Bryan Ulbrich is the owner, winemaker and left foot behind Left Foot Charley, and a vintner whose interpretations of traditional German and Alsatian grape varietals have garnered acclaim in the Northern Michigan wine scene. Rieslings here, in Ulbrich’s words, are distinct to our simple, water-hugged, loamy hills. MyNorth and Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine food and wine editor Tim Tebeau chats with Ulbrich about riesling as a raison d’être.
How does Riesling define you as a winemaker?
Well, we built the winery around Riesling, and they were the first grapes Jen and I planted back in ’04. The reason I came up to this area to get into winemaking was because of Riesling; the dirt up here presents the style we’re looking for: a great marriage between the land, the climate and the varietal.
Any new practices or variables that are informing your wines, 10 years in?
The biggest difference is that the vineyards are getting older. Those roots are a lot deeper with more access to nutrients. We’ve also learned which sites give which characteristics and how we can work with those relationships to make the wines more significant.
Why should we age riesling?
As the wine ages, its youthful overt prettiness converts to a deep tropical blend of fruits, a more cerebral fruitiness. The acid tends to remain the focus of the wine and holds all of the other elements together as it evolves. I like to drink our dry rieslings in the three to five year range and the sweeter bottlings at seven years. If the sugar is generated in the vineyard, the sweet wines develop a beautiful patina as they age and almost present drier.