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MI Road Trip: Wine in a Hospital

After visiting the Mission Point Lighthouse, we got back on the road and headed back toward town, deciding to stop along the way at Brys Estate Winery.  It was recommended by the server at Douglas Valley Winery, so I was curious to try it.  I was surprised by how large Brys Estate is – it started as a retirement project and the winery now produces several thousand cases annually. The tasting is unique – instead of bellying up to the tasting bar, they have visitors going through four different tasting stations.  It seemed like we were at a special event, but apparently that’s just how they do their tasting now.

Brys Estate Winery

Brys Estate Winery

At each station we chose between two wines; Jon and I selected different wines at each station so we could get to sample all of them.  The wines were all good, ranging from Rieslings to Cabernet Franc to Pinot Noir, but nothing stood out in my memory as amazing.  Their servers were all friendly and knowledgeable, but it was awkward at the end. After we finished at the last station, we ended up back in the main tasting room. If you want to buy wine, you have to find it yourself on their ‘wall o’ wine’, and it just seemed kind of impersonal.

The Brys Estate Outdoor Chairs - they would be heavenly on a cold day.

The Brys Estate Outdoor Chairs – they would be heavenly on a cold day.

We dropped by a brewery on the Old Mission Peninsula next, hoping to get some lunch and a beer, but the place was crawling and the wait was going to be 90 minutes! Umm… no thanks! So we headed back into town to see what we could find at our next stop, Grand Traverse Commons.

The Grand Traverse Commons is a large retail/housing development that redeveloped the old Traverse City State Hospital.  The hospital was founded in 1881, and opened to patients in 1885.  It was an asylum for patients with mental illnesses, although at times its mission was expanded to provide care for patients with tuberculosis, polio, influenza and diphtheria.

The Front of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

The Front of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

Many of the patients hospitalized there were able to function on varying levels – at the time it was commonplace to institutionalize people with mental illnesses that would not typically result in hospitalization today; illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, post-partum depression or anxiety disorders.

Long before drug therapy was commonplace, the hospital set about to try to provide cutting edge therapy that helped people with mental illness be productive within the hospital. Restraint devices like straightjackets were prohibited. The first superintendent, Dr. James Decker Munson, developed a “beauty is therapy” program. He believed that beauty could be therapeutic, so the hospital had greenhouses to produce flowers year round. Additionally, he developed a farm that allowed the hospital to be self-sustaining, and also allowed many of the patients to have jobs that contributed to feelings of self-worth. The farm raised milk cows, beef cows, pigs, chickens and horses, and farmed vegetables.

The Spires of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

The Spires of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

The hospital population slowly declined due to the changes that came about in the mental health system that eliminated institutionalization as an option for all but the most severely affected individuals, and the Traverse City State Hospital closed its doors in 1989. Redevelopment came slowly, but Building 50 – the main administration building of the hospital, has now been redeveloped into a multi-use building, with shops, restaurants and condos.

We found an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Stella and got some lunch. I had the mushroom soup (fantastic!) and a risotto with fried egg, chives, sweet pea, rosemary, Parmesan and cream.  I had high hopes for the risotto but it was WAY too salty… I also had the Black Star Farms sparkling wine, and loved it. Jon had the minestrone soup (he loved it) and a beet salad with mozzarella, onions and kalamata olives that was delicious as well. He paired his with a Dark Horse Brewery Crooked Tree IPA. After lunch, we wandered around the grounds for a little while; Jon was a sport to let me take photos of the redeveloped buildings and the still abandoned ones, even though he was freezing.

Jon's Beet Salad at Trattoria Stella

Jon’s Beet Salad at Trattoria Stella

Features on an unrestored building at Grand Traverse Commons

Features on an unrestored building at Grand Traverse Commons

While we were at the Grand Traverse Commons, we decided to check out the Black Star Tasting room as well.  You could opt for a wine tasting or a distilled spirits tasting. I picked the wine, Jon picked the spirits. I found several that I enjoyed and ended up buying two wines to take home, including their Blushed sparkling wine. Jon purchased a bottle of craft Peninsula Gin from Grand Traverse Distillery.

