It's coming up on our favorite time of year here at BHV. Why, you ask? Pruning (yes, we really mean that!)! We spent February snowshoeing around, rolling through the vineyards, and checking on our vines. This time in the vines allowed us to fully see the quality of vine management from the previous vintage and make any necessary adjustments. It gave us a moment to pause and direct our attention to any new techniques that we may want to apply in the vineyard. It is also an opportune time to evaluate the position of the vines' shoots and anticipate changes we may want to make for not only the current growing season but for productivity of future vintages.
March is here, and for Michigan grape growers that means pruning is just around the corner. For us, grapevine pruning is an annual practice where nearly 90 percent of the previous year’s growth is removed. This is how we maintain the vine form and control the fruit and quality.
Spencer recently took me on a pruning lesson and it was so interesting to see what happens to, and how much labor goes into, each vine during pruning. If you take a look at the photos above you can see what the vine looked like before it was pruned, the middle stage and after it was finished. I threw the fourth photo in there just to show you what the vine looked like the very next day. One day it was a beautiful, bluebird day, and then the next, a complete whiteout...which is exactly why we start pruning early here! Shoot thinning early in the season is one way to overcome the crowding in these areas.
When pruning, we are trimming the vines to select our best two canes that we will then tie down on the weight-bearing wire, and count out to eight buds (ideal vine). We are looking for a pencil-sized diameter for the canes, not the bigger ones, sometimes referred to as bull wood. We want the pencil-size diameter because it has more vigor and the buds are tighter together.
With over 25 years experience, it's safe to say that Spencer is a fast pruner but just pruning one vine took about 20 minutes! It's pretty incredible to think that this happens by hand every year, on each and every one of our 18,000+ vines!
Stay tuned for the next edition of Designing the Vine!
Riesling is what I would consider to be the heart of our wine country. It is such a dynamic grape with an astonishing diversity of styles, pure fruit flavors and aromatic qualities. The biggest misconception about Riesling is that Rieslings are always sweet. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Here at Bowers Harbor Vineyards we have FIVE different Riesling wines, and they range from crisp and dry to dessert-sweet.
Did you know that acid is a crucial component in a well-balanced Riesling?
Riesling is immediately pleasing, even to new wine drinkers. It’s ALL about the fresh fruit, with no oak or heavy tannins. Michigan wine country has been exploding year after year, and more wine lovers are not only visiting us, but finding out about our wines. While we have a lot of other wines to offer them in addition to Riesling, Riesling is what originally put us on the map. Some of the best Rieslings in the entire world come from our very own backyard.
Spencer Stegenga, Proprietor of Bowers Harbor Vineyards, was the first in the state of Michigan to grow and bottle single-vineyard Rieslings. A single-vineyard Riesling is a limited bottling of a Riesling harvested from only one distinct vineyard plot, rather than combining grapes harvested from a variety of locations. The beauty of a single-vineyard Riesling is its ability to reflect the characteristics of its unique terroir (the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate).
We did a Riesling staff training last week and I learned SO much! It was fascinating listening to our winemaker talk about the different techniques that went into the wines that he made. It was also very interesting to try wines from all over the world and taste the vast differences between them. Flavor profiles were all across the board, from petrol and ripe fruit to spicy and earthy.
Our winemaker, Bryan Ulbrich, was voted as one of the Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Winemakers by IntoWine.com, which is a website that offers expert wine recommendations, wine and food pairings and other industry-specific information from around the world.
The fact that we have five different Rieslings on our tasting menu, and that every other winery around also has at least one on their menu, and that they ALL taste different from the next, is (in my opinion) the coolest thing about this grape. Not only that, but Michigan Rieslings will taste completely different than Rieslings from California, Washington, Australia, Germany... you get the idea.
Every growing region has its own style and taste due to many localized factors such as: the climate, terroir, micro-climates of the vineyard, farming methods, cultural tastes and of course, the techniques of the individual winemakers. Even vineyards a few miles apart can have striking differences in style.
The 2016 Block II was the highest rated wine in a recent James Suckling report, at 93 points. This wine is very dry and really showcases what a single vineyard Riesling from our region can provide: acidity, minerality and spice. I love to serve Block II with buttery scallops or a sharp cheddar cheese.
