Back in the car after Chateau Grand Traverse, my cousins drove us to Brys Estate, a relatively new producer opened in 2005 by Walter and Eileen Brys. A visit to Napa Valley inspired the couple to buy this 80-acre estate with two houses, and they planted 31 acres with grapes. The tasting room has shades of Old World – mahogany ceilings and bar, brick walls, leather sofas, grand piano – and a distinctly conservative feel.
Brys wines were excellent. We only tried the whites and they all showed great typicity and polish. We walked out with a bottle of the 2007 Signature White – a lovely blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. This is a well-balanced wine with grapefruit and peach on the nose, a pleasant whiff of petrol, lively acidity and orange peel that finishes first juicy, then dry and clean. Kickass with sushi.
I really wished we’d tried their 2007 Cabernet Franc because on Thursday, August 20, 2009, the first ever Michigan Cabernet Franc Wine Challenge was held at the historic Park Club in downtown Kalamazoo. The winner was the 2007 Artisan Series Cabernet Franc from Brys, where Coenraad Stassen is the winemaker. They also took 3rd place for their 2007 Reserve franc.
Then, we were off to 2 Lads where my Michigan mindset shifted.
On the road, Dick and Judy explained how winemaker Cornel Oliver got his start at in the Stellenbosch, South Africa area. Then he worked at Ch Grand Traverse and Brys Estate before starting 2 Lads. The other lad is local boy Chris Baldyga, formerly of Ch Grand Traverse. I don’t like to rave about wines, but sometimes it’s necessary.
I think 2 Lads is making the best wine on the Old Mission Peninsula and possibly the best wine in Michigan. I’m talking heads and shoulders, far and away, over the edge better wine than what I’ve tasted in Michigan. Their wines have it all: vivid flavors, great structure, perfect balance, intriguing complexity, and what can only be called: style. They reminded me of some California wines I know.
The winery – designed by David Spala of Traverse Architectural Group – has a modernistic, metallic exterior reminisquent of the former Roshambo Winery in Healdsburg, now Twomey. The industrial effect continues inside where concrete meets soft wood, and the high ceiligned window offers a 180 degree view of East Traverse Bay. From the bar – made of aluminum shavings set in clear plastic – you can rest your eyes on the vineyards and the water. Peckish? 2 Lads pairs wine with food. So for $8 you get a glass of wine with a small plate. Or $6 for the wine alone. Pours of pinot grigio are complimentary.
By the time we tasted their 2008 Chardonnay I realized this was no ordinary winemaking operation. The different was so profound that Bill noticed it. We were blown away by its round, silky smooth palate, exotic tropical fruit, and delicate vanilla notes. It just seemed to have more life than any white
Tasting the 2008 Pinot Noir, I thought I was back in the Russian River. It had great complexity with back cherry, strawberry, dark spices in a smooth mouthfeel, perfectly integrated tannins and good structure. Very stylish and polished. We liked it so much we took it home to the farm where it is now laying patiently in the basement.
Finally, the Cabernet Franc, a common grape grown in Michigan. Again, a well-structured wine, this with cassis, black cherry, cedar and cigar box with notes of graphite and chocolate on the finish. Rich, satisfying and memorable. This Lad won 2nd place in that Kalamazoo Cab Franc challenge.
Sure, they’re the most expensive wines on the block, but with that kind of style they seem like bargains.
I thought after 2 Lads, everything else would be a let down. Hardly. We pulled into Chateau Chantal at around six o’clock – they’re open ‘til 8 – and found a film crew shooting a Pure Michigan commercial. The palatial winery has opposing views of both bays and the sunset was perfect for a wine picnic. As we stood watching the set like it was a reality show, my cousin Dick was asked to be interviewed for a testimonial clip and he did really well, talking up the outdoors and water sports. If you seem him in one of the commercials, let me know.
What I love about Chateay Chantal is that it was founded by an ex-priest who married an ex-nun. Talk about a holy communion. No, they didn’t set out to make a better alter wine, although that would make a good punch line. As a civilian couple, Robert and Nadine Begin bought this 60-acre orchard estate in 1983 and began converting 40 acres to grapes. They built a B& B and a winery that opened in 1993. Today, they have a film crew on their patio.
The wines themselves are excellent examples of their varietals. I liked them all, with the exception of the Argentine-vinted Reserve Malbec, all hot and oxidized. The chard/riesling Blanc de Blanc bubbly was a dry delight, with an interesting flavor profile. I liked the sweet apply unoaked 2008 Chardonnay more than the well-oaked Proprietor’s Reserve 2007 Chard, which had just a bit too much alcohol (15.8%). The Proprietor’s Reserve Pontes Vineyard 2007 Pinot Noir had a nice, warm smoky feel, but in the end we left with a bottle of the Proprietors Reserve 2007 Cab Franc, a rich, earthy example of this Michigan loving varietal. It too, is laying in the cellar.