Mawby Sparkles in Michigan

By Susan R. Pollack

Perhaps you’ve heard rumblings about a Champagne shortage that threatens to deflate bubbly celebrations this holiday season. Sadly, it’s yet more fallout from the pandemic when a decline in demand early on prompted the French Champagne industry to reduce production. Due to bottle-aging lag time, plus challenging weather conditions and supply chain problems, it now threatens to dampen Christmas and other holiday festivities.

But there’s no need to panic.

To the rescue, right here in the Midwest, comes Mawby Sparkling Wine, a nimble northern Michigan winery that specializes in making sparkling wines in the Champagne or bottle-fermented style, as well as tank-fermented sparklers for more immediate consumption.

“Our wines are awesome and available,” says Mike Laing, co-owner of the pioneering, Leelanau Peninsula winery 13 miles north of Traverse City. “Right now, we’re flush with inventory. We’re not bound by regulations (as they are in Champagne). We have high-quality sparkling wine that’s ready to finish and release at all times.”

Laing visited Detroit recently, inviting members of the media and wine trade – those who rep, distribute or pour Mawby – to a master class detailing the finer points of how Mawby makes its “Méthode Champenoise,” or traditional method sparkling wines.

The labor-intensive process incorporates technical steps including tirage, riddling, disgorging and dosage. But the key point is that Mawby’s high-end wines undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, naturally, with no added carbonation; they’re aged from one to seven years. Moderately-priced sparklers, ready faster, are naturally fermented twice in stainless steel tanks in the cuve close – or closed tank – method.

The seminar, complete with tastings, took place at The Whitney, an opulent mansion-turned fine dining restaurant decked out for the holidays. Built in 1894 by wealthy lumber baron David Whitney Jr., it proved a perfect setting for the Mawby sparkling pours we sampled, including magnums of Blanc and Gold.

These, along with Mawby’s other bottle-fermented sparklers — a brut rosé name Grace, and estate-produced Talis, a brut Blanc de Blancs – go well in holiday menus, according to Claire Lepine, Mawby marketing manager. “They pair beautifully with celebratory meals, all those rich foods, cream sauces, roasted meats and cheeses we eat during the holidays,” she says.

With 800 remaining cases, Blanc is Mawby’s largest production bottle-fermented sparkler, widely available in Ohio and elsewhere. A traditional method Brut Blanc de Blancs, it’s made with Leelanau County grapes — 80 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Riesling — all hand-harvested and whole-cluster pressed. It’s aged in the bottle about two years.

Blanc is bright and crisp with sharp green apple aromas and zesty citrus flavors. Versatile and refreshing, it pairs well with cheese, particularly a soft triple-crème brie, Laing says, as well as sushi, scallops, oysters, fish tacos, light cream-based pastas, and roasted chestnuts.

Blanc’s multiple awards include a silver in the 2019 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships in London.  It sells for $25 and up.

Gold is a smaller production Brut Blanc de Noirs, with just 250-300 cases available. It’s offered first to the 3,200 members of the Mawby Fizz Club, known affectionately as Bubbleheads.

Aged in the bottle 18-24 months, Gold is made from hand-harvested and whole-cluster-pressed Leelanau Peninsula Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in an 80 percent-20 percent ratio. Rich and savory, with aged Pinot character, it displays biscuit and ripe fruit aromas and subtle umami-like flavors, pairing well with mushroom dishes, charcuterie and nutty cheeses. Gold recently received an 89-point rating in Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It sells for $29.

Dating to the 1970s, Mawby is among northern Michigan’s oldest commercial vineyards. Its pioneering founder, Larry Mawby, turned to “all things bubbly” in the mid-1990s after determining that Leelanau County’s shorter, cooler growing season – with moderating lake effect – was ideal for the grape varietals used to make sparkling Champagne-style wines.

Garnering an international reputation for his visionary efforts, Mawby partnered in 2009 with the Laing family, led by Mike and his brother, Peter, who continue to pursue traditional methods while putting their own modern spin on the winery.

Now producing 25,000-30,000 cases annually, Mawby boasts a portfolio at any given time of 15 sparkling wines, including three sparkling ciders, plus a handful of limited production sparklers and seasonal releases. Three tea-infused, canned, carbonated wine beverages recently joined the lineup.

Mawby’s tank-produced sparkling wines include Sandpiper, Us, Sex, Green, Redd and Detroit and range from $13-$19 per bottle. “They’re fresh, fruit-forward sparklers that are meant to be enjoyed now,” says Lepine. “Once they’re bubbly, they’re bottled and sold within six months.”

With first dibs going to Bubbleheads, there is limited availability of Mawby’s vintage wines: Ca.2013 ($125 magnum) and Ca.2014 ($55/bottle). Currently, Ca.2017 is aging for release in 2023, Laing says. Plans are underway to release a very limited 3-pack vertical (Ca.12, 13 and 14) in a wooden box for the 2022 holidays.

Well worth a trip north, Mawby winery is situated in the rolling, coastal dunes of the Leelanau Peninsula, near Lake Michigan and between Traverse City and Suttons Bay, both popular destinations for food and wine buffs. It’s among three dozen wineries in the region, which includes the adjacent Old Mission Peninsula.

With a cheery tasting room and outdoor tables overlooking the vineyard, Mawby is open year-round, noon to 5 p.m., Thursday-Monday, through April. Summer hours are noon to 6 p.m. daily, May through October.

Mawby also ships to 17 states, including Ohio. Select sparkling wines are sold in boutique wine shops and Meijer stores in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere in the Midwest.

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  1. Beautifully written article by Susan Pollack, who knows her wines! Thank you for this informative piece that lets us know that there are remarkable sparkling wines locally made and worthy of our celebrations!

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