The most magical time of the year is nearly here with the holiday season right around the corner, when families and friends gather around the table and enjoy conversation, great food and, of course, plenty of wine. Although this time is wonderful and we look forward to it all year long, it can also be stressful! Families don’t always get along, cooking for a lot of people isn’t easy, juggling work/kids/travel schedules, etc can be difficult. Well, we have one solution to it all...WINE. Always wanting to make your lives easier, we’ve created the perfect Thanksgiving meal for you, with each course expertly paired with our wines and the reasoning behind the wine choices. So, sit back and enjoy the read.
We always like to start festivities out with some bubbly. It’s celebratory, pairs so easily and is light and airy before a big meal. I LOVE our 2016 Cuvee Evan, Blanc de Blanc with baked brie, homemade potato chips or even spicy chicken wings! If you want something a bit fruitier, then a great choice would be Brix.
Stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce, candied carrots – oh my mouth is watering! Get out your stretchy pants people because we are going to stuff ourselves with deliciousness. I love serving all the wine with the main meal, giving lots of options for everyone. So, I will put out Rose, Pinot Noir which is a chameleon with food pairing because it is neither a white nor red. It’ll provide some fruitiness, some tartness, as well as some earthy notes on the finish. It’s technically a dry wine, but a people-pleaser! I’ll also add Riesling, Block II to the mix, not only because it’s my favorite wine on the planet but because very few wines can manage green vegetables (like green bean casserole or brussels sprouts) as Rieslings can. In addition, the acidity of the wine cleanses the palate between bites of heavier gravy, meat, and stuffing. With turkey, I like to serve a lighter red, which is where Bowers Harbor Red comes in. It offers fruit notes for the cranberry sauce, it’s not heavy since turkey is a lighter meat, and you will get some hints of smoke on the finish from the barrel-aging that works amazingly well with potatoes and stuffing.
This pairing is a staple time and time again, pumpkin cheesecake with Ice Apple Cider. Believe me, when I say, it’s MAGIC and you want it on your holiday table this year.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how these pairings turned out. Wishing you all the happiest of holiday seasons!
Click on the highlighted wine names to go directly to each wine to shop, or click here to shop all wine.
I remember when I first started working in the Tasting Room at Bowers Harbor Vineyards about six years ago, I thought I disliked Riesling because “it is too sweet.” It didn’t take long for me to learn that the Riesling grape is the most dynamic grape of them all, meaning it can be extra dry, extra sweet, and everything in between. Currently, we have seven Rieslings on our menu, and they range from dry, like our Block II that I’m featuring today in this blog to dessert style with our Whaleback. If I had to choose only one wine to drink for the rest of my life (oh, the horror!) I would choose our Riesling, Block II. It turns out, it’s not only my favorite wine but it’s also our Wine Maker Bryan Ulbrich’s, too!
Block II has taken home many prestigious awards over the years and is not only our most awarded wine but also one of the most awarded Rieslings in the whole country. Some recent awards include Best of Class at the Long Beach Grand Cru, Gold at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, Double Gold at the San Fransisco Invitational, Double Gold at the San Fransisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and has received 93 points with the James Suckling Report.
Bright and fresh, Rieslings epitomize the beauty of a clear Michigan summer day. Riesling flourishes in our Northern climate and is putting Michigan on the map with award-winning wines. Our Block II Riesling is one of these wines. The 2018 vintage is the driest in our Riesling line-up, with only half a percent of residual sugar. Crisp acidity accentuates the palate and brings forth mouth-watering notes of tart grapefruit pith. Move over, sweet Riesling! Dry Riesling has earned its moment in the limelight!
100% estate-grown and hand-harvested exclusively from our Block II Vineyard, with rows planted East-West, the sun exposure on the grape clusters bring forth higher Brix levels on the south-facing clusters, and lower Brix levels on those facing north. This variance brings complexity to the wine, which makes each sip a new experience.
Block II Riesling offers up grapefruit pith and cardamom on the nose, with a palate suggesting orange, grapefruit, and lemon pith. Hints of minerality on the finish.
Grilled sea scallops in butter sauce; Sushi; Sharp cheddar cheese.
