Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Future is Bright for the Wines of Michigan State

Shocking to some, but all 50 states in the U.S. produce wine.  I know I’ve barely touched many of them myself and that is why I was excited to have the opportunity to try a variety of wines from Michigan state last month with the Winestudio program I’m part of.  I’m most familiar with the wines of upstate NY around the Finger Lakes wine region and I could only assume that the climate is similar based on the latitude so they were probably growing some similar grape varietals.  I was rather impressed by the wines I tried and it’s a shame wine regions like Michigan aren’t getting enough publicity and attention that they should be.  Especially when there are 140 wineries to explore in this region.  Hopefully this will open your eyes and palettes to what is available to us as wine consumers. 
Michigan wine industry
Copyright of Michigan Wine Collaborative
The first recorded incident of winemaking goes as far back as 1679 when French explorers found grapevines on Michigan soil.  Commercial winemaking didn’t start though until later in the 1800s.  Within the last decade the acreage dedicated to vines has doubled.  Michigan is also ranked 4th in wine production within the US and in the top 10 of national wine production.  This goes to show you what a vibrant and growing wine community is bursting at the seams.   

Michigan has 5 AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) in order of oldest to newest established appellations including: Fennville, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula andTip of the Mitt.
Michigan wine appellations
Copyright of Michigan Wine Collaborative
Quite fun and unique names.  These Michigan wine regions benefit from the “lake effect” of Lake Michigan and other surrounding bodies of waters as it helps mitigate the temperatures of the cold winters and the hot days of summer.  

So what types of grapes are being grown in Michigan?  They grow cold hardy grapes along with vinifera grapes, but riesling steals the show along with hybrids.  The most planted grape varieties are riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, cabernet franc and chambourcin as you'll see below, but there are many others as you’ll see I also tried a gruner veltliner, typical of Austria. 
wine grapes of Michigan state
Copyright of Michigan Wine Collaborative
The Michigan Wine Collaborative established a few years ago supports the growing wine industry in Michigan and brings awareness and support to the wineries and farmers that work tirelessly for the production of these fantastic wines.  It’s no small feat and is important to the economy of Michigan as the wine industry itself generates $5.4 billion annually. 
Michigan wine trail
St. Julian Winery 
Two of the wines I’m sharing from St. Julian is the oldest winery of the region established in 1921 by Mariano Meconi and is today operated by 4th generation family members.  He originally founded Meconi Wine Company in Ontario.  After Prohibition he moved down to Detroit and renamed his company the Italian Wine Company.  Finally in 1936 he settled in to where the winery exists today and is today called the St. Julian Wine Company in the Lake Michigan Shore Appellation. 
2017 Mountain Road Winery Riesling 
This wine had beautiful aromatics of stone fruit and some petrol on the nose.  A crisp and clean wine with balanced acidity and fruit full of peach, tropical fruits, citrus and a hint of tangerine.  Finishing with a nice saltiness on the tongue. SRP $19.99 ABV 12%  This wine went fantastic with some homemade pad thai.
Riesling pairing with Pad Thai and Mountain Road Riesling
2017 Braganini Reserve Gruner 
The last 15 years St. Julian has been focusing on some single variety wines under the Braganini Reserve label.  These grapes came from the Oxley Family Farms in Lawton, MI whose grapes were originally planted in 1868.  Ed and Phyllis Oxley bought the farm in 1967 and today the 2nd generation of their sons joined them in the family business in the 1990’s.  The gruner veltliner grapes come from the highest point in Van Buren County where the grapes are picked 2 times early morning when the grapes are still cool.  The first picking results in more grassy characteristics where the 2nd picking lends to more tropical notes.   A bright acidity with good citrus, apples and nice salinity, seeming to be a common trait of this wine region that I really enjoyed.  ABV SRP $19.99 
St. Julian Moutain Road Riesling and Gruner Veltliner
Fenn Valley 
2017 Fenn Valley Pinot GrigioFenn Valley was established in 1973 south of Holland, MI and is only about 5 miles from Lake Michigan on a sandy ridge built into the hill to take advantage of the natural stable temperatures of the earth.  The Welsch family operates the winery that came over from Michigan operating in their 3rd generation. The first grapes were planted in 1974 and the winery is always experimenting with what grows best.   the originally were growing hybrids like chancellor, syval, vignoles, vidal and foch.  A couple years later they planted vinifera grapes like riesling, chardonnay and gewurztraminer.  Following years they planted pinot gris, pinot noir and cab franc occupying 90 acres of vineyards today. 
2017 Fenn Valley Pinot Grigio 
A pale straw color.  Aromatic with plenty of citrus.  A delicate, light, crisp wine filled with lemon citrus and pear.  A nicely balanced wine with salinity on the finish.  ABV 12% AVV $14 