2016 Smokey Hollow just took home Best of Class at the San Francisco Chronicle, which is the biggest wine competition for American wines. Hints of red apple and grapefruit on the nose while the palate mellows to suggest golden delicious apple and citrus zest. Smokey Hollow pairs perfectly with grilled salmon or lemon pepper chicken.
Hand-harvested and lovingly vinified, the grapes for our Medium Dry Riesling are sourced from some of the finest vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. Each vineyard, with its own unique terroir, offers something a bit different – some yielding tropical notes, some bursting with bright stone fruit aromas, some supplying gorgeous minerality and complex floral and stone aromatics. All those beautiful berries combine to make benchmark Old Mission Riesling.
I am so excited that this one is back in the tasting room! The 2017 vintage was just released this past week! Our most prolific Riesling, the Medium Sweet strikes a stunning balance between mouth-watering acidity and soft sweetness. You’ll be amazed at the initial flood of sugar on your palate, but just a moment later, it is whisked off by quintessential Old Mission acidity. This wine will wow Riesling connoisseurs and convert the staunchest of dry wine drinkers! Our winemaker said “this is the best vintage yet!”
Langley Late Harvest:
Late harvest Rieslings are among the most beloved of sweet white wines. Our Langley Late Harvest is grown on a beautiful west-facing slope dipping down toward Bowers Harbor. Not harvested until Nov. 1st, 2016, these grapes absorbed all those beautiful, sunny Northern Michigan afternoons and evenings and translated it into an ethereal, sun-dappled dessert-style wine. Novice drinkers will be drawn in by the smooth, sweet fruit-forward character, while aficionados will appreciate the fine balance of sugar and acidity, as well as this wine’s lovely age-ability.
The Riesling wines in this blog are listed (and pictured) in tasting order, dry to sweet:
There are even more reasons to love a Riesling. Because of its strong acid structure, Rieslings can age much longer than most other wines, white or red. Some of the best Rieslings can still be amazing after 100 years! That is longer than most people live! As the wine matures, the taste will drastically change. Young Rieslings are fruit-forward, very bright and fresh-tasting, but those characteristics soften and mellow after they’ve been bottled for 2-3 years. Then there can be a muted period for up to 10 years (the wine will still taste pleasant) before they gain even more complexity and depth. They become drier to the taste and develop a stronger expression of that inherent minerality, along with a unique petrol character.
Going forward, I’ll be thinking of Riesling as the diamond of grapes. It is so multi-faceted! At its simplest, Riesling is an easily accessible wine that can be enjoyed on its own or with food. But tasting a great Riesling can be extremely rewarding, both from a sensory and an intellectual perspective.
Last Wednesday, Wine Specialist Tom took our tasting room staff on a brix tour. We were able to walk around the vineyards and test the brix levels in the fruit, and also learn about pH levels and acid content. It was AMAZING learning about how much goes into the testing and preparation of the vines and grapes (AKA berries). The timing of harvest is key and thus testing the berries on key metrics is vital: sugar, acid, pH and phenolics, the latter having few metrics. On top of everything that needs to be measured, all grape varietals need to be picked at different times and each have their own ripening schedule.
Measuring the levels of brix in a berry is how you figure out the sugar content. The sugar level itself is measured with a refractometer. The juice is placed on the refractometer lens and light travels through the juice to refract on a degree scale. The thicker the juice the more it bends the light and the higher the brix that registers on the scale.
2) Acid content
Organic acids are responsible for the various levels of bitter tastes in the wine and have influence on the wine’s stability, color and pH. It is perhaps the most critical of the measured components. Don't forget...wine is an acidic beverage after all.
3) Level of pH
pH is the measure of a balance of active acidity in the juice and wine, so acid and pH are directly related. Generally white grapes are harvested at pH level of 3.1 – 3.3 and red grapes at 3.3 – 3.5. A pH meter is used to measure pH. Before this is done the grower and the winemaker can taste the berry and get a feel for the sugar and pH ripeness.
In addition to using the technical tools to measure the ripeness, you should also be tasting the fruit along the way.
All in all we had a lot of fun as a group testing the brix levels and learning about each varietal and what to do look for. Interested to learn more about this topic yourself? We offer private and group vineyard tours! Click here to learn more about what we offer and to sign up for one, they are a blast!
Hope you enjoyed this edition of Through the Vines and Behind the Scenes! If you missed Part One, you can catch up here and stay tuned for Part Three!
