A Day in the Vineyard

See the story of wine, from Grape to Glass, all in Southeast Michigan!

Celebrate Michigan grapes and Michigan wine with Michigan Agritours and Joel Goldberg, Ann Arbor Chronicle’s wine columnist and publisher of MichWin.com, along with other equally interested agritourists. We’ll travel together by minibus and enjoy lunch (included) on the patio overlooking one of the vineyards.

Here’s a summary of where we’ll be going and what you can expect for the day….

GLACIER’S EDGE VINEYARD is doing something no one thought possible: growing high quality, traditional wine grape varietals in our part of Michigan, just north of Brighton.

Although his vineyard is normally closed to visitors, owner Bill Hendricks has agreed to show our group around just before the start of harvest. We’ll walk among vines bursting with bunches of ripe Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris and Riesling — and perhaps snitch a few grapes to taste along the way.

Bill will tell us how he pinpointed an optimal location for his vineyard — and why this most-sustainable of crops could find a home elsewhere in our area. We’ll also talk about which grapes do best locally, how he prepares delicate vines to survive Michigan’s winter, the vineyard’s unusual trellis system, and why severe pruning and crop restriction are key to growing high quality wine grapes in Michigan.

At SANDHILL CRANE VINEYARDS, located just east of Jackson, we’ll get an insider glimpse of a small estate winery. Sisters-owners Heather Price and Holly Balansag are strong environmental advocates who created a wine named “Legacy” in order to support the Legacy (formerly Washtenaw) Land Conservancy, donating $4 from each bottle to the organization.

First stop: the vineyard, where MSU-trained viticulturist Megan Blake will explain how they take a different direction from Glacier’s Edge, growing exclusively cold-resistant hybrid varieties, such as Vignoles and Chancellor. We’ll learn about the pros and cons of these grapes for Michigan growers and winemakers, and the different approach to vineyard management that these grapes allow them to take.

Then Holly, Sandhill Crane’s winemaker, will take us into the bowels of the winery to see their winemaking facilities. We’ll get a primer on the equipment and techniques that let her turn grapes (and some other fruit) into a selection that’s unrivaled elsewhere in the area. We’ll also talk a little about the economics of a local-oriented winery as a vertically-integrated, value-added agricultural business geared toward satisfying an assortment of customer tastes.  

Speaking of taste — that’s next! Back in the tasting room, we’ll sample several wines of different grapes and styles, while Holly describes what she’s tried to achieve with each. Don’t forget to compare the flavor profile of the finished product with the “raw materials” you’ve just tasted out in the vineyard!

The area’s newest boutique winery, CHATEAU AERONAUTIQUE opened just last year, taking its name from its location (on an airpark, north of Jackson) and its owner’s day job (pilot for Delta).

In a different business model, Chateau Aeronautique owns no vineyards. Instead, owner Lorenzo Lizarralde contracts to purchase grapes from several Michigan growers. He’s a customer of Bill Hendricks; many of the grapes we saw growing this morning at Glacier’s Edge Vineyard are destined to become wine at Chateau Aeronautique.

Lorenzo will take us through the sparkling new winery facility, including his “crush pad” in the adjacent airplane hangar. We’ll get a different take on winemaking as he talks about how he decides which grape varieties to buy, and from whom, the advantages and disadvantages of not controlling his own grape supply, and its economics. We may even sneak a sample or two from the wines currently maturing in the cellar’s oak barrels.

Then it’s on to the tasting room, where we’ll try some of Lorenzo’s current releases — including those from the grapes grown by Bill Hendricks — while he tells us about each.

What’s the Cost? The cost for this tour is $95 and includes transportation, a local foods lunch, wine tastings, an amazing learning experience and great company!

How do I Sign Up? If you know you want to reserve a spot on this tour, sign up online or call Lauren at 734-239-1901.  Register before Sept 7th.

What’s Next? Our group will meet at 9:15 am, Sunday, September 19th,  in the parking lot of Westgate Plaza, Ann Arbor (corner of Jackson and Stadium) where a GETAWAY tour bus and driver will be waiting. We will leave promptly at 9:30 am and return by 4:30 pm. Lunches made with local foods will be prepared by Sparrow’s Market.

Where’s the Wine? There will be the opportunity — although not the expectation — to purchase the wines we’re tasting at a discount at the wineries we visit.

Thanks to the following retailers, where some of the wines featured on our tour can be found, for enthusiastically carrying Michigan wines and for promoting our agritour in their wine aisles: Arbor Farms, Hiller’s (Ann Arbor and W. Bloomfield), Produce Station, and Whole Foods (Ann Arbor and W. Bloomfield).

2 Responses to “A Day in the Vineyard”

  1. Sharon Sheldon says:

    I’m on the board of Growing HOpe in Ypsilanti. Our local food fundraiser is also Sunday, Sept 19 from 3-6 pm and wondering if you’d consider mentioning this to folks who may be signing up for the wine tour that could consider our event as their “final stop on the wine tour”?

    The event takes place at the Growing Hope Center , 922 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti at our urban farm and features restaurants/chefs using local ingreidents to prepare a wonderful and fresh meal accompanied by Michgian wine and local beer.

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