In the American Southwest, celebrations around the Fifth of May are a big thing. Known as Cinco de Mayo, American pop culture seems to hold that this date is the independence day for Mexico, but this is actually a misnomer. May 5th actually celebrates the Battle of Puebla, where a Mexican army defeated a French army that was trying to install a puppet regime there. The day is not even celebrated in Mexico, often passing by unremarked. But this podcast isn’t about cultural movements and deep cultural reasons why one day is celebrated my immigrants and their white neighbors, while natives in the homeland ignore the same day (and there is a lot to deep dive on the subject, this just isn’t the place). This podcast is about wine.
And, as it turns out, Mexican food is a great pairing for wines made from Riesling. Not only that, as it turns out, Mexican food and German food form really delicious fusion cuisine. So I invited some friends over and took blatant advantage of the day to make some sauerkraut and pork tacos with Pico de Gallo brought by Nikki… and we had a lot of Riesling. Bottles came from Arizona, Italy, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Germany, from a wide variety of styles. Grab a taco and dig in while you take a listen. You’ll be glad you did.
With the world in the current state, what better time is there to drink, right? Even though I recorded this episode last summer… better late than never! Apologies. Life has again gotten in the way of things.
But, never fear! In this episode, a massive group of folks who are friends with our intrepid Judgemental Graphics Designer, VeniVidiDrinki, join us in meeting one of the most interesting white grapes that is slowly beginning to take the market by storm: Grüner Veltliner.
Grüner Veltliner is probably the Austrian wine industry’s greatest claim to fame, as the country has 42,380 acres of this vine planted there. This bright, highly acidic grape likely had its origins in Italy, as the name literally translated means “Green Wine of Veltlin,” Veltin being a community in Northern Italy. Grüner Veltliner has a reputation of being a particularly food-friendly wine, and is rapidly becoming a popular offering on wine lists in restaurants, or even in grocery stores here in the US.
It is made into wines of many different styles – much is intended for drinking young, some is made into sparkling wine, but others are capable of aging long-term in a cellar. As an example, the steep vineyards near the Danube produce very pure, mineral-driven Grüner Veltliners referred to as Smaragd (etymologically related to Smaug, by the way), intended for long-term aging in the cellar. Meanwhile, down in the plains, citrus and peach flavors tend to be more apparent in wines of this grape, with spicy notes of pepper and sometimes tobacco, and these are intended to be imbibed sooner, rather than later.
As for the wines in this podcast, only one, the Crazy Creatures, is from Austria. The other two are vintages from the USA; one from Michigan, courtesy of a #winestudio exploration of the region (the same which lead to our Chardonnay comparison), and the other is from Crane Creek Vineyards, in Young Harris, Georgia. The state, this time, not to be confused with the country we’ve been exploring a bit in the last few episodes.
Along with exploring this grape with folks who have never tasted it, we delve a little bit into the world of wine marketing and label design… I hope you enjoy!
We explored Michigan once before, but that episode was recorded about a month before I got the chance to drink some fantastic Michigan wines courtesy of a #winestudio event and the Michigan Wine Collaborative. Among the bottles sent were two bottles of 2016 Chardonnay; one from Amoritas Vineyard, and the other from Chateau Chantal. These wines are from the Leelanau AVA and Old Mission AVA, respectively. The original idea for this episode was to focus on vine age and resulting vintages, but the conversation quickly shifted to different modes of making Chardonnay–not all Chardonnay vintages are made for the same purposes, as it turns out!
These two bottles, provided through the kindness of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and #winestudio turned out to be perfect examples of the two main styles of New World Chardonnay: Buttery and oaky, and crispy stainless steel. Both of these wines had us saying Chardon-yay, for sure, and allowed us to take a deep dive into a grape varietal that is perhaps overlooked due to its prominence in the wine market but is really just as fascinating as any hipster varietal you may not have ever heard of.
I learned a lot about Michigan wine thanks to the interactions on #winestudio with the folks tweeting at the Michigan Wine Collaborative and the veritable host of winemakers (most of whom were women, which is freaking awesome) over the course of the three weeks of this program. Emi Beth was fabulous at answering all of our strange questions about the wine scene that is exploding in Michigan currently. Another wine from this particular #winestudio program, a Grüner Veltliner, will appear in a later episode this season for a deep dive of this unique Austrian varietal.
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.