Wine Bottles at Black Star Farms Tasting Room

Wine Bottles at Black Star Farms Tasting Room

And with that, we made our way back to the car to find our way to my aunt and uncle’s house. We had a couple of hours of driving ahead of us, according to Google Maps, so I was a bit surprised to find that our GPS was telling me it would take almost 4 hours to get to my aunt’s house! There didn’t seem to be any traffic! I had been driving along in this state of confusion for almost a half an hour when I suddenly realized that the day before I had set the route preferences to avoid highways, so we could see the more scenic route. But now we wanted to go the more direct way. OOPS!

Once we changed the settings, our arrival time moved up significantly! We got to my aunt and uncle’s house just after the rest of the family finished up dinner, so we were able to get some food and spend some time catching up with the family. The next day there was a family reunion, but our brief tour of Michigan had drawn to a close…

MI Road Trip: Douglas Valley Winery

Every vacation begins with a catalyst.  That “thing” that makes you decide that you are going to go there…  It could be a theme park, a museum, a fabulous hike, a concert, a beach – you get the idea.  Or a winery.  Let me explain…  Back in the spring, I won a prize – redeemable in Manistee, Michigan.  The value wasn’t much, but it got me thinking that maybe we could go visit the area.  We were heading out to visit family in Michigan anyway, so a little detour might be perfect!  A road trip was born…

In my last post, we checked out downtown Manistee – after our coffee we headed out to visit Douglas Valley Winery, just outside town. Douglas Valley’s tasting room is located in a historic building – an old bunk house along the railroad line at the turn of the century. The property is surrounded by apple orchards and vineyards.

A rusty farm wagon at Douglas Valley Winery

A rusty farm wagon at Douglas Valley Winery

UPDATE: My Dad, who grew up on a farm, let me know that the photo above is not a wagon.  Rather, it is a manure spreader…  So don’t go on a hayride in it, mmm-kay?

When we arrived, there was one couple wrapping up a tasting, and then we were all alone with our server. Tastings are normally $5 per person for 7 tastes (including a souvenir glass), but we had a certificate for a free tasting thanks to a prize from the Michigan by the Bottle blog. You can also opt for 2 complementary tastes, but $5 is very reasonable.

The Douglas Valley Winery Tasting Room – inside a historic bunk house

The Douglas Valley Winery Tasting Room – inside a historic bunk house

We picked out what we wanted. Here’s what I sampled (Jon and I tried to pick different wines and then shared, so there are more than 7):

  • Bunk House White – A semi-sweet blend of un-oaked Chardonnay, Vignole, Riesling and Pinot Gris, with flavors of apricot and peach.
  • 2013 Lakeview White – A semi sweet blend of Chardonnay and Riesling.
  • Bunk House Blue – A tart blueberry wine with spice on the back of the palate.  One of my favorites.
  • Bunk House Cherry – A sweet blend of tart and sweet cherries.  Also very good.
  • Northeastern Sweet Red – A light, semi-sweet red wine; a blend of Foch and Chambourcin grapes. It had some Pinot Noir characteristics.
  • Bunk House Red – A blend of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot with flavors of raspberry and blackberry.
  • Stone House Sparkling Cider – A low alcohol (7%) sparkling cider made with several apple varieties from the Douglas Valley orchards.  Excellent.
  • Stone House Semi Sweet Cider – A blend of Jonathan, Macintosh, and Northern Spy apples. Fruity with flavors of apple (duh…) and honey.
  • Caramel Apple Cider – One of two specialty ciders that they had on tap and available for sale in growlers, this had a nose of heavy caramel, but the caramel flavor was very light on the palate, with pleasant, light bubbles.

Our server was very friendly and offered information about the wine, and the history of the property.  Currently Douglas Valley grows the fruit and grapes, and the winemaker from another Michigan winery, Black Star Farms, makes the wine.  I think there is a plan to begin making their own wine at some point in the future, but this method seems to work well, as there were several good wines.

