They’ve Got a Mission

There’s a gem of a wine region within a day’s drive of Ohio, and if you haven’t been there, start making your plans now. Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula, a stone’s throw north of Traverse City, is making some of the most exciting wines in the Eastern United States.

This stunning peninsula juts 18 miles into Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, rising high above the water. It’s ideal for growing cool-climate grapes because the deep waters of the bay stay warm well into the fall, lengthening the growing season. In winter, snow cover protects the vines, and the slow thaw in the spring makes them less susceptible to frosts after bud break.

The wines bear a similarity to those from Alsace or Italy’s Valle d’Aosta – crisp acidity, full flavor, and a certain luxurious texture. Riesling finds its natural home here, along with Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris. Reds are less plentiful, but the region has found success with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

We were fortunate to taste some recent releases. Here’s the scoop:

Peninsula Cellars Dry Riesling, 2010 (Old Mission Peninsula); $14.99
Housed in an 1896 one-room schoolhouse, this winery has garnered plenty of recognition for its Riesling. This is a fine example, with lush aromas of peaches, apricots and honey that blossom into a crisp, vivid beauty full of Granny Smith apple and mineral notes.

2 Lads Cabernet Franc/Merlot, 2009 (Old Mission Peninsula); $25
It takes effort to get the most out of red grapes in this region, and these guys do it right by reducing the yield and removing leaves to let the remaining grapes absorb the most sunlight. This blend of 70 percent Cabernet Franc and 30 percent Merlot is Bordeaux-like in character, with chocolate-tinged cherry aromas, bright tart flavors and a support of vanilla toastiness achieved by 12 months in French oak.

Chateau Chantal Pinot Gris, 2010 (Old Mission Peninsula); $19.99
The winery, which doubles as a luxe Bed & Breakfast (get thee there!), may be all Loire Valley, but this wine seduces as only Alsace can. Its melon aroma has a gentle undertow of minerals and a depth that attests to its six months in neutral French oak. It coats the palate with honey, tangerine and fresh pineapple, rich but crisp. Delicious!

Black Star Farms “Arcturos” Riesling, 2010 (Michigan); $15.50
Like in any cool-climate growing region, the weather on Old Mission Peninsula is a crap shoot. But 2010 was a winner, with hot days and cool nights. This Riesling has lovely tropical aromas of pineapple, mango and guava, with luscious, full flavors of spicy pear and lime zest.

Chateau Grand Traverse Dry Riesling, 2010 (Old Mission Peninsula); $13
Dry does not mean austere, as demonstrated by this full-flavored, crisp Riesling. Aromas of stone fruit, honey and tangerine pave the way to lush flavors of mouthwatering mango, lemon and lime.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards Riesling, Block II, 2010 (Old Mission Peninsula); $25
The grapes that made this wine are from the winery’s oldest vineyard, planted with high-quality Riesling clones from Germany. The wines are consistent award winners, and this is no exception. Lovely aromas of orange blossom, stone fruit and minerals lead to very vibrant and lively flavors with citrus notes and a lingering stone fruit finish.

Brys Estate Pinot Noir, 2010 (Old Mission Peninsula); $30
Every wine we have tasted from this winery has been excellent. Here they prove up to the task of taming the heartbreak grape into a gem for the table. Ten months of aging in French oak have imparted a depth and elegance to its flavors of earth, baking spices, berries, cherries and tobacco.

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