While visiting the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan last weekend, I frequently drove past the sign on M22 marking the 45th parallel. Paul Jaboulet's Cotes du Rhone, Parallelle 45, is so named because the 45th parallel also passes through Jaboulet's estate near Hermitage in the Rhone Valley. In France, Rhone wines are considered warm climate; in the United States, Michigan is known as a cool climate wine region.
I have heard it stated by those who know wine that Michigan is incapable of producing high quality red wines--the grapes simply don't ripen enough to get good color and tannins. I didn't taste many Leelanau red wines on my visit, but the Leelanau Cellars Sleeping Bear Red (a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Baco Noir) is probably typical--a light garnet color and subdued earthy flavors. When I first tasted Chateau Chantal's Malbec, I couldn't believe the dark color and deep cherry flavors came from Michigan grapes. It tasted like an Argentinan Malbec. And indeed that was where it came from; Chateau Chantal's owner apparently liked a certain Argentinan wine so much that he bought the vineyard and winery. But I'm not ready to write off Michigan for red wines. In recent years, some good Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs have been produced in Leelanau and in southwestern Michigan. But I didn't taste any good examples on this trip.
Leelanau has a good climate and soil for Vignoles, and during the early 1980s I enjoyed many good dry Vignoles from Mawby, Good Harbor and Boskydel. Most Vignole wines have now been replaced by Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio), which is more vulnerable to frost damage than Vignoles but more popular among consumers. When choosing from a wine list in Leelanau, I am rarely disappointed when I choose a local Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio.
The best wines--and certainly the best values--in my opinion, come from the old guard--the ones who bought their land when it was cheap: Mawby, Good Harbor and Chateau Grand Traverse. The grape that does best on Old Mission Peninsula, IMO, is Riesling--as cool climate as you can get. Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling with dessert while looking out over the lake...mmmmmmmmmm.