While you won’t see many harvesters in the vineyards this time of year, the behind the scenes work taking place in the wineries is just as important. In the cold winter months after the fruit has been picked and the vines pruned, your soon to be luscious Pinots, Cabernets and Rieslings sit patiently in bottles, barrels of oak and stainless steel tanks. Winemaking is a not only a craft but a science.
Our winemakers from the Wineries of OId Mission Peninsula wine trail, join us from around the world to share their craft and perfect the science of winemaking in northwest Michigan. They each approach the process differently, and the result is a wide variety of consistently impressive wines being perfected throughout the course of winter. Here's a quick glance of the process.
After most of the harvest concludes in the fall, and grapes have been destemmed and processed, the fruit moves on to the next phase of winemaking. As wines ferment, the natural process that converts sugars into alcohol starts to occur, and winery staff careful monitor and test the sugar and alcohol levels seeking that perfect balance. The wine may be stored in a number of different ways depending on the desired outcome. Some wineries take advantage of a cold stabilizing method, storing the wine in chilled stainless steel barrels. When the wines are ready they are bottled, and shortly following they are available in the tasting rooms for sampling and sales. But that's not all, there are plenty of other processes and activities happening in the winter! Take a look at the highlights.
This winter we will see the release of earlier vintages, including some from 2016. As the wines age, winemakers will periodically take barrel samples to determine the best time to bottle and release the wine. In the case of sparkling wines, the release of these vintages also requires disgorging, or removing the natural yeast plug that is created as a result of natural fermentation -- a sometimes messy process! Keep an eye out for new vintages being released in February.
Winter also means optimistically preparing to harvest grapes for Ice Wine, which requires a careful watch of temperatures. Ice Wine is a unique product created by leaving select grapes on the vine past below freezing temperatures and pressing them while still frozen. It can only be created naturally in microclimates like the Old Mission Peninsula. The decision to make Ice Wine is a gamble that is highly dependent on weather, a wildly unpredictable force in northern Michigan.
Not every season produces conditions conducive to natural Ice Wine (only Ice Wines frozen on the vine can be labeled as such) but grapes can also be flash frozen after a late harvest for a similar and more controlled outcome. Bowers Harbor is making their first ever Icebox Riesling this year from grapes harvested in November. The “nectar” from this harvest was cryogenically extracted before fermentation to increase the viscosity and sweetness on the palate.
Black Star Farms is also using this technique this season to create a Winter Harvest Riesling. After harvest and flash freezing, the fruit must then be processed in a traditional basket press that creates more pressure to extract the nectar from the frozen block of grapes. Black Star Farms’ current 2016 vintage of Winter Harvest Riesling received an elite gold medal with 96 points at this year’s Canberra International Riesling Challenge. The 2016 vintage is only available to taste and purchase at Black Star’s two Traverse City area tasting rooms -- and believe us, it’s worth the trip!
Chateau Grand Traverse created an Ice Wine from a Riesling harvest in 2016 that is available in their tasting room for tasting and purchase. This wine was awarded Double Gold and Best of Class at the 2018 Michigan Wine Competition. If you’re new to Ice Wines, this is a great place to start.
For those looking for a more in-depth introduction to Ice Wine, Chateau Chantal’s Annual Ice Wine Festival takes place January 25th and 26th.
Intimate Tastings & Scenic Hikes
One of the most opportune times to visit Old Mission Peninsula is in the winter months. You’ll be greeted with fewer crowds and as a result, you can enjoy a personalized, often one on one tasting experience in any of the tasting rooms. You can use this time to learn more about your own palate, testing your sensitivity to flavors and smells, and learn about what makes Old Mission wines so unique as you gaze out over snow-covered vineyards.
While the sun may be fleeting this time of year, the landscape of the peninsula is truly breathtaking any time of year. Winter offers visitors a peaceful environment to explore, and if you’re lucky enough to visit on a rare sunny winter day, the glimmer of sun on the snow is a truly unforgettable scene! If you pack warm enough to brave the elements, you can also enjoy a true northern Michigan trek by snowshoeing between some of the wineries at Snowshoe, Wine & Brew. If you left your snowshoes behind, Old Mission Peninsula offers other semi-groomed winter trails for hiking (waterproof boots encouraged) or brief walks, including the Interpretive Trail at Bowers Harbor Vineyards and the Founder’s Trail at Chateau Chantal.
Winter also brings two favorite events to the Old Mission Peninsula trail. Aimed at shaking off the chill of the New Year, our Winter Warm-Up (January 19) lets you enjoy warm wine cocktails and hearty reds, all paired with seasonal comfort foods from local restaurants.
Romancing the Riesling, taking place Valentine’s Day Weekend (February 16) is an ideal time to come learn about the grape that defines white wine. Over time, this has become the varietal for which our region is best known. From sweet to dry the Rieslings being produced on Old Mission Peninsula continue to delight consumers and wine experts across the globe, some receiving scores of 93+ from respected wine reviews and even being named “best in the world.” Join us for this event to develop a deeper appreciation for one of the world’s most beloved wines.
Individual wineries also offer a range of interesting specials and events throughout the winter season. You can find all of the seasonal to-do’s on the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula’s Facebook page.