Northern Michigan Wine: Born into one of Northwest Michigan’s original winemaking dynasties, Sam Simpson grew up working the vineyards and orchards with his father, Bruce, before studying viticulture, winemaking and finance at MSU. After working as a financial analyst, Sam moved back Up North to join his sister in taking over the family business at Good Harbor Vineyards. We chat with Sam about new directions and the virtue of a little residual sugar.

Good Harbor Vineyards has been going through a lot of changes recently, what’s on the horizon? 

In the winery we’ve shifted our focus and energy to a new high-end, small-batch series of handmade wines that will be exclusive to the tasting room. In the vineyard we’ve changed the growing system of our vinifera to accommodate fully mechanized vineyard management and harvesting, which will extend to our consulting business as well. With all the growth happening around us it’s a very exciting time to be in this business.

From a winemaker’s perspective how does the off-dry style benefit your wines? 

The grapes we’re working with, particularly riesling and vignoles, retain a high level of natural acidity that balances beautifully with their sweetness. A little residual sugar draws out the full range of fruit flavors, and the acidity keeps it clean and bright.

Pairing foods with off-dry wines, any wisdom for us? 

Our Trillium blend has had tremendous success with sushi bars in Chicago and Metro Detroit. The bright fruit and hint of sweetness in these types of wines complements those diverse flavors, and the acidity cleanses your palate between bites.  

Off-Dry Whites

Cool climate viticulture gives us white grapes like riesling, gewürztraminer and vignoles, which proffer intense aromatics and produce naturally high levels of both sugar and acidity. With the factors in balance, a slight sweetness draws out the floral and tropical fruit tones in the grapes and counters the zippy acids, making perfect harmony in your mouth. In addition to traditional pairings like shellfish and choucroute, off-dry whites really sing in the company of spicy foods from Thai and Indian curries to ceviche, salsa or jambalaya. Take up your glass and open your mind as we sip through some wildly delicious off-dry whites. 

Boathouse Vineyards 2011 Seas the Day, Leelanau Peninsula

A bright core of riesling is sassed up with aromatic American hybrids like Cayuga, seyval and vidal, making the fruit front and center with notes of green apple, sweet peach and citrus. Pair with spicy shrimp ceviche.

Gill’s Pier 2011 Whitewater, Leelanau Peninsula 

Whitewater is 100 percent vignoles, a hyper-aromatic hybrid that thrives on the Leelanau Peninsula. Look for signature notes of honeydew melon and ripe pineapple with a lemony ending. Happily paired with fish tacos loaded with green chiles, cilantro and lime juice.

Good Harbor 2011 Gewürztraminer, Leelanau Peninsula

This inaugural run of Good Harbor gewürz received some extended skin contact to draw out heady rose petal aromas. Bright and youthful, the wine yields undertones of lychee and spice. Pour a glass beside Thai coconut curry with ginger and basil.

Left Foot Charley 2011 Missing Spire Riesling, Grand Traverse County

So named for the one of the missing spires on Building 50, though this wine misses nothing. Sourced from young plantings on Old Mission and northern Grand Traverse County, this riesling is ecstatically fruit forward with sweet orchard fruit aromas balanced with bright acid. Spicy tuna roll. Done.

Verterra 2011 Chaos White Cuvée, Michigan

Acidity from vignoles, apricot verve from muscat, green apple from riesling; this is a delicious chaos of ripe fruit and floral realities. Guzzle with shrimp gumbo over dirty rice.

Plan your next foodie destination with our Northern Michigan Dining Guide.