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Leland's historic Fishtown on Lake Michigan.

Leland’s historic Fishtown on Lake Michigan.

LELAND, MI. – Charming fishing village and wine country don’t always seem to go hand in hand but this small town along Lake Michigan achieves both.

Leland has a historic fishing village still intact and a very small charming downtown. It’s more summer home to the well off and summer vacation spot than fishing village but nonetheless still worth a visit.

Leland also is at the heart of Leelanau wine country. It’s my third visit to this far northwest corner of the state. I’m here as a guest of the Leelanau Northern Wine Loop. I’ll be visiting four or five wineries today and tasting the 2014 new releases. Tonight, I’ll confer with other visiting judges to pick the best of the best then join a big release party tonight at the small town’s historic Bluebird restaurant.

See photo album here from my Saturday visit.

Michigan wine? You’re not familiar? In short, particularly northern Michigan, produces white wines as good as any label you’ll find. Because of the short growing season, the area struggles in reaching a red wine identity. I expect to taste Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc,  and Merlot as the winemakers continue to search for a signature red. The Resiling and Pinot Blanc are outstanding usually.

My intent is to add a paragraph or two here throughout the day as I make those four or five stops. I’ll try to add an iPhone pic or two along the way but will add a full album later today or in the next day or so.

Paul Hamelin, owner of Verterra Winery in Leland, Michigan.

Paul Hamelin, owner of Verterra Winery in Leland, Michigan.

Verterra Winery, Leland Mi. – A great start to my day tasting Paul Hamelin’s wines at Verterra Winery. His dry Rose rocks. He sold out of his 2013 – 100 percent Pinot Noir – I bought six bottles last year. The big winner today was his killer Pinot Blanc – very pronounced fruit with big acidity in a tough growing year for Northern Michigan vintners.

Boathouse Vineyards, Lake Leelanau – Beautiful tasting room in a small village which – yes, indeed – looks a bit like a boathouse. Nice wines across the board. I really enjoyed the 2012 Pinot Noir. It was varietally correct, nice pinot taste – light on palate as you’d expect from cool climate red wine. But the real winner was Dry Dock Reisling, a dry and crisp citrus mouthful of goodness. This is type of white wine that puts Michigan on the map – at least for their whites.

Fresh carved roast beef, swiss and a very tasty cole slaw.

Fresh carved roast beef, swiss and a very tasty cole slaw.

Next on my day’s agenda was a quick sandwich in Lake Leelanau. I’m gobbling down a very nice roastbeef, swiss cheese Sammy with great cole slaw on top at The Thunderbird.

Blustone Vineyards, near Lake Leelanau – This was my second visit in two years to Blustone which is fast becoming one of my Michigan favorites. Owner Tom Knighton found a great hilltop piece of property and built a beautiful, modern tasing room in the midst of vineyard and cherry trees.

Like most others, they’re white wines are great. I tasted an unreleased Pinot Blanc that was among the three best wines I tasted all day. Blustone also is at or near the top of any Pinot Noir on the Northern Loop. They’re getting there. The vines are only 10 years old and they need age. But the Pinot is varietally correct and gaining a little bit of character each year.

The busy April 11 tasting room at 45 North.

The busy April 11 tasting room at 45 North.

45 North Vineyards – Apparently no one got hit harder from last growing season’s killer frost than 45 North. During my April 11 visit they were the only one of five stops not even pouring a red wine though there were a few on the shelves. Nonetheless, 45 did have one of the best wines I tasted all weekend and that was a Pinot Gris fermented in the now-popular cement egg. The cement egg – and that’s exactly what it looks like – gives the already outstanding wine a crazy creamy mid-palate. It’s unique and well worth the mid-$20 price point. It won’t be released until May.

Aurora Cellars – Just up the road, literally, from 45 north is an older winery under new management. Their standout bottles were the whites with a semi-sweet Reisling best of what I tasted. They’re not afraid of cooking up some unique blends and are on to something with a mid-teen red and white sure to please the masses.

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