Amoritas Vineyards 
2016 Amoritas Vineyards Chardonnay pairingLocated on the Leelanau Peninsula Amoritas Vineyards is operated by the Goodell family. The winery was named after the original homestead and Amore family that occupied the residence as well as Amore Road where the winery is based.  Occupying 13 acres of vines all grapes are estate grown.   The family’s vision is to produce clean, delicate and delicious wines.       
2016 Amoritas Vineyards Chardonnay 
Almost clear in a color with a tinge of straw yellow the wine gives way to a lemon citrus nose with grassiness and pineapple notes.  A light, crisp wine filled with juicy ripe apples and tropical fruits.  ABV 11.5% SRP $21 I tried this pairing out with some quesadillas for an easy weeknight meal that went together just great.

Chateau Chantal 
2016 Chateau Chantal Vineyard Reserve ChardonnayLocated on the Old Mission Peninsula Chateau Chantal is winery you can actually stay as they operate a B&B onsite and based on their pictures of the winery online the views are gorgeous.  The Begin family has quite an interesting history with their previous careers as a Catholic priest and Felician nun.   They married in 1974 and followed Robert’s dream of opening their French European chateau style property that was completed in 1993.  
2016 Chateau Chantal Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay  
Sourced from 30+ year old vines this is a barrel fermented wine aged 9 months in French and American oak adding a creaminess to the wine with vanilla notes alongside melon, citrus and green apples. ABV 14% SRP $30

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*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Pursuing the Dream with Italian Grapes at Altipiano Vineyard and Winery

I love the opportunity to try Italian grapes from around the world and I was introduced to Altipiano Vineyard and Winery via the #winestudio group that I'm part of run by Tina Morey.  I've been introduced to so many great wineries and winemaking regions I typically would not have tried including Shelburne Vineyards from VT and my upcoming article on the wines from Michigan.

I discovered that Altipiano was working with some Italian grapes within Escondido, CA in San Diego county and I reached out to the owner and winemaker, Denise Clarke, to have the opportunity to learn more about their wines.  

Denise and her husband Peter moved to the Highland Valley area in Escondido, CA in 1997.  Their dream was to always own a vineyard and it was further inspired by their trip to Italy in March of 2007 when they fell in love in particular with the Tuscan town of Montalcino.  The unfortunate happenings of the 2007 wildfires destroyed their avocado grove, but gave them the opportunity to pursue their dream.   
Denise and Peter Clarke of Altipiano
Denise and Peter Clarke - Copyright of Altipiano
Make sure you don't miss my samplings of a couple of their wines including sangiovese at the end of the article.  Come meet Denise and learn about how her visit to Italy was part of the reason that drove her into pursuing her dream of opening a winery with her husband Peter.


It seems that you grew up with farming as a way of life.  What was your background prior to owning Altipiano?  

My husband and I purchased our land in 1997, it was an avocado groove with 1100 trees. Our landscape was changed in October 2007 when a wildfire ripped through San Diego county and destroyed our avocado groove which prompted us to plant a vineyard. The vineyard was planted on 2.5 acres with 2600 vines of Sangiovese (Brunello Clone), 640 vines of Barbera, 240 vines each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.  We produce approximately 10-12 tons from the Estate grapes and purchased another 10-12 tons of fruit from Paso Robles and Amador County. Our total property is 5 acres.

My career started in the US Air Force, I served on active duty for 6.5 years.  I have a BA in Human Resources Management and after leaving active duty, I began working in Human Resources for Department of Defense until my retirement in June 2012.

Being the winemaker of Altipiano, what is your background in winemaking and the wine industry?  

