Wine Showcase shines light on Michigan varieties

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

Craft beer gets the lion's share of attention in Michigan, but it's not the only local fermented beverage on the rise. Master sommelier Claudia Tyagi says there were about 70 wineries in Michigan when she began organizing the Michigan Wines Showcase in 2010; today there are 117.

"Wine is exploding," Tyagi says. "There are wineries in places there never were before, like north of Port Huron, in the Port Huron area and around areas of the Thumb."

The Michigan Wines Showcase, which returns Monday at the RattleSnake Club, will spotlight nearly 30 of them. Each winemaker will present four samples of its wares for tasting and pairing with a variety of small plates prepared by RattleSnake Club executive chef Chris Franz. Tyagi and fellow master sommelier Madeline Triffon will guide guests through the variety and pairings.

Karel Bush is promotions specialist at the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, a program of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which sponsors the showcase. She says the event helps connect the Detroit area to the local wine world.

"The Detroit market is very wine-knowledgeable," Bush says. "There are a lot of folks who are very interested in wine and want to know more about it, and many of them are not really that aware of all the wineries that are in Michigan and all the great wines that are in Michigan."

Tyagi says those local wineries are distinguished by their dedication to "quality over quantity."

"We do have the larger ones, but there's a lot of boutique product where the guy who's making the wine is also supervising, if not tending, the grapes themselves," she says. "There's a lot of attention paid to what is going on in the vineyard and that really affects the ultimate quality of the wine."

Charles Edson, owner of Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery in Cedar, has attended the wine showcase every year. He says the event has provided him valuable entry into the market.

"When we go out to market our wines in an area like Detroit, normally we have to go retailer to retailer or restaurateur to restaurateur," Edson says. "But what's nice about the showcase is a whole bunch of them come to the same place."

Nearly 200 guests attended the public showcase last year. Tyagi says that's because the event is appealing to aficionados and newbies.

"It's a great way to be able to try a lot of different styles: red or white, sweet or dry, sparkling wines," she says. "For someone who doesn't know very much about wine, it's a great opportunity to learn a little bit at a time to find out what you do like."

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Michigan Wines Showcase

6 p.m. Monday

RattleSnake Club

300 River Place, Detroit

Tickets $38 in advance, $45 at the door

(517) 284-5733