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Southwestern Michigan wines compete against world standards in Lake Michigan Shore competition

The ninth annual Lake Michigan Shore AVA Wine Evaluation Workshop was Feb. 5 and hosted by The Inn at Harbor Shores in St. Joseph, Mich. The Michigan Grape Society, Lake Michigan College and Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail were sponsoring organizations. I last participated in 2013.

Winemakers, grape growers, winery staff and enthusiasts were in attendance. I was there with David Muir, owner/winemaker at Fruit Hills Winery in Bristol.

The format featured an expert panel of three professionals. Master Sommeliers Ron Edwards and Sally Mohr, along with Mike Moyer, the director of enology and viticulture at Lake Michigan College, comprised this year’s panel.

During the course of the day, flights of Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Bordeaux blends were blind tasted. We were encouraged to record our impressions on evaluation forms.

After each flight, panel members gave the audience their unbiased critique of each wine. Their assessment was based not only on balance and complexity, but also on varietal accuracy. For example, Syrah (Shiraz in Australia) should typically exhibit flavors of concentrated red and dark berry, pepper and spice.

In addition to wines produced wholly from Lake Michigan Shore grapes, two benchmark international wines were included in each category. One was at the $15 to $20 price point, and a second retailed at more than $50. In effect, Southwest Michigan was competing against world standards.

After completing a varietal category, the panel then came to a consensus rating of the top three entries and revealed their identity. Of the 10 dry Rieslings, an Australian wine was rated best, the 2014 Tabor Hill was second and a Grand Cru from Alsace, France, was rated third.

The 2012 Free Run Cellars Syrah was awarded best of 13 Syrahs while a French Rhone retailing at $62 was second. Domaine Berrien Cellars and Cody Kresta Winery shared top rating for Cabernet Franc followed by Braganini (St. Julian Winery) and a Chilean Cabernet Franc.

There were 12 barrel-aged Chardonnays. Sanford (Santa Rita, Calif.) was the panel’s choice, Cody Kresta’s entry was rated higher than the bottle from Burgundy, France.

Michigan has received acclaim for white wines, particularly Rieslings. As a result of tasting throughout the day, wine educator Mike Moyer commented that he was much more impressed with the reds. That represents quite a statement from someone with training and work experience on the west coast.

Can we become a world class wine region?” That was the question asked by panelist Ron Edwards. The audience responded with a resounding “YES!”  Based on these results, Southwest Michigan is well on its way.

I commend these producers for continuing efforts to evolve. It is significant that they remain open to comparison tasting beyond their border in an effort to compete on a national/world stage. Not to do so would only encourage becoming stagnant and too provincial.


  • Becoming a Master Sommelier is a distinction that involves an arduous process over years. The wine and spirits industry addressed the need to improve beverage service standards in 1977 by creating the international Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS).
  • An American CMS chapter was authorized in 1986 and there are currently 144 members. The designation is one of the highest standards of professional knowledge in the industry.
  • Several readers have recently asked me about a lawsuit related to the arsenic content in some California wines. Dr. Christian Butzke, professor of enology at Purdue University, has objectively responded that “traces of the metalloid arsenic may be present in wine in similar concentrations naturally found in grapes and other fruits. Any amounts historically reported in the scientific literature have been of no concern to wine consumers. In no step of the winemaking process is arsenic added to the wine.” He also notes that the safety of drinking wine has been observed for six millennium of winemaking and moderate wine consumption.
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