Bryan and Jen Ulbrich at Left Foot Charley winery.
Award-winning winemaker Bryan Ulbrich and his wife, Jennifer, opened Up North's first urban winery in the heart of Traverse City, inside a painstakingly renovated old laundry facility at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons (formerly the Northern Michigan Asylum). They make wines from grapes grown on thirteen estates by eight Old Mission and Leelanau farmers. Their focus is white wine. We asked the couple about the space and the Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanc coming out of the North's top small vineyards.
You've created an urban interpretation of the winery experience.
Jen: We don't own a chateau or an estate. We searched for a unique, in-town space to create wine from the region's most significant vineyards. Bryan: Our energy is focused on fermenting, aging and bottling wine. We are working with small vineyards, ranging in size from one to six acres. When you try our wines, we can say, this is two acres of Old Mission, this is what three acres of Leelanau tastes like.
Your winery is part of one of the most extensive historical restoration projects in America. Tell me about your space, Building 53. Bryan: They built buildings to last back then. This place is all concrete, brick, steel and glass. The light inside the building is remarkable--lots of windows shaded by old trees. There's a creek and a hiking trail right outside the door.
Jen: We discovered that all the drains drained into the creek.
Bryan: Think of all the laundry that went into the bay. We had to dig up the floors and re-drain.
What's in your name? Bryan: I was called that as a child. I was clumsy and impulsive and tripped over my left foot. I wore corrective shoes. Nothing too crazy, just hard leather to mold and shift my foot.
Find Left Foot Charley inside Building 53 at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, directions at leftfootcharley.com,
Go here for the Left Foot Charley pick on MyNorth's ultimate summer wine list.