You won't want to leave the Grand Traverse region without tasting Rieslings from the Old Mission Peninsula. The grape of the 45th parallel has catapulted Northern Michigan winemakers onto the international stage.
Bryan Ulbrich, the international gold medalist winemaker (formerly of Peninsula Cellars, now owner of Left Foot Charley) describes how Riesling grapes turn into wine. "They take on so much of the landscape. Everything that makes Northern Michigan beautiful makes it a great grape-growing region. The summers, the sand, the water, the winters — nobody else has Rieslings that taste like ours. That's the beauty of it."
Glaciers carved deep basins for the waters of Grand Traverse Bay that temper the climate on Old Mission Peninsula, making it prime for grape growing. On the west side of Power Island, the bay bottom plummets to more than 400 feet deep, and in East Bay it's 600 feet deep. That volume of water creates a thermal sink that moderates the temperatures — a source of warmth in the winter, a source of cool in the summer.
The result? Ulbrich describes Riesling's flavor as elegant, an aromatic blend of floral, citrus, tropical fruits and stone fruits like peaches and apricots. "Grapes are really unique — when they react to yeast, they give off aromas that are reflective of other fruits."
This ancient grape variety also ages perfectly, he says, because its acid preserves the wine and keeps it from oxidizing in a destructive way, yet the wine maintains its backbone and chemistry. Here are three Old Mission Rieslings to try: Bowers Harbor Semi-Dry Riesling, Chateau Grand Traverse Old Mission Whole Cluster Riesling, Peninsula Cellars Semi-Dry Riesling.
Patty LaNoue Stearns is a freelancer living in Traverse City, Michigan.
Note: This article was first published in April 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.