One of my very favorite things to do is to host cocktail parties for my friends. I love getting everyone together relaxing and catching up. As much fun as the actual party is, it isn’t exactly stress-free deciding what to serve and getting everything ready. Gone are the days when I can throw some Doritos in a bowl and some Bud Light in a cooler and call it a day. Now, there is a little bit of pressure to serve something that people actually want to eat and drink, and also something a little outside the norm. Say hello to wine and cheese. A match made in culinary Heaven.
Last week, the Bowers Harbor Vineyards staff was treated to a wine/cheese pairing put together by our Chef Morgan. It was beyond delicious and we all learned so much about what wines go with which cheeses, and why. It was so cool to see what happens to the flavor profiles of both the cheese and the wine when tried separately, and then together. All of the cheeses from this evening were from The Cheese Lady, if you haven’t been to her shop in Downtown Traverse City, definitely make a point to visit. Delicious! They also have locations in Muskegon, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Farmington and Rochester.
I’ll take you through the pairings just as we tried them. Print this off, save it, serve a few of these at your next happy-hour get together, and you are sure to wow your guests. I serve mine on a chalk-board serving dish that I can write on to let guests know which cheeses are which. Similar to this one on Etsy. Side note: these trays are also a perfect housewarming gift!
1. Delice de Bourgogne- a French classic triple crème brie-style cheese originating from the Burgundy region of France. The cheese is made through the process of blending a high fat cow’s milk cheese with crème fraiche that gives it a very creamy light texture almost like a whipped butter. Unlike many brie’s of this style it has a very heavy bloomed rind that gives it an earthy note on the palate.
The Blanc de Blanc Cuvee Evan, makes a great pairing. The fine bubbles help to cut through the heavy fat content of the cheese.
2. Capra- This Belgium chevre is a unique style goat cheese, which the goats are grazed on herbs and grasses on the hills of the Ardennes and it's made with the local honey which gives this cheese a hint of sweetness.
Pinot Noir Rose, a light, dry Rose will help to cut back on the sweetness while also helping to bring out the fruit flavor of the wine.
3. Fresh Ricotta- Made from whole milk, this is a creamy rich cheese with a little sweetness and tanginess.
Our Pinot Grigio has a very crisp and clean taste that will help to cut through the heavy rich cheese and bring out the refreshing citrus in the wine.
4. Fontina Fontal- found commonly in Northern Italy, is a younger, creamier style of Fontina. A lighter style of cheese with just a touch of sweetness and a very mild flavor.
Our Wind Whistle Gewurztraminer is very fitting in its light refreshing flavor with just a hint of sweetness to match the intensity of the Fontina Fontal.
5. Prairie Breeze- An interesting twist on a hard-white cheddar, it's crumbly with a creamy-crunchy finish. It is made on Mennonite farms in Iowa.
Riesling Block II – A refreshing, almost Sauvignon Blanc style of Riesling, works wonderfully to cut the sharpness of the cheese while giving it a more of the creamy mouthfeel.
6. Appenzeller- Found in the Appenzell region of northeast Switzerland, has a very strong herbal rind that is typically coated in wines or ciders to help its growth. This nutty, tangy cheese has a history documented over 700 years ago. A very pungent smelling cheese.
The sweetness of the Medium Sweet Riesling, will help to cut through some of the strength of this cheese, and bring out the nuttiness.
7. 12 month aged Manchego- Originating from La Mancha Spain, a very nutty semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk.
The strong berry fruit flavors and the hint of smoke from our 2016 Pinot Noir are a wonderful way to complement the nutty firm texture and flavor of this aged Manchego.
8. Beemster Goat Gouda- The unique blue sea clay soil grows special grasses, that when ingested by the goats helps to produce a soft, sweeter style of Dutch Gouda.
Bowers Harbor Red is a lighter red, subtle raspberry and cherry fruit flavors complement the Beemster Goat Gouda.
9. Stilton- This pungent blue cheese is a staple in English cuisine. Stilton can only be made in 3 counties within the country (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire) and can only be made from 6 different dairies. This is a semisoft blue cheese with a very sharp must aromatic and flavor profile.
Maggie being a strong assertive red wine, will be a nice pairing for a stronger blue cheese.
(Editor's note: since our wine/cheese event, we have sold out of Maggie. We are in turn recommending our 2013 2896, Langley to go with the Stilton because of it's bold blend.)
