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Sommelier Q&A

Industry professionals talk Michigan wine

The Michigan wine industry has created space for producers and growers over the years, beneficial to all of us, especially considering the detailed work of artists along this pattern and path.

Yet often we reconcile frequently incredible wines in a market that can crave them, yet sometimes doesn’t desire them for the price requested. Mostly, they’re worth the money. And boy, is it exciting to see these wineries flourish.

This fever pitch is contagious to almost all Michigan wine lovers. The wine is fresh, young, ready to drink, and (usually) straight-up delicious for the money.

We figured it best to talk to those who’ve been in the business long enough to know the long, high road of Michigan wine, but also those who have an assertive eye on the future.

Lee Lutes: Wine Maker, Black Star Farms.

What would you like to see in future Michigan winemaking?

Better quantity and quality grape varieties made, and maybe a little more varietal focus in terms of character development and expansions in other markets, representing a style of Michigan.

What are recent grapes or trends that have developed?

We’ve been making dry rosé for probably close to 15 years. We started off making 100-200 cases, grew shortly to 500. Now we are making almost 2,000 cases. It’s amazing how some of these styles eventually come around to being the hot thing.

Any advice you’d give to new learners?

Immerse yourself in this industry wherever you can and try and grow it from there.

There are a lot of people interested in getting into it. Within a year of work in the vineyards, you’ll know who is serious.

Michael Descamps: Advanced Sommelier, Red Wagon.

What do you tell those excited people out there who want to learn wine, but maybe don’t always know the most efficient way to do it?

I always enjoy talking to people excited about wine, especially people new to it. We live in an age now where resources are plentiful---books, podcasts, websites, etc., are all easy to recommend as a first step. (Books I use as a nice primer: Wine Bible, Windows on the World: Complete Wine Course, Website: guildsomm.com, of course. Maps: Wine Folly, Wine Atlas). For those who are expressing more fervor, I do my best to connect them to like-minded peers or help set up study groups. Structure and support are critical parts of fostering that enthusiasm, helping it develop into something more substantive.

What is your favorite Michigan winery, and why?

Left Foot Charley. I am a big Bryan Ulbrich fan. He has built critical relationships with winegrowers all over Old Mission who help to keep him in a wide range of grapes from different sites. His style is turning out acid-centric food-driven wines. Even his Pinot blanc is exciting, which usually is not a descriptor that grape receives!

What do you want to be doing in a decade?

Wine education is a long-term goal of mine. Both in working with the Court of Master Sommeliers (as I am a hopeful master sommelier) and as my primary profession (supplier, importer, or even with a wholesaler), it would be a joy to be able to instruct professionals on a subject as expansive and passion-generating as wine.

Gerry Baker: Sommelier, MGM Grand, Detroit.

What is your go-to wine region for the money, especially for summer drinking?

Albariño from Rias Baixas. Crisp, refreshing and rarely above $20.

Where would you like to see the Michigan wine industry in 10 years?

I’d like to see more diverse offerings in restaurants beyond sweeter style rieslings. Michigan makes some delicious dry wine, we need to show it off.

Cortney Casey, Michigan By The Bottle.

What’s the most memorable bottle of Michigan wine you’ve had?

There’s great wine because of the merits of the wine, and there’s great wine because of the people you’re enjoying it with, or the circumstances surrounding it. I’m fortunate to have so many wonderful memories of drinking Michigan wine. But if I had to choose one, it would be the Black Star Farms Leorie Vineyard merlot cabernet franc.

It’s the wine that Master Sommelier Ron Edwards brought over to my table at Northern Lakes after the certified sommelier exam in 2013. He had ordered it for himself and a few other master sommeliers to enjoy as an example of the great reds Michigan can produce. I was dining alone and reveling in my excitement of passing the exam. He brought over the decanter and graciously presented me with the rest as a congratulatory gesture. I already knew I loved that wine, but it tasted especially delicious that day. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.


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