I purchased my favorites… The Northeastern Sweet Red, the Sparkling Apple Cider, the Bunk House Blueberry and the Bunk House Cherry. Thinking back, I should go find one of these bottles to open tonight…

Douglas Valley also had a large selection of local food products, and since it was close to lunchtime, we decided to get a picnic lunch to go. We picked out some Great Lakes tortilla chips, beef jerky, cajun beef jerky, Michigan made jalapeno pickled asparagus, asparagus salsa, and a big bag of fresh Winesap apples.

Apples at Douglas Valley – Waiting to be Picked

Apples at Douglas Valley – Waiting to be Picked

We said our goodbyes and headed out on our way to our next destination – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  En route, we found a roadside viewpoint with a picnic table and enjoyed our picnic lunch.  The weather was still cold, but had warmed up enough to allow us to sit outside for 20 minutes and enjoy our chips and salsa, beef jerky and asparagus.  What a great lunch!

A few of our Michigan Picnic Lunch items – YUM!

A few of our Michigan Picnic Lunch items – YUM!

But we couldn’t linger too long, because I couldn’t wait to see Sleeping Bear Dunes!

 

Two Good Cabs

I’m not a huge fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly not Washington made Cab.  I too often find that drinking some of those big, bold Washington Cabs is like chewing on a hunk of wood.  Dry oak.  But I have had a couple recently that have surprised me, in a good way.

2010 La Playa Claret

This is a big wine, and while it isn’t predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, it still has quite a bit of Cab.  The blend is 41% Petit Verdot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 4% Carmenere. It is a big tannic wine, but it isn’t too dry though – it has a nice balance.  On the nose, there is the strong scent of tobacco.  On the palate, it has flavors of stewed plums and leather.  It was harvested by hand and aged for 8 months in French and American oak.

This wine really reminded me that living in Chile was the main reason I started loving wine.  And I do love Chilean wine!  I really should drink a lot more of it.

2011 Revelry Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Jon poured me a glass of this wine when he couldn’t offer me any more La Playa, because…. you guessed it… he drank it all.  Revelry is a Walla Walla winery, sourcing their fruit from several areas in the Columbia Valley.  Although they are a fairly new winery, with their first vintage in 2005, they have managed to secure fruit from several elite vineyards, including Sagemoor Vineyard, and vineyards on Red Mountain and the Horse Heaven Hills.

On the nose, I got lots of blackberry, and on the palate, it had medium tannins and wasn’t super dry.  It was a fruity Cab, almost slightly jammy, but in a wonderful balanced kind of way.  Not a fruit bomb by any means, but certainly more fruit than your typical overly oaked Washington Cab.  I loved it!  The grapes for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon came from various vineyards, including Red Mountain, The Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, and the Walla Walla Valley.  It spent 12-16 months in the 100% French Oak barrels, with 30% being new French Oak.

Jon and I both loved these two wines, which is unusual because we tend to go for something very different in a big, red wine.  If you have had either one, let me know what you think!

An Impromptu Stop: Foris Vineyards

You want to know one of the best things about Oregon Wine Country?  The signage!  Well, that, and the wineries!  Oregon has some of the easiest wine country to navigate, thanks to hundreds of little blue roadsigns pointing you to the wineries.  Even if you didn’t have a map, or a GPS, or a guidebook, you could find some wine!

On our way back from a satisfying day trip to Oregon Caves National Monument, we saw a few of those winery signs and decided to make an impromptu stop at Foris Vineyards.  Of the four of us, Jon was the only one who had heard of Foris – but his dad doesn’t really pay attention to wineries or wine so really, only three of us count on this score.  But Jon had heard good things, so drove a few miles down the country road, following the signs and ended up at a little tasting room in the front section of a wine production facility.

Foris Vineyards is family owned and operated by the Gerber family, and has been since 1971.  That’s when Ted Gerber and his wife purchased the property; they planted the first vines in 1974.  For awhile they sold their grapes to other wineries, but in 1986 they began using their grapes to make their own wine.  Currently about 80% of the grapes they use are estate grown.

