First saw wine made at age 7, became a Master Gardner and now my favorite plant is Vitis vinifera. Published wine reviewer, teach wine appreciation at the local school district. And at my old age completed some WSET levels just because I love all things wine. I pour wine for various distributors, have worked with chefs pairing wine and food at corporate events and do private home parties too. Between events, I meet with winemakers in various states and countries.
“The best wine
educator is a corkscrew and an open mind.” ............
Proving the Notion Wrong
There is a
commonly held notion about Midwestern wineries, and it goes
They do the best they can with what they have.
They don’t have much.
They make some decent white wine, but not red unless they “import” their grapes
from other states (read that to mean California or Washington) because it gets
very cold and snows a lot where they’re at..
They make a lot of fruit and sweet wine. That’s what the “red hat ladies” want
and they have to stay in business after all, but “serious” red wine is not to
be found there.
The problem with such notions is that if we accept that one of them is
true, we tend to believe all of them are true.
And if we hear one of them repeated often enough, we accept all of them as fact. It is true, for example, that the Midwest
gets snow. It gets cold too. It is also true that most wineries, of course, will do their best with what they have.
Why wouldn't they? As for fruit and
sweet wines, wineries making such can be found in all 50 states. I suggest that if you don’t like sweet or
fruit wines, you don’t buy them.
But if you want to disavow yourself of any wrong assumptions you may
have cluttering up your potential wine IQ, I suggest you taste some wine from
Domaine Berrien Cellars of Berrien Springs, Michigan. I came across this gem of
a winery recently while doing a section of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
Michigan Shore is a recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area) by the
way, which should tell you something about grapes from this area. You might also want to get out the old family
globe, or just trust the map here. You’ll notice that much of Michigan lies
between 42 and 47 degrees latitude, the same areas as that for Burgundy,
Bordeaux and the Rhone in France. And as rivers in Germany and other bodies of
water near France, Italy and other countries benefit conditions for grape
growing, Lake Michigan (a substantial body of water) benefits this area of
I was initially attracted to this winery by its use of the word
“Domaine.” It gave me hope that a Midwestern winery using such spelling would be inclined to try to produce "old world" style wine. I was delighted to learn that they didn't just try, they
succeeded! Blended and varietal wines made from estate
grown Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and
Petite Verdot are available along with whites Pinot Gris, Viognier, Marsanne,
Sauvignon Blanc and the famous Midwestern Traminette (a cross of Joannes Seyve
23.416 x Gewurztraminer. You don’t need to know all that; only that it tastes
like Gewurtz). And there are others.
Grapes Are Estate Grown
I enjoyed the 2011 Lemberger (a late ripening, red wine grape popular in
Central Europe and elsewhere) with its taste of plum with toasty over tones and
a spicy, dry finish. The 2009 Pinot Noir
offered cherry, black currant, soft mocha and forest floor. I learned Domaine
Berrien uses Dijon clones 113, 115 and 777
(which I seem to consistently enjoy) along with a Swiss clone
“Mariafeld” for their Pinot. The Pinot is aged 12 months in French oak and
bottle aged an additional 30 months before release. Not only is the wine
impressive, at ARP of $15.50, it’s a bargain.
The winery began in the early 1990s and only opened to the public in
2001. Domaine Berrien enjoys the respect of other growers along Michigan Shore
and word has gotten out beyond the area that this is a winery committed to
making quality “old world” wines at value prices.
Some of Domaine Berrien’s wines are being carried in the Chicago area,
but I recommend you visit the winery. The tasting staff is friendly and very
knowledgeable. You can taste several
wines, leaning about each, and enjoy looking at the beautiful rows of
grapes. Depending upon where you live in
the Chicago area, the drive to Berrien Cellars is about 2 – 2.5 hours. And if you’re visiting Saugatuck or Holland,
you’re only about an hour away. I’ll be writing in the coming months about some
of the wines I particularly enjoyed. But in the meantime, keep an open mind and make the trip to Berrien Spring Cellars yourself --- but don’t worry about the
corkscrew. They’ll keep one handy.
** Follow me on
facebook for tips on wine & food pairings,