Fennville Michigan – Find it on the Map!


Jon and I took a road trip this last weekend to visit Jon’s brother Justin and celebrate Justin’s birthday at a birthday BBQ. It was great to see the family, meet some of Justin’s friends, and relax in what turned out to be some fleeting sunshine. Justin is a scotch and red wine drinker, and I was in the mood for a white wine, so I brought my own bottle. The Fenn Valley 2007 Reserve Chardonel that we brought along turned out to be an excellent choice.

I know that many of you don’t associate Michigan with fine winemaking, but Michigan wine is starting to make a name for itself. Since my parents are from Michigan, and many of my extended family still live there, it is a foregone conclusion that I would go wine-tasting in Michigan. To tell the truth, I have been a couple of times, but since it is difficult to bring wine home on a plane, I don’t usually have wine to savor after the trip.

I visited my grandmother and extended family in October 2008, a couple of months after I met Jon. I flew out for the visit, but my parents were there at the same time and had driven out, so that meant that I could stash a couple of bottles of wine in their car for transport back to Washington. My cousin and I decided to take a couple of day trips, and we headed west to Lake Michigan. On the way, we stopped at Fenn Valley Winery, which has been in business since 1973.

Fenn Valley Winery

After being carded (that hardly ever happens anymore – unfortunately!), we went through a traditional tasting and decided which wines we liked. Interestingly, my favorite was a varietal wine that I hadn’t heard of before called Chardonel. Upon doing further research, I learned that it is a hybrid grape derived from the Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc grapes. The grape was first hybridized in 1953, but wasn’t released to wineries as stock until the 1970’s. Back in the 1990’s there was a push to get the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agency (it has always seemed odd to me that wine is regulated by the same agency as semi-automatic weapons) to approve Chardonel as a varietal. I assume it happened, since the Fenn Valley Chardonel I purchased was a 2007 vintage. However, there is no longer any mention of Chardonel on Fenn Valley’s website, so I’m not sure if they are still producing it. It would be too bad if they aren’t making it any longer.

I read up on Chardonel, which seems to be more cold-hardy that it’s more famous parent, the Chardonnay. That is important when you are trying to grow wine grapes in Michigan. Although it doesn’t get as cold as other parts of Michigan due to the warmer wind that blows in off of Lake Michigan in the winter, the area around Fennville is still not what could be considered a temperate climate. Snow falls a good portion of the winter there, with low temperatures to about 10 Fahrenheit (according to the Fenn Valley website). Maybe Northwest Washington wineries should take up the Chardonel grape!

But back to the present day. I uncorked this delicious wine, and found that my choice two and a half years ago was justified. This wine is buttery like a Chardonnay, but more light and crisp that a traditional Chardonnay. It was a nice compromise between a full bodied white, and a crisp summer white. Jon liked it so much that he switched from the red he was drinking to have some of my wine. The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if the sun had stuck around a while longer. It went very well with my spicy sausage, and with my hamburger. Hey, I know what you are thinking – “How much does she eat?”, so let me just say that Jon ate half of each. A girl has got to fend for herself in this marriage. When Jon’s around, no food is safe.

Perhaps when I visit Michigan next time, I’ll have a chance to visit Fenn Valley again. And hopefully, I can buy their Chardonel.

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