My fabulous mother in law at the Foris Tasting Room

My fabulous mother in law at the Foris Tasting Room

When we went into the tasting room, we were warmly greeted by our server.  When we told her that we had just been to Oregon Caves, she asked which ranger had given our tour.  When we told her, her eyes lit up and she explained that he frequented the tasting room on his days off.  Just another reason why National Park Rangers are so awesome!

We were guided through the lineup, and I found myself really enjoying the reds.  We were able to do a side by side tasting of their two Pinot Noirs; one their flagship Pinot and the other the single vineyard Pinot from the Maple Ranch vineyard.  Both were delicious!  Their Cabernet Sauvigon and Cab Franc were also very good.

My mother in law really enjoyed the Fly Over Red blend and their sweet Moscato.  The Fly Over wines show that this wine-making family has a great sense of humor; these wines are named for the fact that because the Illinois Valley of Oregon is one of the most remote wine growing regions in the nation, many members of the national wine press will never come out to witness these wines being made.  So the folks at Foris simply wave at the planes overhead, because you never know who is “flying over”.

A few of the wine awards Foris has received

A few of the wine awards Foris has received

Jon came in and out of the tasting room to sample my wine at his leisure, and then settled with his father on the Adirondack chairs outside.  Linda and I took our time enjoying the wines and chatting with the server.  Soon enough, we were on our way back to our home away from home by the river, to swim in the pool, eat dinner and wile away a relaxing evening, with a newly opened bottle of wine.

Breaking out of a Wine Rut

I’ve been in a wine rut.  Our travel this year hasn’t been wine focused, so we haven’t sampled very many new wines during tasting room visits.  In looking at the wine we have around the house, most of it is higher end Washington wines and Oregon Pinot Noirs.  While I love Pinots, it isn’t every random Wednesday that I want to open a more expensive bottle.  And trips to the grocery store leave me wandering the wine aisles, not able to get excited about all of the wines I’ve had before, and uncertain about trying something new.

So I had an idea.  I popped down to the local wine shop this afternoon and told the owner that I had a challenge for him, should he choose to accept.  I have been pleased with all the recommendations he has given me before, so why not trust him again?  The challenge?  Put together a mixed case of wines I have never tried.

The parameters:

  • Value wines – nothing over $15.00, closer to $10.00 is better
  • No Pinot Noir (while I love them, we have plenty already)
  • 8 or 9 reds, 3 or 4 whites.

That’s it – no other rules.  If he offered it, and it fit within the parameters, it went into the case.  Of course he accepted, because what wine aficionado wouldn’t?  Here’s what I ended up with.

My Mixed Case of Wine - my descriptions below begin with the wine on the left.

My Mixed Case of Wine – my descriptions below begin with the wine on the left.

Scaia – 2013.  This wine is a 60% Garganega, 40% Chardonnay blend; an Italian wine from the Veneto region.  Garganega will be a new grape for my Wine Century Club efforts! – $10.99

Atteca – 2012 Old Vines Garnacha.  This Spanish red is 100% Garnacha, and is the one wine I have tried.  They were tasting it this afternoon, and I loved it.  I’ll be curious to see what Jon thinks!  – $14.99

Trentadue – 2012 Old Patch Red.  This red blend from the North Coast of California is 85% Zinfandel, 6% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane, and 4% Syrah.  – $10.99

Oinos Les Cardères – 2012.  This red blend from the Corbières region of France is 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache and 25% Carignan. – $11.99

La Playa Block Selection Reserve Red Blend Claret – 2012.  Wow, that’s a mouthful for this red blend from the Colchagua Valley of Chile.  60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec and 10% Cabernet Franc. – $11.99

Pelassa Mario’s – 2012.  A red blend of 50% Barbera, 25% Merlot, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Piedmont region of Italy. – $12.99

H-Henriques – 2011.  This French wine from the Côtes du Roussillon region is 50% Carignan, 35% Grenache, and 15% Syrah. – $7.99