Riesling is one of the great white varietals of the world, with its incredible versatility (from bone-dry to dessert-sweet) to its terroir-expressiveness, no matter where it’s grown, it’s a force to be reckoned with!
While we do tend to celebrate single-vineyard Rieslings all year round around here, we have an extra special vintage to celebrate right now. Our just-released Ten Hands Riesling made from grapes grown by vineyard owners and wine aficionados, Tom and Claudine Petzold and crafted by our winemaker, Bryan Ulbrich. We released this wine less than a month ago and we are already almost completely sold out of it, that's how good it is...61 cases are now being enjoyed by many Wine Club members. Because of it its limited quantity to start, we only offered the sale of it to Wine Club members - just another perk of being part of the BHV family. Are you a member yet? If not, learn more about why it's the best Wine Club around HERE.
Tom brings a depth of wine knowledge and a love of sharing it to the Bowers Harbor Vineyards staff. His ready smile and passion for wine make the tasting room experience both fun and educational. Tom is our Vineyard Tour Guide Specialist and grows grapes from his Ten Hands Vineyard for BHV.
Tom’s employment at the historic Pontchartrain Wine Cellars Restaurant in Detroit gave him his first exposure to the world of wine. His subsequent 17-year sojourn in Europe while working for the U.S Air Force afforded him the opportunity to deepen his love and respect for fine wine. Tom and Claudine found time to explore some of the oldest and most recognized wine regions in the world and gladly embraced the European tradition of enjoying wine as a part of daily life.
Tom and Claudine moved to Traverse City from Washington DC in June 2007 after they formally retired from careers in the government and teaching. A native of France, Claudine has lived in several European countries as well as various parts in the USA. Horticulture has always been one of her interests, beginning when she worked on her family farm in France and during harvest in the Champagne and Alsace areas.
Claudine particularly enjoys working outside in the summer, tending to her vegetable and flower garden as well as helping Tom in their vineyard, taking care of their 2000 misbehaving children, i.e. Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Auxerrois.
Here is a little video of Tom and Claudine talking about their amazing vineyard, Ten Hands.
Ten Hands Vineyard faces a cool East Bay, situated on the northeastern shore of Old Mission Peninsula. The soil is sandy loam with mixed concentrations of clay and gravel. The glacier movements mixed the soil, so it both drains well, has very little concentrated sand, contains moderate humus, and is a bit alkaline in pH. For fruits, including grapes, this is ideal. Tom and Claudine enhance the soil with annual compost additions and by planting a vast mix of grasses and legumes in the row middles.
Ten Hands Riesling is truly a treat for your taste buds; think green apple peel and lime on the nose and green pear, nectarine and lychee fruit on the palate.
One of the most fun parts about drinking wine is pairing it with food! I love thinking outside the box and pairing with accessible and low maintenance food because I still think there is a misconception that wine should be paired with fancy foods like lobster and filet mignon.
Here's my take on a fun pairing with the delicious Ten Hands Riesling.
Step 1: Set a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 500°. Spread the bacon in a pie plate and bake for 15 minutes, stirring once, until nearly crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
Step 2: Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs with the cream and a pinch of salt. In a medium nonstick skillet, cook the eggs and 1 tablespoon of the butter over low heat, whisking frequently, until small curds form and the eggs are creamy, about 12 minutes. Remove the eggs from the heat. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and season with salt.
Step 3: On a lightly floured work surface, stretch out the pizza dough to a 12-inch round and transfer to a lightly floured pizza peel. Spread the crème fraîche evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Top with the crispy bacon, Brie and mozzarella.
Step 4: Slide the pizza onto the hot stone and bake for about 7 minutes, until lightly golden and bubbling. Remove the pizza from the oven and spoon the scrambled eggs on top. Slide the pizza back onto the stone and bake for 2 minutes longer, until the eggs are hot. Garnish with chives, cut into wedges and serve.
If you don't have Ten Hands Riesling, this recipe would also pair well with our Riesling, Medium Sweet. Give it a try and let us know what you think!
