Virginia Wine Fest at Bull Run
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The 41st annual Virginia Wine Fest takes place this weekend, 17 and 18 September 2016, in Bull Run Regional Park, Fairfax, Virginia.
Participating wineries range from AmRhein Wine Cellares to Williamsburg Winery.
New this year: Virginia’s Oyster …

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Home » Wine Destinations

Traverse City Winemakers Return to their Fruity Roots

Submitted by on September 9, 2010 – 9:46 pmNo Comment

By Michael A. Norton
For Road Trips for Wine

Almost overnight, the vineyards of Michigan’s Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas have established an international reputation for their crisp, intensely aromatic Rieslings, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios.

But the region’s winemakers are carving out another niche for themselves: blending and distilling a huge variety of cordials, ports, brandies and eau de vies that are also drawing rave reviews for their excellence and originality.

Before it was wine country, the Traverse City area was fruit country; most of the region’s vineyards are still surrounded by orchards, and many local vintners have turned their winemaking skills to the creation of cherry, apple and pear wines and in a variety of styles.

Almost every winery in the region still produces some fruit wines. Chateau Grand Traverse — which pioneered the introduction of vinifera grapes to Traverse City — makes and sells six different varieties of cherry wine, including a cherry sangria and a cherry ginseng wine, as well as a cranberry Riesling. And, of course, the Cherry Republic winery in Glen Arbor won’t sell any wine that doesn’t have at least some cherry element in it. (After all, this region still prides itself on being the Cherry Capital of the World.)

This new generation of fruit wines may be more sophisticated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all dry and crisp. People still love sweet wines, and a wide variety of dessert wines are being produced to meet that demand. Bel Lago makes a dessert Riesling made from grapes harvested in late October, while Leelanau Wine Cellars has an intensely sweet pear nectar.

Another sweet fruit concoction is mead, a traditional drink from northern Europe made with fermented honey. Local winemakers have discovered that fruit adds much-needed acidity to the bland taste of mead; Longview Winery was the first local winery to create a cherry mead, and 45 North makes a version that combines honey with cold-pressed apricots and peaches.

The region’s most famous dessert wine is ice wine — a sweet, aromatic drink prized for the intensity and complexity of its flavors. It’s made from grapes that are allowed to freeze on the vine and are  harvested in midwinter, yielding a juice that’s extremely concentrated in sugars, natural acids and minerals. Months later, it emerges from a long, slow cold-weather fermentation: a golden elixir that captures the fruity essence of summer.

Today, Traverse City is one of the world’s largest ice wine-producing regions, and there are a bewildering variety of versions: Chateau Chantal’s “Chantal Ice,” Brys Estate Winery’s “Dry Ice,” Bel Lago’s Pinot Grigio ice wine,  Black Star Farms’ “A Capella,” the Gewürztraminer ice wine made at Bowers Harbor Winery, and Longview’s “Sweet Winter Ice.”

For producers with their own distilling operations, there’s still another option. Fruit brandy, otherwise known as eau de vie, is a clear distilled spirit (usually 80 proof) made from fermented fruit. It takes 15-20 pounds of fruit to produce a single bottle, and the resulting elixir should be clean and dry with a delicate fruit aroma. The biggest eau de vie producer in the region is Black Star Farms, which makes versions from local pears, cherries, apples, and apricots. Black Star has also gotten raves for another high-octane product: grappa, an Italian brandy made from the skins of grapes after pressing.

More recently, Chateau Chantal has begun production of an eau de vie distilled from whole tart cherries from neighboring orchards on the Old Mission Peninsula. But most wineries that produce their own fruit brandies simply blend the spirits with other fruit wines to create ports and other dessert wines. Chateau Chantal makes several of these, including Cerise (a blend of cherry wine and cherry brandy) Cerise Noir (where cherry brandy is paired with Merlot and Pinot Meunier) and Entice (where the brandy is blended with the winery’s celebrated Riesling ice wine).

Black Star Farms produces a line of port-style “Sirius” dessert wines in cherry, pear, raspberry, and even an apple version sweetened with maple syrup. Leelanau Wine Cellars also produces cherry and raspberry ports – and even a blueberry version. Chateau Grand Traverse, Peninsula Cellars and Longview Winery all make port-style cherry wines, while Bel Lago Vineyard and 45 North produce versions that blend brandy with the fermented juice of the dark, plummy Balaton cherry and the more familiar Montmorency variety. Bowers Harbor Winery makes a similarly blended port called Cherritage, aged in French oak barrels.

Some wineries, of course, make port in the traditional way: with their grapes. Leelanau Wine Cellars makes theirs with Cabernet Franc (they also make a white port using Muscat grapes) while 45 North uses a blend of Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Gill’s Pier Winery makes a port called Paragon that uses several French hybrid varieties — Regant, Dornfelder and Frontenac – mixed with Chardonnay brandy.

For more information about the wine country around Traverse City, and for help with lodging and dining options and other attractions in the Traverse City area, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-TRAVERSE or go online.

(Photo Credit: Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau)

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