10. Cambozola- This crème brie style blue cheese come from the German region of Allgau. The cheese is made by injecting a brie style cheese with the Penicillium roquefotri mold used in many strong blue cheeses. By doing this the cheese has a soft creamy texture, and not a pungent of an aroma, but the strong rich blue cheese flavor.
The richness of this cheese goes great with dessert style wine and liquors, both the Appletage and the Ice Cider make nice pairings to help cut through the strong blue cheese flavor and go nicely with the creamy texture.
Hope this list helps you decide which cheese and wine to serve at your next party. It sure helped me! All of the wine on this list can be purchased in our tasting room or at our online store. Click here to shop! Cheers!
I am now three weeks into my new position as Marketing Manager for Bowers Harbor Vineyards (BHV) and wow, I have learned a lot! I came into this position having been familiar with BHV for years, as I’ve helped in the tasting room here and there during busy seasons and events, am an avid wine drinker myself and have a passion for the bustling wine scene here on Old Mission Peninsula. I have years of experience in the marketing world, which is also something I love and the opportunity to combine two of my biggest passions at my favorite winery is like a dream come true. I’m so excited to be here and learn all about the wine making process and everything behind the scenes. So hi! I’m Alaina Dodds and I look forward to meeting all of you when you visit us!
Visiting a winery and doing wine tastings with your family and friends is so much fun, right?! I’ve witnessed couples, singles, regulars, first-timers, bachelorette parties, anniversaries, groups of friends and families enjoying their time at BHV in just the past few weeks. I love watching the enjoyment on everyone’s faces.
It is our job to make working in the wine industry look and feel fun and carefree. We want you to come into our tasting room and truly relax, learn something, have some laughs and go home a little happier than you were before (and tell your friends about us).
What I have never really thought about…until now, is how much work actually goes into ONE bottle of wine! Or how much happens behind the scenes to ensure that the guests have a variety of high quality wine to choose from and that the staff is educated on the entire selection. The labor of wine is intensive, finicky, tough, stressful and oh so rewarding.
The grapes shown in this photo below are the Chardonnay grapes grown in the block of vines right in front of the tasting room. The first picking of these grapes will be in mid-to-late September and will make our 2017 vintage of Cuvee Evan Blanc de Blanc. This is really exciting because the fist vintage of this wine was in 2005, then 2009, then 2014 and this year’s will be our 2017 vintage which won’t be available until 2020, due to the three-year aging process. We follow the traditional champagne method (methode champenoise), which is universally acknowledged as producing the highest quality and most age-worthy sparkling wines.
The Chardonnay grapes are currently measuring 8-10 degrees brix and we want them to be at 19 brix before we harvest. Because we have had some cooler weather this summer, harvest will be a bit later than usual. We pick these grapes earlier in the harvest season because they retain more acid and not too much sugar. Acid helps the fruit characteristics come forward and also helps to have longer aging potential. This block of chardonnay grapes was planted in 1991 and has 750 vines. It’s incredible to think about how 26 years of growth and 750 vines of grapes can produce just a few kinds of wines. Our first picking of this block will be used to make our Cuvee Evan Blanc de Blanc and our second picking (once the residual sugar levels have increased) will make our Chardonnay RLS Reserve.
I know you don’t want to wait all the way until 2020 to try our Cuvee Evan Blanc de Blanc, good thing you don’t have to! We just released our 2014 vintage, we only have 90 cases though! You can pick up your own bottle ($38) or case when visiting our tasting room or by purchasing online here.
See you next time when we take another journey through the vines and behind the scenes at Bowers Harbor Vineyards!
One of the goals of Michigan’s tourism industry is to excel at customer service, to provide each visitor to our state an exceptional experience at every location they visit. It’s no coincidence that this is one of our goals at Bowers Harbor Vineyards as well.
This is called The Pure Michigan Promise:
This past fall, Michigan’s Tourism board ran a competition where communities or organizations across the state created and shared short videos to demonstrate what this promise means to them.
We were excited to submit a video that demonstrates what the promise means to us and how we deliver on it to you, our guests, our friends, our family.
While we did not make the top five videos, we were thrilled to enter our video and even more so, we are thankful to be a part of a community that cherishes and truly demonstrates The Pure Michigan Promise every day.
To view the top five entries, and to see the final compilation please click here.
Enjoy access to latest wine releases, events, incredible promotions, and more!