I had no background in the wine industry at all, nor in winemaking.  I knew little or nothing about making wine, but I always loved having my hands in the soil.  I considered myself an amateur farmer planting all the trees and vegetation.  Thank goodness for mentors.  I began going to the Garagiste festival in Paso Robles and attending seminars to learn. We had a winemaker for two years and subsequently in 2012 I took over.  Winemaking choose me and it has been a steep learning curve of which I’m still a student and pursuing the music of the vines and wine.
Denise Clarke winemaker of Altipiano
Winemaker Denise Clarke - Copyright of Altipiano
What drove you and Peter to invest and open a winery and why primarily Italian grapes?  

Both Peter and I fell in love with Italian varietals while in Italy.  Peter didn’t particularly like red wines until he tasted a Brunello.  I had fallen in love with Barbera prior to Italy and once we traveled to Italy, we were both hooked.
After losing your avocado grove and replanting vines, how did you determine if the soil and land was suitable for vines? 

After the fire, we contracted with a vineyard consultant, took a vineyard management class and had our soil analyzed.  Our avocado groove was 20 years old when we bought in 1997, so the soil was very fertile.  We are decomposed granite with approximately 40 years of organic from the leaves falling yearly.  Once our soil analysis came back, we knew what rootstock/clones to look for and we contracted with Novavine out of Santa Rosa CA to graft our Brunello Clone (VCR6) on rootstock 1103p. All our vines are either 1103p or 110R rootstock.
Altipiano Vineyard and winery Escondido, CA
Copyright of Altipiano
You mention sustainability on your website.  Is this something that Altipiano practices and if so how? 

There was an eco-system in place when we purchased the avocado groove.  Natural predators being Raptures, Owls, Bees, feral cats for the rodent and natural vegetation.  Up until last year, we had a herd of Llamas and chickens who were vegetarian, and their waste would be redistributed in the vineyard.  We have crops between our rows for nutrients and oxygen in the soil.  Lots of wild life live in our dirt.  We are not organic, due to the many vectors already in the area that are host for grassy wine sharp shooter, skeletonizer etc. However, our goal is to be as gentle to the land as possible and to keep the land as healthy as possible for our kids/grandkids. 

What is in store for the future of Altipiano? 

To continue to explore the depth of Lady Brunello and allow mother nature to play the orchestra.  I’m only the conductor interpreting and rendering the best expression and telling the story of each varietal for that vintage.  I am excited to have obtained Nero D’Avola and Aglianico last year from Paso Robles.  The fruit was amazing and aging beautifully.  I want my focus to be on big red, with lot of substance, depth, elegance and finesse.  We are currently producing Estate Sangiovese, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah.  Grapes we are purchasing are: Aglianico, Nero D’Avola (Paso Robles fruit) , Primitivo, Petite Sirah (Amador County, …to blend with the Estate Petite Sirah), and Merlot/Syrah grapes from San Pasqual AVA, San Diego County.

The Wines 
2016 Altipiano Sangiovese Vintner's Reserve This wine is made from 100% sangiovese grosso and aged in Pennsylvania oak barrels.  Ruby colored with fresh cherries on the nose.   Good acid with bright cherry and plum and a hint of vanilla.  A medium bodied wine with low to medium tannins and good length on the finish.  I found this sangiovese different than the average chianti as it was more plush and fruit forward, but still a beautiful sangiovese.  The winery even recommends pairing it with Josh Groban’s Per Te ; )  ABV 14.6% SRP $65 

Pairing: I paired this wine with a shrimp palermo, a garlic based marinara sauce.Altipiano Sangiovese pairing with shrimp palermo
2016 Altipiano Sangiovese Vintners Reserve 

















2015 Altipiano Syrah 
These grapes are sourced from the San Pasqual AVA and the wine is aged in new French/Hungarian oak.  Deep, dark, ruby colored and aromatic with juicy, jammy fruits and vanilla.  A full-bodied, fruit-forward wine lending to nice mouthwatering acidity up front followed by the richness of blackberries and blueberries with a hint of vanilla and spice.  Good length on the finish tapering off with some olive notes.  ABV 14% SRP $54 
 
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*These wines were provided as samples, but opinions are always my own.