Northern Michigan Wineries: As vineyard workers pile harvest hoppers high with 2012’s ripe mother lode, and trellises blaze gold to match the aspens, it’s high time for autumn’s hybrid pleasures on the wine route: touring and tasting. Beyond the mainstays and classic varietal bottlings available on retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, there’s a lesser-known universe of small batch wines available only to those who show up at the tasting room bar—Austrian clones, hybrid rosés, beefy red blends, ports and more.

Boathouse Vineyards 

2010 Boathouse

Boathouse’s brawny signature bottling of merlot and cabernet franc has flirty forward hints of dark cherry, boysenberry and peppercorn. Mouth-filling texture tempered by fine persistent tannins begs for pork loin with roasted squash and apples.

Chateau Grand Traverse 

2011 Grüner Veltliner Laika

In its third vintage, Sean O’Keefe’s Austrian-born experiment continues to deliver geeky verve with savory white pepper spice, mineral notes and a subtle fruit backdrop typical of the grüner veltliner grape. Dry and perfect as an autumn aperitif.

Gill’s Pier 

2011 Whitewater

Vignole is all about sassy exuberant tropicality, and Gill’s Pier rightly nails it with the semi-sweet Whitewater. Wildflower honey, juicy pineapple and ripe melon persist in the nose and on the palate. Pair this with a spicy shrimp and coconut curry.

Longview Winery

2010 Dry Riesling

Grown in Longview’s estate vineyards on Houdek Road, the 2010 has put on a little weight with bottle age and shows off bosc pear, Granny Smith apple and lemon peel couched in lively acidity. Pair it with fresh fall walleye and braised fennel.

Silver Leaf 

Fling Rosé NV

Taking tropical fruit and floral notes from the Cayuga grape used for its base, Fling also flashes the citrusy side of pinot gris and a bit of berry fruit from the merlot used to impart its peachy pink hue. Slightly sweet with 3 percent residual sugar. Sip it at the October 20th launch party

Foodie File

Hiro Miura – Tasting room Manager, Chateau Grand Traverse, Old Mission Peninsula

Hailing from Sendai in northern Japan, Hiro Miura got hooked into the local wine world during a teaching stint at NMC in the late 90s and has spent the last 12 years as a tasting room manager at Chateau Grand Traverse. We get some straight talk from Hiro on tasting room takeaway and the woefully underloved gamay grape.

What’s the biggest revelation you see among visitors?

A new respect for riesling. Many people come in saying ‘I don’t like riesling because it’s sweet,’ then taste our drier bottlings like the Whole Cluster or Lot 49 and leave surprised and aware.

Any wisdom for visitors new to the wine route? 

Approach the whole experience with an open mind, and try to learn something new from each tasting room. Go beyond your comfort level, and try unfamiliar styles and varietals.

What’s your favorite unfamiliar varietal at Chateau Grand Traverse? 

Our gamay noir. This grape comes from the Beaujolais region of France and makes a light, expressive red that is very approachable even to nonred wine drinkers. The wine is only aged for four months in oak and has cherry fruit with a little bit of spice. In the fall we like to pair it with grilled salmon or wild mushroom flatbreads.

This article was first published in October 2012 Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazineclick here to order your copy!