Back by popular demand, it's Michigan Wine Lover of the Week! First up is John Katt, one of our frequent contributors who often drops us a line to recommend Michigan wines he thinks we would enjoy. Bonus: This Essexville resident has a massive wine cellar at his home with an organizational system that would rival any restaurant or retail setting! Without further ado, meet John!
What was the first Michigan wine you ever drank?
"The first MI wine I drank was actually one my grandfather made, probably in the 1970s. He had a few rows of Concord grapes, and he used to do a homemade wine with them. He added sugar, and fermented 'til quite dry, making the alcohol content rather high. He aged it in small oak barrels, and the finished product was more like a Merlot almost, but was great! He used to serve it in dixie cups from the barrel at family gatherings, and was (rightly) very proud of it. Fond memories!
If you are referring to a "commercial" wine, I am sure it was either a Riesling from Chateau Grand Traverse, or a St. Julian product, but it would have been in the 1980's, so I can not remember the details that far back ..."
What was the first Michigan winery you ever visited?
"Probably the tasting room of St. Julian in Frankenmuth, as it is the closest to where I live. Once again, it would have been the last century, and I am not sure on all the details ..."
What's your favorite Michigan wine?
"Can I say ALL of them? It is so hard to choose just ONE favorite wine from the thousands made here. I know it is hard to beat Chateau Grand Traverse's Late Harvest Riesling, as year after year, it is very consistent, and VERY tasty. On family outings and wine trips we have been on, it has always come out number one in votes taken of those participating."
"Once again it is VERY difficult to choose just ONE. Black Star and Brys have consistantly VERY high quality products. Longview has the best Pinot Grigio in the state. St. Julian makes just about everything under the sun and does it all quite well. But I would probably go with Chateau Grand Traverse. They are always very friendly, have a great view, and the product is consistantly of superior quality. The Reserve Gamay Noir and Late Harvest Riesling are standouts."
Have you ever attended a Michigan wine event?
"I avoid wine events and trails like the plague! I prefer to go to the wineries in the winter or early spring, when you can be one of a few — if not the only — customer in the tasting room. This way you can really spend some one on one time with them, and get to know them and the product. As Frankie said, I prefer to do it MY WAY!"
What's the most surprising Michigan wine you've tried?
"Probably Chateau Grand Traverse's Reserve Gamay Noir. It was the wine that opened up my horizons. Prior to that, I was really only a white wine drinker, but after tasting that, I realized that there were red wines out there that you could actually taste the fruit and other flavors in, and not just dry oak!"
Got any memorable Michigan wine stories?
"Twelve years ago this coming August, when my wife and I were married, we purchased two cases of 'private label' wine from Chateau Chantal. One was the 1998 Semi-dry Riesling and the other was the Cherry Wine. We gave each member of the wedding party a bottle as a gift, and kept six bottles for ourselves of the Riesling, opening one each year on our anniversary. It was fun to taste the changes the wine went through as it aged.
Fast forward to last month. My wife's sister passed away suddenly. With no spouse or children, my wife was left to take care of cleaning out her home. She had been in our wedding. Lo and behold, she came across the bottle of the Cherry wine we had given her in 2000 at the wedding! Knowing that fruit wines usually do not age well, and should be drank within a year or two, we did not hold out any hopes that said wine would be any good. Last week, for fun, we cracked open the wine, just to see. Shock of all shock, it not only was not bad, but was quite drinkable! Considering this wine had probably been bottled in 1999, and it was now 2012, we were quite impressed!"
What do you want people to know about Michigan wine if they've never tried it?
"Being a 'loca-vore' is in! Why send our hard-earned dollars to California? Keep your money local and buy Michigan wines! You may have to take a trip to a tasting room, or a local liquor store, but you can find almost anything that California makes here, and it is just as good, if not better!"
"I enjoy a good Muscato d'asti, or a German Dornfelder. Every now and then a Australian Shiraz is enjoyed as well."
About the photo ...
"The attached photo is of the first wine trip that my wife and I went on where we were the hosts and 'commentator,' so to speak. We were recruited by a friend of hers to do this, as she was aware of our familiarity with the wines and wineries of that region. It was the fall of 2007, and we went to six wineries in the Traverse City region. It was kind of funny that we stopped here for our photo, as Longview was NOT on the agenda. I had been there two weeks prior, and knowing how good it was, I called them from my cell phone, and asked them if they where busy, and would mind if we stopped by. They were very kind and accomodated us, and all were quite impressed with their quality. (I am the only male in the photo.)"