Gifted winemaking, committed to extracting maximum characteristics from the grapes, creates this exceptionally lovely Riesling. If you didn't get your hands on the 2018 vintage, don't worry - there will be a 2019 vintage. We just harvested the grapes last week! To tide you over, here is a gorgeous photo that Tom took of his grapes a couple of weeks before harvest, when they were plump and juicy, soaking up the last bits of sunshine.
A couple months ago, we had soil (and all things wine) extraordinaire, Dave Bos, come out to our vineyards to talk dirty to us. He spoke with our staff on the value of high-quality soil, soil composition and how it affects our plant growth, grape development and ultimately, how much it matters for quality wine. It was very enlightening! Then last week, he was so kind to come out again to teach us about the actual plant growth itself, the lifecycle of vinifera grapes. We learned a ton and I wanted to share a recap of that here.
The health of our vines depends directly on the health of the soil. Our focus is on treating the soil with care so that it can provide solid vine growth. Healthy land means happier vines which translates to higher quality grapes. Each of our vines is handled individually 10-12 times per year, which means that they get a lot of personal attention. If we didn’t pay such close attention to our vines, they would naturally grow into a bushy mess of leaves and branches. Meticulous pruning helps the vines stay nice and organized with their energy focused on growing impeccable grapes.
The soil we have is sandy loam. Sandy loam is in between sand and silt in the soil texture triangle.
Sandy loam is porous, so it drains easily, which is important here due to the amount of rain we do get. The soil structure will and can change the growth of the vines. When combined with other healthy biodiverse strategies, the entire environment, which makes up the terroir, becomes energized to produce better quality grapes, that stand out in the wine. We believe it's one of the reasons that BHV produces outstanding wines year after year.
Grapevines are perennial plants, meaning that they grow in spring, bloom over summer, then die back over the winter months, and then repeats its cycle from its rootstock the following spring. I found this diagram of the yearly lifecycle of a grapevine from Wine Folly. I love it!
Depending on the weather, bud break here typically starts mid-June and this is where 100% of the vine is focused on growing. Then it will self-pollinate and flower where we will remove the leaves from the fruit zone to enhance direct sun exposure to the fruit, then fruit set (grapes) and then veraison (the grapes will change color and sweeten). Once veraison starts, 100% of the plant’s energy will move toward veraison and the vines themselves will quit growing. We are constantly pruning our vines (hedging, removing suckers, leafing) to keep the energy where it needs to be. We’ve had a cool and rainy season so far, so bud break was a bit behind schedule. But the good news is, veraison is what determines harvest, not bud break. So, fingers crossed for a long and hot fall!
Last night I participated in a Riesling Roundtable discussion put on by Michigan Wine Collaborative and joined by myself, Chateau Chantal, Fenn Valley Vineyards, Amoritas Vineyards and St. Julian Winery. It was an online conversation on Twitter talking all things Michigan Riesling and it was so fun! I thought I’d break down the conversation into our talking points and share them here.
Here’s what we discussed:
It’s cold hardy so it can survive in cold temperatures in Winter. It blooms late, like Pinot Noir, so it doesn’t get frosted if we get cool nights in Spring. It likes our cool growing region and historically it grows in similar climates throughout the world. Riesling does well in sandy, clay and gravel soil compositions, which is what we have – the proximity to water helps as well to regulate the temperature. Because Riesling likes to grow here, can be made into a wide variety of styles and gets a decent cropping year after year, it’s a great crop for farmers – environmentally and economically.
Riesling has transparency that reflects where it’s grown – there’s no hiding the terroir! What better way to show off Riesling than in Northern Michigan!
Acidity lays the foundation and balance of the wine and is more important than anything because it dictates how the wine will be. Our cool nights here slow down the ripeness of the grapes so we can keep the acidity longer (which is a good thing!).
A characteristic that shows particularly well in our Riesling wines is the floral spice. When tasting through the various Rieslings from different wineries last night, there were several people mentioning the spice that they detected in Old Mission Peninsula wines that wasn’t apparent in wine from Leelanau Peninsula. I just think that is so fascinating: the same style wine grown just a few miles away has a distinct flavor profile.
The stone fruit and aromatics are the fun and pretty side of Rieslings grown in this area.
