Northern Michigan Wine: Blustone Vineyards Joins Leelanau Vintners

Northern Michigan Wine: Blustone Vineyards sits on a 40-acre plot of land in beautiful Lake Leelanau, in the heart of the Leelenau Peninsula. While the land has provided grapes for various Northern Michigan wineries over the past decade, new owners are creating award-winning wines that are quickly becoming some of Northern Michigan's most respected vintages. With plans to open a tasting room late this summer, Blustone Vineyards is set to offer a full winery experience to visitors.

In February of 2010, Tom and Joan Knighton purchased an existing vineyard in Lake Leelanau, entering the vintner side of the wine world for the first time. Avid travelers and lovers of good wine, Tom and Joan have enjoyed wine over the years for both the experience it brings to the drinker, and the connection to a place it can inspire. When land became available on the Leelanau Peninsula where they've summered for 12 years, the couple enthusiastically jumped into the wine world (and the chance to spend more time in Northern Michigan) full-fledged, bringing their philosophy to Blustone Vineyards. "We want to create wines that people will respect, and to create an experience that will compel people to return again and again," explains Tom.

Even the name, Blustone, speaks to their philosophy. "Finding a piece of Leland bluestone on the shores of Lake Michigan is finding a rare treasure in nature," says Tom." It is these unexpected pleasures and unanticipated moments in life that inspire Blustone wines."

An unexpected pleasure, indeed. Since bottling their first wine, an unoaked 2010 Chardonnay, Blustone Vineyards has been gathering accolades and taking home the gold for nearly all of their vintages at wine competitions across the country, including a Double Gold at the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition for that very first 2010 Chardonnay.

Also among Blustone's gold class: a 2011 Pinot Grigio, harvested earlier in the season and packing peach and pear notes up front with a punch of vibrant acidity; a well-balanced 2011 Late Harvest Riesling displaying subtle sweetness from its combination of pure Riesling and sweet Riesling reserve; and a 2010 Pinot Noir expressing the limestone terroir from which it grows, with cherry, raspberry and a perfect smack of vanilla.

Blustone's success has not been without help. New to the winemaking world, the Knightons have found generous support from fellow Northern Michigan wineries and winemakers. Doug Matthies and Shawn Walters at French Road Cellars have played an invaluable role in Blustone’s early success as their vineyard manager and winemaker. “We owe a lot to Doug and Shawn and are thrilled to have them as a part of our team,” says Tom; Larry Mawby of L. Mawby and Dan Matthies of Chateau Fontaine are "encouraging and realistic," offering advice and friendship.

Originally a cherry orchard, 12 acres remain of Northern Michigan's pride at Blustone Vineyards. Blustone uses the harvested cherries in Connexion, a delectable cherry port featuring three varieties. The rest of the land is dominated by the grape. Pinot noir, riesling, pinot grigio, gewurztraminer and pinot blanc grow on softly rolling hills … a sea of vines rippling beneath Leelanau sky. New to the land next year will be merlot and cabernet franc grapes. In addition to these wines, Blustone creates a red blend named Winemaker's Red, which is comprised of a medley of varietals that changes based on availability and winemaker whim.

Tom acknowledges that Blustone began with a head start—purchasing a seven year old vineyard that was already successfully producing grapes—but that doesn't mean the vineyard owners are resting on their laurels. Already planting new varietals, and building an "Up North contemporary" tasting room that will feature glass walls overlooking the vineyard and orchard, Blustone Vineyards is carving out its own Northern Michigan wine niche.

"Making wine is such a wonderful experience," says Tom. "There are risks, and it can be stressful, but we are committed to this land, to conservancy, and are totally in love with this area. It is so beautiful to see the grapes grow, and to have people experience and enjoy the wines that they produce, and feel that connection."

Right now, Blustone Vineyards aims to stay small. Until its tasting room opens late this summer, local sellers have been supporting the winery. Burritt's and The Blue Goat in Traverse City, Hansen's Foods in Suttons Bay, Leland Mercantile, and Anderson's Market in Glen Arbor are carrying Blustone's wines; and Red Ginger in Traverse City became the first restaurant to carry Blustone when they added the 2011 Pinot Grigio and 2010 Chardonnay to their wine list. 

Blustone Vineyards wines can also be purchased on their website, at blustonevineyards.com.

A look at some of the awards Blustone has added to their mantelpiece:

2010 Chardonnay – Double Gold at Tasters Guild International Wine Competition 2010 Pinot Noir – Silver at Finger Lakes International Wine Competition 2010 Winemakers Red – Silver at Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

2011 Pinot Grigio – Gold at Finger Lakes International Competition 2011 Pinot Noir Rose – Gold at Tasters Guild International Wine Competition
2011 Riesling (dry) – Gold at Tasters Guild International Wine Competition
2011 Late Harvest Riesling – Gold at Tasters Guild International Wine Competition 2011 Gewurztraminer – Silver at Tasters Guild International Wine Competition

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