Think Michigan and wine, and what pops to mind? Sweet Rieslings, chardonnay, cherry and fruit wines?
Well, it’s not all about white wine these days in northern Michigan. Just venture to the annual Traverse City Wine & Art Festival, where several vintners from the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas and surrounding area will pour samples of noteworthy pinot noir, red varietal blends and cabernet franc on Saturday. And under the festival’s Wine Education Tent, sommelier Michael Schafer will talk about Michigan reds as well, namely cabernet franc.
“Red wine in Michigan is improving every year,” says Schafer, who is known as the Wine Counselor. “We have been primarily known for pinot noir because of the similarity of the terroir to Burgundy, the birthplace of pinot noir. But cabernet franc is coming on strong. It grows well in Michigan and can take the colder temperatures and shorter growing season that we see.”
Some 30 wineries will offer samples of more than 200 wines (not to mention hard ciders) on the grounds of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, just southwest of downtown. The festival draws about 5,000 people from all over the Midwest and from as far away as Kentucky and Texas. The seven-hour event also features gourmet fare (from regional restaurants with chefs using local produce and food products), a juried art show, live music (including Guster and the Verve Pipe) and other activities related to art and wine.
“It’s really a unique pairing of local wine, art and food,” Schafer says. “Wine is art, after all, and the combination of the visual, auditory and taste senses being excited and stimulated in the same location is very special.”
To help enthusiasts connect wine with art on Saturday, landscape painter Stephanie Schlatter will lead three sessions where would-be Van Goghs will sip three different wines while taking brush in hand to paint the landscapes from which the grapes were produced. The event is new to this year’s festival.
“For me, both art and wine are a reflection of the land. Land is wine in a bottle,” says Schlatter, who hails from Grand Rapids and has become well known in the Traverse City area for her paintings exploring the region’s wineries. Her paintings also have appeared on Michigan wine labels. “I really want people to think about how much work goes into that wine, and what the land actually looks like. I will talk about easy ways to approach the landscape, so you can paint something different and feel good and happy about it.”
The effort, she says, will be nothing like the paint-and-wine venues that have become popular across the country. “No one is going to leave with the same painting,” Schlatter says. “Everyone will create their own individual work.”
A world traveler who first fell in love with wine while traveling through Italy (where she made the connection between terroir and wine), Schlatter includes the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas as among the most beautiful spots on the planet. “Not everybody knows how gorgeous it is up here,” she says.
Festivalgoers will find a large selection of whites — sweet and dry Rieslings, chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer, to name a few. Among the returning wineries is Leland’s Verterra Winery, which will pour a pinot grigio and unoaked chardonnay. The latter has won Best in Class awards in international wine competitions in the last few years.
The Traverse City and Leland festivals (held last weekend) are special to the winery. The Leland tasting room opened in 2011 just after the festivals. Owner Paul Hamelin expects to go through 100 to 150 bottles of wine Saturday.
“This is the largest festival of the year and that brings an extra level of excitement. More music, more art, more foods and, of course, many more wines and events than another festival in the State of Michigan. It is a winner,” Hamelin says.
The wineries offering red include Black Star Farms, Chateau Chantal, Boathouse Vineyards, St. Ambrose Cellars, Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery, and Mari Vineyards.
“People stereotype Michigan as producing Rieslings and chardonnay,” Schafer says. “It surprises people that we produce reds, too. They are really made in a variety of styles. Cabernet franc is being used for roses as well. They’re very delicious.”
Schafer, who is returning to the festival for a second year, also will lead a session on “Not Your Grandma’s Rose,” a regional tasting of modern roses. He describes his style as humorous and entertaining and strives to make the sessions, which include wine sampling, fun. His trademark phrase is “I taste bad wine so you don’t have to.”
“To find out just how good Michigan’s red wines are, come to the festival,” he says.
Traverse City Art & Wine Festival
2-9 p.m. Saturday
Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City
Tickets $40 in advance; $50 at gate