A major challenge that we run into in the Tasting Room is people’s perception that all Rieslings are sweet. A lot of people are not aware that Riesling is the diamond of grapes, meaning it is multi-faceted. Currently, we have SIX Rieslings on our menu ranging from very dry to very sweet and everything in between, including a sparkling Riesling.
Another challenge is educating people on how well a Riesling can age. Because Rieslings are so bright and pretty when they are young, people love to drink them right away. But, if you don’t let some of your Rieslings age, you are missing out on a delicious experience. Over time, Riesling can show off a wide array of flavors. Few people get to enjoy an older Riesling because they are so enjoyable when they are young. Pulling library wines to show the full depth and complexity of different vintages of the same wine (called a vertical tasting) is where a Tasting Room can really educate and open the minds of the consumer.
Key Takeaway: Save your Rieslings, they are MAGICAL when they are older.
Our first Riesling plants were planted in 1991 and our first bottle was produced in 1994 (yes, it takes THAT LONG to get a bottle of wine). We were the second wave of Riesling being planted. The first in our area was Chateau Grand Traverse who started growing vinifera grapes in the 70’s.
Our Late Harvest style Rieslings (Late Harvest and Medium Sweet) are still the most popular across the board with distribution and in our Tasting Room, but the wine that is growing more and more in sales each year is our Medium Dry. Hopefully this means we are cracking the bias that all Riesling wines are sweet.
Our most awarded white wine is our Block II, which is our driest Riesling. Not only is it our most awarded white wine, it is one of the most awarded Rieslings in the whole country. Have you tried it yet?
Vineyards: We do not over grow our Riesling plants. We do VSP (vertical shoot positioning) and only have 8 shoots per plant. We purposely limit the number of clusters on each plant, ensuring every cluster is developed and well nourished. Each plant is touched 10-12 times per year – so we are constantly pruning and removing suckers to keep the plants in optimal health.
Cellar: In the cellar, we let the grapes and the vintage dictate the style that we are trying to make, rather than manipulating wine. We don’t add sugar to Rieslings, we only use natural sugars so it’s just the real quality flavor of the grape itself. Northern MI Riesling grapes are harvested in a cool climate, which means managing the pace of fermentation in the cellar is easier to control. This is VERY difficult in warm climate because the speed of which all of this can happen is within a week or two. We have months, it’s a slow and patient watch of the wines.
Tasting Room: Employee education is crucial. We are huge on education here and making sure that the staff understands the differences between all the Riesling styles, what pairs well with each and why, etc. Also, taking our guests through vertical tastings is one way to show the complexity of each style of Riesling.
All in all, this Riesling Roundtable discussion was a great experience! To follow along with the entire conversation and to learn more, follow #MIRiesling on Twitter. If you have any questions about these topics, feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What better way to celebrate than by drinking a glass of delicious local wine, while sitting in a Michigan state shaped chair, and getting your back massaged all at the same time! Check out the GENIUS invention (which should be next to the term Self Care in the Urban Dictionary), the Michigan Wine Chair 2.0 created by Thompson Woodworks. Does it get any better than this?! We think not!
(bonus: the wine being poured is Bowers Harbor Vineyards 2896 Langley 🍷).
Did you know that we have three Chardonnays on our menu? Why, you ask? Because we can! The Chardonnay grape is one of the most diverse – and most planted – white grapes on Earth. It’s used for everything from light and zesty champagne-style wines (like our Cuvee Evan and Blanc de Blanc) to rich, buttery California-style Oaked Chardonnay (like our RLS Reserve) and everything in between. The climate and terroir where the grapes grow, as well as the winemaking, are the difference makers here.
Today, we are going to talk about our three Chardonnays (only our still wines will be covered in this blog but click here to read about our sparkling Chardonnays), the differences between them, food pairings that go with each and finally tackle some common Chardonnay misconceptions. Instead of only reading about it, I thought it would be fun to do a little video series starring our rockstar duo Kevin and Jane.
