappointed with the 2012 Colombia Valley Pinot Gris, and it is telling that it seems that Maryhill has uprooted their Pinot Gris vines since the production of this wine.  Why is it disappointing?  Take a listen to find out.

(In retrospect, we should have talked more about Pinot Grigio vs. Pinot Gris in this episode, but we ended up far too disappointed in this wine to do that.  Suffice to say, they’re largely the same thing, except not; there are some stylistic differences. Italian-style Pinot Grigio vintages are typically lighter-bodied, crisp, fresh, with vibrant stone fruit and floral aromas and a touch of spice, while Pinot Gris, especially from Alsace, tend to be more full-bodied, richer, spicier, and more viscous in texture, meaning this particular vintage does align more on the Gris side of the spectrum.  And now you know.)

This bottle was acquired by yours truly via Underground Cellar.com

washington wine
The 2012 Pinot Gris from Maryhill Winery is our introduction into Washington wines.