If you've spent more than 60 seconds in a winery or wine shop, you're probably familiar with many of the grape varieties of international renown: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc. But what about the more obscure vinifera, or the vast collection of hybrid grapes? MBTB's Grape Glossary checks in with Michigan winemakers to get the scoop on grapes you might encounter around the state that you've never heard of — until now!
Today, we check in with Cristin Hosmer of Bel Lago Winery to chat about Auxerrois.
What made Auxerrois appealing to Bel Lago?
Hosmer: "We love the grape! It is early ripening and hardy, so it is a good candidate for achieving optimal fruit conditions on a consistent basis in our Northern climate. Yields are good to excellent, although as with most cool climate varieties, maintaining somewhat lower yields helps ensure a better flavor profile and wine chemistry.
"Charlie Edson, PhD, was intrigued by the variety when visiting Alsace on a University trip and planted it on our farm over 20 years ago. Bel Lago was one of the first in the United States to grow it and the first to seek label approval from the TTB for the varietal."
Can you tell us a little bit more about Auxerrois?
Hosmer: "(It's) vinifera. The varietal hails from France, named after the city Auxerre in Burgundy, however, today it overshadowed by its more popular sister variety, Chardonnay. The cross of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc is also found in Aligote, Gamay and numerous other varieties. Worldwide, growers of the grape can be found in Alsace (where it is commonly blended with Pinot Blanc), Luxembourg and Oregon."
How long have you been working with this grape, and where does yours come from? Where else is it found?
Hosmer: "We have been working with Auxerrois at Bel Lago for 22 years. It is harvested from our Farview Vineyard, which features spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands off the coast of Leelanau Peninsula.
"Chateau Fontaine is another producer of the varietal on the Leelanau Peninsula. The wine is called Woodland White and quite different from ours stylistically. Ray Kuhn on Leelanau is another small grower. In addition, (myself) and (husband) Brian Hosmer and the Rigan family on Old Mission also grow it. 2014 may be the first harvest from the two blocks on Old Mission, totaling over 3 acres.
"Adelsheim in Willamette Valley, Oregon, is one of the other producers in the United States."
How is this grape primarily used at your winery?
Hosmer: "Our Auxerrois is a fruit-driven dry white wine. A cult classic in the tasitng room, and a favorite of many of the sommeliers in Michigan.
"Bel Lago Auxerrois is 80 percent barrel-fermented in neutral oak and 20 percent stainless steel fermented. Multiple yeasts were used to help broaden the flavor profile of the wine. The wine is aged sur lie on very light lees for some months (duration depends on the vintage) to soften and further broaden the flavor profile, without significantly compromising the fruit. The 2013 Vintage is still on the lees, stirred and topped monthly. The wine has beautiful texture, ages well and tends to be best after 6-12 months in the bottle."
What’s the flavor profile for this particular grape?
Hosmer: "Alsatian in style, our estate-grown Auxerrois is a fruit-driven dry white wine with delicious fruit, melon, and apricot notes. Nice acid, but not racy, with a slight nuisance of barrel. Malolactic fermentation is not employed.
"The wine pairs well with a variety of foods and is an especially nice complement to scallops and grilled salmon."
What are your future plans for this grape?
Hosmer: "We planted another acre in 2011. And we would love to plant more. We would also be willing to purchase it from growers that produce high-quality fruit."
Anything else you think is important/interesting to mention?
Hosmer: "It is my 'desert island' wine. If I had to choose one wine to drink for the rest of my life, Auxerrois would be it!"
Have you had Auxerrois? Come chat with us about it on Facebook — and let us know which other grapes you'd like to learn about!