Malolactic Fermentation is a process where tart malic acid in wine is converted to softer, creamier lactic acid (the same acid found in milk). The process reduces the acidity in wine and also releases some carbon dioxide. Technically, Malolactic Fermentation is not a fermentation because it does not use yeast, it uses a different kind of bacteria (Oenoccocus Oeni). The result is a wine with a creamy, velvety texture. YUM!
Side note: there is a simple and delicious recipe at the bottom of this blog for grilled pork chops from Kevin's kitchen!
Pouring all three Chardonnays for people at the tasting bar is fun for the staff. People often say that “they don’t like Chardonnay” and typically that means that they have only ever had the traditional oaky Chardonnay and that they don’t prefer the taste. If we can get them to try the Unwooded Chardonnay without telling them what it is, and then they like it because it drinks more like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, they are always surprised to find out it is a Chardonnay. But that is what wine tastings are for, to open your horizons and try some varietals and styles that you are unfamiliar with. Oaked Chardonnay is like the cilantro of wine, people typically either love it or hate it.
We hope you enjoyed our Chardonnay Throwdown mini-series. Stay tuned as we continue having fun educating from behind the tasting bar, as well as behind the camera. Taste. Learn. Enjoy!
We suggest pairing with Big Paw Chardonnay. Bon Appétit!
You know what’s tough? Michigan winters...and do you know what’s even tougher? THIS WINTER! It’s been brutally cold, we’ve had to shovel nonstop, and the other day actual ice balls were pelting me in the face while skiing. #MichiganStrong
Winter blues are a real thing. They’re like Monday blues, except they last for like...5 months! I hear you, it’s cold and long and gray. But nothing will make you feel worse than laying on the couch every day and counting the minutes until May. You know the routine, go to work, come home, make dinner, Netflix. Weekends are similar but swap dinner for brunch and work with house cleaning. Rough city! Seriously, if you can survive winter in Michigan you can probably survive anything — but they don't have to be boring. Part of getting through the coldest, grayest months of the year is knowing how to make the most of them.
I’m here to give you a list of all things glorious about Traverse City winters. Because after all, you do live in MI, and winter comes every year, and stays for months, so you better just get used to it. Next time you’re sad or bored or feeling claustrophobic, go outside. Put on your winter coat (long underwear, gloves, hat, face mask, snow pants, wool socks, hand and feet warmers, waterproof boots...) and go outside! We live in a Winter Wonderland!
Photo Credit: Jolly Pumpkin
This weekly (can you say SUNDAY FUNDAY!) event happens every winter from end of December until middle of March and is so much fun, you might want to do it every single week. You and all your friends meet at Jolly Pumpkin before being shuttled by the always FUN Brew Bus team to Brys Estate for wine tasting at their gorgeous winery. Sit back and relax while making the tough decision of red, white or rosé (and you don’t have to choose, you can try all of them!) before strapping on your snow shoes and heading to the next stop, Bowers Harbor Vineyards. Enjoy another tasting here and warm up a bit in our heated pavilion and by the roaring fire at the outdoor fire pit. You like S’mores? We have them! And, don’t forget to try a Spirit Cider flavor! When you’re ready to burn off those calories you just drank, you’ll snowshoe back to Jolly Pumpkin for your final tasting, which can consist of wine, beer and/or spirits! Warm up in their cozy restaurant for some well-deserved lunch. Find out all Snowshoe Wine and Brew information and book your reservations here.
Photo Credit: Hop Lot
I LOVE Hop Lot! What a fun, chill way to spend happy hour or Saturday/Sunday. They have a wide selection of delicious craft brews and the ultimate Winter accessory...IGLOOS! You can reserve the igloos for free by the hour and they’re perfect for a birthday or anniversary celebration. Hop Lot is family-friendly, they have board games to play and sell S’more packs that you and the kids can use by the outdoor fire pits. I love stopping at Mawby on the way for a glass of sparkling wine, which is always beyond delish. And while I’m at it, I also love stopping at another one of my favorite Traverse City wineries, Rove Estate for a glass of red while gazing out of their windows at the glorious snow-covered vineyards. Sigh, so beautiful.
