Traverse City Wine & Art Festival Showcases The Best In Local Wine

August 26, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Last weekend, the second annual Traverse City Wine & Art Festival was held at Grand Traverse Commons, a bucolic complex featuring yellow Italianate brick buildings set amid rolling hills. The Wine and Arts Festival draws together mostly all of the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsula winemakers in one place to offer tastings of their wine. (Incidentally, the Wine Fest followed a Mario Batali event at the same venue the prior weekend — Batali is a part-time Traverse City area resident and local food and wine supporter.) The fest also featured food from prominent Traverse City restaurants — and the food at this festival should be more of a draw. Most festival food is bland, overly salty, fried and tired, but many of these restaurants prepared food on-site, and offered fresh, vibrant selections of sophisticated (and mostly local) food for a reasonable price, such as grilled Middle Eastern food, grilled beef tenderloin, and Indian-inspired vegetarian meals with fresh, local vegetables. (As an aside, this is partly due to Traverse City’s stellar dining scene — the bar for food is set high, and the festival’s food reflects that.)

Although the fest is clearly in its infancy, it’s off to a good start. First, some minor kvetches: The music and entertainment could be better-suited to the event. The art portion could be larger, but again, I think it’s clear that wine is the focus, and the relatively small art section might be a by-product of that strategy. Finally, I wish the Festival organizers would have a clearer idea as to who comprises their target audience. This is reflected most prominently in the bland generic logo for the event, which is plastered on posters and merchandise advertising the event. Given the arts angle, it seems like this could be re-worked to better reflect the creativity of the participating artists as well as the forward-thinking winemakers. (Not to mention that, ostensibly, an enticing logo can be used to help sell merchandise to underwrite the Festival.)

Those nitpicks aside (and they are nitpicks), there is virtually nothing comparable to the Traverse City Wine & Arts Festival from a local wine perspective in which to try the best locally-produced wine, and interact with the winemakers under one tent. Judging by the crowds, and the emphasis on wine (as opposed to other aspects of the festival), there is clearly interest in local wine. White wine in particular — Northern Michigan’s specialty — was poured in abundance. Even those winemakers that focus on reds (such as 2 Lads) poured strictly whites and rosés, no doubt a nod to the summer weather.

My favorites were:

Chateau Grand Traverse ’08 Dry Riesling with its floral nose and sweet, muted honey notes that is balanced by zesty lime and green apple — it is elegant, and finishes clean on the palate.

Left Foot Charley’s Murmur ‘09: Bryan Ulbrich, LFC’s winemaker, writes “The art of blending . . . Is underappreciated.” And you what? He’s right! “Murmur” is an Alsatian “Edelzwicker”-style white blend. This semi-dry wine blends primarily Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio with a little Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Traminette. I think this would be great with seafood, or any food you’d normally serve with an Alsatian white blend.

2 Lads’ lovely fruit-forward ‘09 Rosé of Cabernet Franc with its rich pink color that tastes like raspberry and the tangy “green” of rhubarb. Any easy summer drinker.

Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir, which exhibits a fruity flavor redolent of ripe red berries, it’s a classic, easy-drinking Michigan Pinot Noir.

Any of L. Mawby’s méthode champenoise sparkling wines, most notably the demi-sec J’Adore, a blend of locally grown pinot noir, vignoles, pinot gris and chardonnay. I love the complexity and color of Mawby’s wines — just watching the fine bubbles traversing up and down the glass are a testament to Mawby’s mastery of sparkling wines.

Of the wineries that I had not tried before last weekend‘s event, I enjoyed Chateau Fontaine’s “Woodland White”, made with 100% Auxerrois.

Some pictures from the event:

Grand Traverse Commons

Grand Traverse Commons

Tasting Tent

Tasting Tent

Larry Mawby

Larry Mawby

The added benefit of going up to Traverse City for the weekend is that you can take a day or two and visit your favorites wineries. Stay tuned. . .