On a recent trip to Michigan I finally had the chance to visit Blue Water Winery near Lexington, on the shores of Lake Huron. It’s the project of software programmers Connie Currie and Steve Velloff who in 2004 sold their house in Chicago and bought an old farm on Holverson Road. They planted 16 acres of grapes there, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, gewurztraminer, cabernet franc, zweigelt and gruner veltliner. They also planted seyval blanc, chambourcin, vignoles, and marchal foch on four acres on a property three miles north, on S. Huron View Road near Port Sanilac.
I’d been curious to meet the couple since discovering that Hyde Road plot, which happens to sit one mile east of my family’s farm on Ridge Road. I wanted to know if we too could grow grapes and become part of the new Lake Huron wine country. Connie’s answer, paraphrased: it’s a lot of hard work and we would have to do all of it ourselves.
Unfortunately, she said, there weren’t any local vineyard management companies like the ones operating in the booming Fennville, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, and Old Mission Peninsula AVAs. She said Thumb farmers, while supportive, are inexperienced with viticulture and could hardly be helpful to out-of-town vineyard owners. Bummer.
Connie and Steve planted their vineyards in 2005, and they do all the pruning, weeding, thinning and spraying themselves. At harvest time, they bring in friends and fans to help pick grapes. Hearing how many nights they spent cringing in fear, wondering if they’d done the right things correctly or if it would all be a disaster, made me tired just listening.
Before planting their vines, they renovated the 1886 farmhouse, as well as the old barns that serve as their winery. While the grapes achieved maturity, they used purchased grapes to make many of the vintages. But this year, they will begin to use six year-old grapes from the Holverson farm and retire the labels Sunset Red and Sunset White, which were made from sourced grapes.
You might think all that is a feat in and of itself, but for Connie and Steve, it was just the beginning. A few years ago they bought the Old Town Hall/Opera House/Masonic Temple on Hwy 25 in the center of Lexington and have turned the first floor into a rustic tasting room. And, in the spirit of the Opera House, the room becomes an evening performance space where Connie plays the baby grand piano and sings while Steve plays oboe and concertina. Is there anything these people don’t do?
Their wines are good too. Here are a few of my favorites:
Opera House White Wine: an unoaked chardonnay with apple and clove on the nose and sweet peach in the mouth, with enough acidity to leave a good juicy finish. $14
2010 Oaked Chardonnay: Not too heavily oaked, but oaked enough to offer vanilla, honey, spice and baked apple flavors in a full, rich body. $16
The Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cabernet Franc is a medium bodied red wine with warm, baked red fruit, fine balance and a nice fruity finish that includes a zing of acidity. $16
The Old Town Hall Norton was quite a surprise after having tasting Norton, the all-American grape, from Virginia and Missouri at the Wine Bloggers Conference the week before. Missouri is a big producer of Norton, but Connie and Steve sourced their grapes from Illinois and we were shocked to find that we liked this Norton better than the rest.
Their non-vintage Norton is opaque in color, has a sweet, candied nose, earthy black fruit, a full mid-palate and some minerality in the medium-long finish. Rich, well-balanced and approachable. $16.
We brought home bottles of the Blue Water Norton and Augusta Norton from Missouri, and once we get a hold of the new vintage of Chrysalis Norton from Virginia, we’ll have a proper Norton taste-off to compare the terrior of each. Stay tuned.
As a Canadian resident, I really enjoyed the 2008 Vidal Ice Wine, which oozes honey, apricot and orange flavors on a thick, creamy palate that leaves an extremely long fruity finish. Ice wine as it should be. $30.
Blue Water Winery is not alone in the transformation the once-sleepy town of Lexington. Down the road another couple is propagating grape vines for their future vineyard and a further south, Sandy Shores Winery is making dry, elegant fruit wines at McCallum Orchards. Downtown, the main drag of Huron Avenue has become a draw for foodies by offering gourmet food at the Smackwater Grill, pub food at Smackwater Jack’s, and live concerts at the Lexington Music Theater.
Is this the start of Michigan’s newest wine country?