Photo Credit: Rove Estate
Skiing and snowboarding is SO FUN. I’ll say it again louder for the people in the back. Skiing IS SO FUN! We are lucky to be surrounded by so many hills to ski on, such as Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills (both perfect for kiddos), Shanty Creek Resorts, Boyne Highlands, Nub's Nob, and Crystal Mountain. Some of us from BHV take one of our days off, usually a Monday, and head out to ski. We brainstorm new ideas in the car on the way there and back, on the chairlifts and over a couple beers at lunch. I swear some of our best ideas have been hatched during Ski Mondays. It helps to get out of the office, get some exercise, and best of all, get some fresh perspective. Bonding with each other through healthy activities is good for the soul! Enjoy night skiing? You can join 106 KHQ at Schuss Mountain on Wednesday nights from 5pm - 9pm for only $10 per lift ticket!
One of my favorite places on Earth is Mission Point Lighthouse. It is BEAUTIFUL, peaceful and serene during all times of the year but there is just something extra special about it during the Winter. If you’re lucky you can get miles and miles of fresh tracks through the well-marked trail system. The trails are great for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Does your dog seem bored or depressed? They get cabin fever too! Bring them on your hike and I guarantee you’ll laugh the entire time watching them run and play in the fluffy snow. Shameless plug here: Did you know that Bowers Harbor Vineyards does a fundraiser every year for Mission Point Lighthouse? We are going on our 4th year of fundraising and have donated approximately $6100 so far.
Photo Credit: Michael Topp
I went tubing for my first time a few weeks ago and now I am wondering WHY OH WHY did I wait so long to do this? It is SO FUN (see a pattern here?)! It’s a perfect activity that the whole family can enjoy and there is a great lodge to warm up in afterwards with good food and hot cocoa (AKA toddies). The worst part about sledding is climbing back up the hill after going down, right? No need to do that while tubing, just grab onto the tow rope and ride up in your tube! You can have all this fun for only $10!
Have you been in this gorgeous trail system yet? If not, go ASAP! Picture 250 acres of rolling hills with views of three different lakes (Long, Fern and Page). The property is a combination of mesic northern hardwood forest, fields and riparian wetlands and is truly stunning. The trails are perfect for dogs, hiking and snowshoeing and many of the trails lead straight to the lake for easy ice-fishing access. To me, nature is peace and I absolutely love the serenity of this land, which is protected by The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.
The moral of my story is this...there are so many things to do in Winter and staying inside for 4-5 months straight isn’t good for anyone. Fresh air, fun and exercise are all needed for well-rounded lives and we are lucky to live in a place with so much to offer year-round!
Don’t live in Traverse City? Here’s a list of fun for you to enjoy too (but come up and visit us soon!):
What are your favorite Winter activities? Drop me a line and let me know at email@example.com
We LOVE Traverse City's Restaurant Week and we are beyond excited to have our wines make some appearances at our favorite restaurants. First Up is Aerie Restaurant, which is located inside the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa!
fresh sunchokes, Shetler’s dairy cream, brown butter crumb, crispy pancetta, sunchoke chips, fresh herbs
lump blue crab, capers, bell pepper, shallot, and red onion served in an avocado shell, watercress, wasabi lime aioli, toasted sesame, cilantro
sweet potato, bell pepper, acorn squash, white onion, broccoli, served with house made ponzu sauce, toasted nori, yuzu citrus
confit pork belly, roasted butternut squash, crispy brussels leaves, candied pecan, roasted squash puree, wild flower honey
house made potato gnocchi, bacon tomato jam, creamed spinach, charred carrot, roasted carrot puree
chargrilled center cut filet, grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, balsamic cipollini onion, boursin celeriac potato, natural jus
potato crusted Alaskan halibut, grilled oyster mushrooms, roasted romanesco, black truffle, caviar beurre blanc
creamy raspberry cheesecake with raspberry glaze, almond crust crumble, raspberry dust
chocolate cake layered with peanut butter mousse, glazed with chocolate ganache
Flavors of apple, pear and citrus followed by a crisp, clean finish.
50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Merlot
Flavors of black cherries and red raspberries. Aged in French Oak barrels, enhancing the natural spices of cinnamon and black pepper, creating balance and complexity
Port-Style Cordial perfect for sipping after dinner. Rich cherry flavors with a sweet satisfying finish.
