Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 23, 2013

Fred Goldenberg: Wines, award winners and you

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — One of my favorite “touristy” activities is going wine tasting along the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas.

With 30 wineries to choose from, every foray into our slice of heaven's viniculture is delightful. I’ve certainly found my favorites over the years, which warrants the annual “top of the list” visits, but each year there seems to be one or two new additions that makes the list all but obsolete. Let’s face it: wines from our two peninsulas are fantastic.

They receive a plethora of awards and accolades from national and international wine competitions -- so much so that it makes Michael Phelps’ 22 Olympic metals pale in comparison. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a bit, but let’s be honest. As exciting as it is to see Phelps win gold in the 200 butterfly, it’s much more enjoyable to sip a 2013 Pacific Rim Wine Competition's Gold Medal/Best in Class winning Brys Estate Merlot with a grilled butterflied leg of lamb.

How do I know Brys won Gold/Best in Class? Well I just happened to be at the winery picking up some wine and talking to Walter & Eileen Brys, sipping their other two Gold/Best of Class winners Pinot Blanc and Riesling, when they found out. Three Gold/Best of Class out of seven wines they entered. Not bad. Not bad at all.

“Can you believe it!" Eileen said. "A Michigan Merlot won in California!”

I think she was as shocked as the French were in 1976 when, at the “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting of Chardonnay and Bordeaux/Cabernet Sauvignon wines, two California vineyards, Chateau Montelena and Stags Leap, beat out some of France's best vineyards to win the competition.

In a competition featuring 270 wineries from around the world, six local vineyards competed and, in addition to Brys Estates, several of their brethren of the vines won medals as well.

Bel Lago won four golds with two Gold/Best of Class for their Gewürztraminer and Pinot Grigio. Bluestone Vineyards won a couple of golds and one silver. The Boathouse Vineyards received two gold and a bronze including a Gold/Best of Class for their Pinot Noir Rose. Chateau Fontaine captured two gold and a bronze for their entries. Chateau Grand Traverse won a pair of gold and a pair of silver medals to hang on their wall, including a Gold/Best of Class for their Dry Riesling.

What’s even more exciting than the 33 total medals is the fact that four of the medals were for red wines. Two gold, one silver and a bronze. Not bad for a region known for great whites. Due to our short growing season, reds haven’t been that easy to produce, but with dedicated winemakers like Coenraad Stassen at Brys Estates, whose reds get better every year, it’s no wonder Old Mission and Leelanau wineries are starting to get noticed for their Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Cab-Franc vintages.

When I congratulated Coenraad on his Best of Class Merlot, he just smiled and promised to keep making better and better wines. I believe him. You should too.

With that in mind, may I make a suggestion? The tourist migration north to our fair city is already upon us, but that doesn't mean you can't savor those Gold/Best of Class wines and all the other fabulous wines produced by all thirty vineyards,.We already live here and can play tourist anytime we want to. The problem is we just don’t take the time to do it.

So here’s what you do: get in your car, head to your favorite market, buy a hunk of cheese, a loaf of bread (don’t forget a knife,) and go wine tasting. Take the time to remember why we live in the most beautiful corner of Michigan (if not the world.) It's summer and the air is sweet, so belly up to that tasting room bar and, as you inhale the aroma of a great wine, raise your glass, toast to your good fortune, and just smile.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor and the founder of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a consumer and financial services organization in Traverse City. If you have any questions or comments about this article or any senior issue, he can be reached at 231-922-1010 or