After two days of work and wine tasting I was ready to head home. But I really wanted to visit a few more of Michigan’s southwest wineries. There certainly are some differences, subtle and not, between the northern peninsula area and just above the Indiana state line.
I had asked Doug Welsch at Fenn Valley Vineyards for his suggestions. He made several and I was able to hit three of those spots.
By far the most interesting from a visual, if not wine, perspective is Round Barn Winery. Rick Moersch is the owner and winemaker for one of the more unique tasting rooms you’ll ever visit.
The round barn was purchased in Rochester, Indiana, which is known for its annual Fulton County Round Barn Festival. The tasting room person told me they hired an Amish team of carpenter to dismantle and then reconstruct the barn at the current Baroda Township location.
They’ve done quite a bit of work inside to create two tasting areas opposite each other inside the barn. But the outside and interior roof structure looked as it probably did decades ago when it was initially built.
Oh, the wine wasn’t bad either! Actually, since I was on my last day, I did a full tasting at Round Barn. At previous stops I’d usually limit myself to 3-4 wines. I counted 28 wines on the tasting menu and tasted seven. Round Barn also makes vodka from grapes and has a beer brewery.
The RB Gewurztraminer was the best of the trip. It also happens to be the Round Barn’s biggest seller. I found a nice light floral scent and taste along with a strong presence of a honey-like texture. At $15.99, it was a really a beautiful wine. Some Gewurz and Traminette are so over the top they’re nearly undrinkable, but this was great wine.
I also liked their Cabernet Sauvignon. I didn’t taste many on the trip because I was just skeptical. It’s grown more in the southwest, which is obviously a little warmer area. The RB Cab Sauv was a serviceable big red wine. It was a little over-oaked, but otherwise a good wine. Off the Reserve list, it sells for $22.
I did walk up to the beer tasting room, though I'm not a big beer drinker. The summer wheat was dynamite!
One of the more interesting stops of the trip was Domaine Berrien that’s a small operation producing about 4,000 cases a year. Winemaker Wally Maurer grows 100 percent of his own grapes and is highly influenced by French varietals.
There were 14 wines on their tasting list. The tasting room guy helping me said they were known for their reds, which would make them one of few in Michigan. White wines tend to dominate most tasting lists.
They did have two whites that really caught my eye though, a Viognier and Marsanne. There can’t be many growing these French white grapes. The tasting room folks said Domaine Berrien was the only winery of 70-plus in the state doing 100 percent bottlings of those two.
The Viognier ($18.50) was great. It had hints of peach, a light, fresh appeal on the palate, and it was very dry. The Marsanne ($15.50) was beautiful. It is blended with 20 percent Roussanne (another one you’re not going to find in many spots). The wine had a certain rustic, natural characteristic I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was even drier than the Viognier. I bought a bottle of the Marssanne. I can imagine it great with seafood – crab, crab cakes, or scallops.
I tasted four reds and loved two. The 2006 Cabernet Franc ($15.50) and 2007 Pinot Noir ($15.50) were both good but not memorable. The 2007 Lemberger was a fun discovery. The grape is German by history and a bit of a Syrah in a rustic style without the huge fruit bomb you often get in Syrah. It has won some medals and I could see why. It had a unique palate taste – something like your morning toast. No, I’m not kidding.
The other winner was the 2006 Crown of Cabernet ($19.50), which is a Bordeaux style blend of Cab, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The more I tasted it the more I liked it. It was very reminiscent of most French wines I’ve tasted. It’s a tossup between this wine and Fenn Valley’s Cab Franc for the best red (outside of Pinot) that I tasted on the trip.
My third stop was at Tabor Hill Winery and that's very well known around the state and even outside Michigan’s borders. I tasted a nice floral and dry Traminette ($13.95), a ‘07 Pinot Noir ($21.95) that was nice, a Cab Franc Rose ($14.95) that had no finish, and their Lake Michigan Shore Riesling ($17.50) which was their best wine.
I am always slow to be critical and try to choose my words carefully because every palate in any tasting room is different. Tabor Hill has very well made wines. But I found them to be a little too light across the board. Some people are just going to love them. Overall, I found myself becoming a big convert during the trip to lighter wines; these just took it a step beyond my tastes.
Again, I interviewed four great Michigan wine people and will be doing a story for Palate Press in the not-too-distant future. I want to write something of an overview and some other pieces for the blog, and plan a newspaper column on Michigan wine trips.
When it was all said and done I visited 11 Michigan wineries. I missed several I’d like to have visited. I can say the quality was superior. The state has the chance to really shake some people up when and if they get word beyond their own borders.
I was expecting great Riesling and found it. I expected no more than poor to average Pinot Noir and was blown away by just how good the Pinot was, particularly in the north. I had no to low expectations of the Cab Franc, which is grown in abundance, and generally found them way above average. Cab Franc is often thought of as just a blending grape but Michigan's were really nice and affordable food wines.
I have lots of notes on all the wineries and for most part have only used a tiny fraction of that material so far. I’m looking to put up a single page listing details on each winery and a few notes on what I tasted. I hope to complete that soon.
Overall, it was a great trip and I can’t wait to go back. More on Michigan wine in future posts. Thanks to all for the comments here and on Facebook about my Michigan Wine Tour.
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