Six Northern Michigan Red Wines Perfect for Late Autumn and Winter

We explore six Traverse City and Leelanau County wineries offering a warm cabernet franc this season because when the cool of autumn arrives we find satisfaction in the brambly, savory soul of Northwest Michigan cabernet franc. With ancestral roots in France’s Loire Valley and Bordeaux regions, the nuanced and cold-hardy cabernet franc is the mother of cabernet sauvignon and presents a flavor profile built around raspberry, blackberry, tobacco, peppercorn and sweet herbs like mint and rosemary. Cab franc’s natural acidity and medium tannin-structure gives it great versatility on the table, and winemakers on the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas have been working to craft quality bottlings that answer the consumer demand for “big red wine.”

45 North Cabernet Franc 2012

From one of the ripest seasons on record, this 2012 cab franc flashes hints of blackberry, violet and cocoa on the nose and is smoky and muscular on the palate. Decant before drinking.

Black Star Farms Arcturos Cabernet Franc 2011

Aromatically sexy and structurally sound, Arcturos offers plentiful black fruit up front and spicy barrel character on the finish.

Bowers Harbor Vineyards Claret 2011

The second vintage of this bottling in 20 years, Bowers Harbor Claret folds 34 percent merlot into cab franc fruit from the Erica and Langley vineyards. It sings with black plum and pepper with a dry, persistent aftermath.

Left Foot Charley Cadia 2011

Meticulously grown and judiciously oaked, Left Foot Charley’s Cadia showcases a nuanced, leathery overlay of red and black berry fruits. Merlot adds color and suppleness to the richly textured core of?cabernet franc.

Peninsula Cellars Cabernet Franc 2011

Heavily toasted oak barrels contribute cocoa and coffee to the black raspberry tone and bright acidity of cabernet franc grown in the Kroupa family’s vineyards.

Northern Michigan Winemaker: Jay Briggs, Forty-Five North Vineyards & Winery

jay briggs

Descended from grandparents who met when picking grapes in the Lake Michigan Shore district, Jay Briggs studied viticulture and oenology at Michigan State before coming North to intern at Black Star Farms, manage vineyards at Shady Lane and this year take over as cellar master and winemaker at Forty-Five North. We catch Jay, cab franc cluster in hand, to talk about the grape’s relevance to local wine culture and what to drink it with.

A lot of wineries, including Forty-Five North, have shifted energy toward cabernet franc; why is it important to the region?

As a cool climate zone our aromatic white wines are garnering a lot of attention, and the consumers are asking for a signature red wine to complement the [whites]. Cabernet franc is temperamental and doesn’t have much of an American following, so it’s an opportunity for us winemakers to kind of shape its identity as a cool climate red.

You mentioned the grape is temperamental, what’s needed to make a good bottle of cab  franc?

Cabernet franc is all about site selection and timing. The grape needs maximum sun exposure, and you need to be tuned into your vineyard site to optimize green harvesting and open the canopy so that you get as much sunlight as possible to the grape clusters so that they ripen evenly.

What’s your go-to pairing for? cabernet franc?

Venison. With the richness of flavor in both the meat and the wine I find there’s a nice flavor union between the two. I prefer a simply seasoned loin or leg roast with root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and potatoes. (Find a mail order source for venison at

See this article and more on the Northern Michigan food & wine scene in the November 2013 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

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