“Have you ever thought about doing the Introductory Sommelier Course?” Kristy nonchalantly tossed the question my way. Um, well, yes. I had thought about it once for approximately two seconds and immediately dismissed the idea. My oldest daughter has passed her Intro, her Certified, and her Advanced Sommelier exams, and I know the massive amounts of information she has assimilated. It’s daunting.
Still, the thought was intriguing. After all, I’m going on my twelfth year working at Bowers Harbor Vineyards; part-time, of course, but still. I’ve been around wine and the wine industry long enough that I’ve listened, learned, read, tasted, asked a lot of questions, and developed a good working knowledge of wine basics.
“OK,” I thought, “I’ll just check online and see when the next Intro course is offered in the Midwest.” The Court of Master Sommeliers makes the various levels of sommelier certification courses available throughout the country on a yearly basis. The trick is to find one that works with your geography and time schedule, and that isn’t already full. I pulled up the website, went to the calendar, and checked the schedule for the upcoming 12 months. There was only one Intro course scheduled for the Midwest, and it was – gulp – in Detroit 5 days hence. Seriously?? “Well”, I thought, “what do I have to lose? My pride? Three days of time? A small chunk of money? But it might be a great learning experience, even if I don’t pass.” So I pulled the trigger, registered, booked a hotel room, and headed home from work that evening ready to download the study manual. All 300 pages.
Five days later, I arrived at the hotel in Detroit around 7:30 a.m. for the first day of the course. There were about 90 other attendees, most from some segment of the beverage or hospitality industry, although the fellow sitting next to me was in the mortgage industry and simply wanted to put this on his resume. We were seated at long tables in a comfortable conference room, and after a brief introduction by the four Master Sommeliers teaching the course, the barrage of information began.
The next 10 hours were filled with viticulture and vinification theory; detailed explanation of and practice with the “deductive tasting method”; the basics of food and wine pairing; and then - FRANCE. France, in all its historical and viticultural glory, with exquisite attention to every detail of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, the Loire Valley, Alsace, and the Rhone Valley. The day ended with a discussion and demonstration of service, salesmanship, and hospitality. Then 90 people filed glaze-eyed out of the conference room to either drink themselves into oblivion or go back to their rooms to study. I studied.
The following day we returned for a second bombardment of information, this time covering Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, North America, South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. And for good measure they completed the day with detailed instruction on fortified wines, beer, sake, cider and spirits. And in between all of those we had managed to do six different deductive tasting sessions, exploring 18 white wines and 18 red wines.
At the conclusion of Day Two, we were given a 70-question exam, with 45 minutes to complete it. I finished my exam in about 15 minutes, and then went to wait with others in the lobby outside the conference room. There was a lot of nervous dialogue and mild tension as we waited for everyone to complete the exam, and then another long wait before we were all invited back into the conference room. Glasses of champagne were distributed, and each person waited anxiously to hear their name called. Happily, I passed!
I walked away with not only a certificate and a pin, but a far greater understanding of and appreciation for what we do here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. There is a balance in the world of wine between complexity and simplicity that is striking. The simple is obvious: we grow grapes out of which we make wine. We’re farmers. The complexity is an everchanging landscape of factors; we have control over some of the factors. Others, not so much. The soil is there as the foundation of what we do. It can be nurtured, cultivated, or depleted depending on what we do. But we cannot change it, and we would do well to respect and understand its unique character and draw on its strengths. The region in which we farm is Northern Michigan, no more or less stunning than Burgundy or Bordeaux. And therein lies its beauty, and the reason we love what we do here.
There is no other place on earth that will ever make wine exactly like the wine we make here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards. Similar, perhaps, of the same varietal with a similar chemical profile. But never quite like the grapes that bask in the morning sun along Bowers Harbor Road, lean toward the evening sunset in the Langley Vineyard, or get buffeted by the West wind howling through Block I. Those are the grapes gifted to us, and with which we seek to make wines that express the distinct character of this place. Those are the wines we love to share with family and friends. That is the challenge and the privilege of who we strive to be at Bowers Harbor Vineyards.
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