Gerald Talmard Chardonnay – 2013.  French labels are hard…  This wine is from the Mâcon Uchizy region in France.  – $11.99

Torre Gajo Pinot Grigio – 2013.  This wine is from the Delle Venezie region of Italy and comes in a 1000 ML bottle – extra!  – $11.99

Linen Sauvignon Blanc – 2013.  This Columbia Valley wine is produced by Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla, WA. – $10.99

Scaia Corvina – 2012.  We are going to try the Scaia white wine, so why not the red?  This one also comes from the Veneto region of Italy and is 100% Corvina. – $10.99

Sagemoor Farms Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – 2013.  This wine is produced by The House of Independent Producers (HIP); it is a second label for Hedges Family Estate in Benton City, WA. – $12.49

So there’s the line up.  I can’t wait to start sampling.

Have you had any of these wines?  Which one do you think we should open first?

 

Winter Day in Woodinville: Dusted Valley

A few weekends ago it was another rainy, windy weekend, so Jon and I decided to spend the day tasting down in Woodinville, WA.  It had been awhile since we were there, and we didn’t have anything else going on, so we piled in the car and hit the road.

Ninety minutes later we had reached our destination, and after a stop at Panera Bread for lunch, we were ready to taste.  We decided to try some wineries that we had never been to before, and we ended up near the historic Schoolhouse building.  On the other side of the roundabout are several tasting rooms in a retail development that has only been there a few years.

We started our day at Dusted Valley.  The Dusted Valley winery facility is located in Walla Walla, but they have a tasting room in Woodinville as well.  We were greeted warmly by the server, and started off on the 2010 Cinsaut.  It is a light blend of 80% Cinsaut and 20% Syrah, from the Stoney Vine Estate in the Walla Walla Valley.  It is a excellent light, acidic wine, perfect for drinking now.

Next we had the 2011 Rachis Syrah, a wine containing 98% Syrah with 2% Petite Sirah blended in.  The grapes are sourced from the Stone Tree Vineyard in the Red Heaven area of the Columbia Valley.  After that we tried the 2011 Cabernet Franc – a Columbia Valley wine with 91% Cabernet Franc and 9% Merlot.  It is a big, smooth red wine.

The 2011 V.R. Special Cabernet Sauvignon was next – it is a 99% Cabernet Sauvignon with just 1% of Petit Verdot blended in.  It is named for the V.R. Special Chocolate Chip Cookie created by the winemaker’s grandfather Vernon Rhodes in the Midwest.  The 2011 Petite Sirah contained 95% Petite Sirah and 5% Syrah.  It is a dark, inky red color with strong balanced tannins.

And we finished off the tasting with the 2009 Late Harvest Syrah.  It is not a fortified wine, but is a heavy, syrupy wine with a strong alcohol content.  Jon really liked this wine.

Dusted Valley Tasting Room

Dusted Valley Tasting Room

All of the wines were excellent – there weren’t any that I didn’t like.  That said, my favorites were the Cinsaut and the Petite Syrah.

Dusted Valley also produces a second, value label – Boomtown.  They don’t taste or sell it at the tasting room, but I purchased a bottle later in the day that I found at Cost Plus World Market – given how much I liked the Dusted Valley wines that we tried, I am looking forward to tasting the Boomtown wine we bought.

Our next stop was Trust Cellars – I’ll blog about that next!

Have you tried Dusted Valley wines?  What did you think?

 

Harbinger Winery – Home on the Peninsula

After we sat like bumps on a log on Rialto Beach (we were literally sitting on a driftwood log!), we knew we had to begin the long drive back to our hotel in Sequim.

We got back on the road, and drove into the rain that had so kindly not come during our hike in the Hoh Rain Forest and our walk on Rialto Beach.  We were grateful for that, even as we were driving through the rain and approaching darkness.  I was also feeling the effects of our super-early wake up call, so some caffeine was in order – we grabbed a couple of caffeinated drinks at a small country store along the highway.

Soon enough, outside of Port Angeles, I saw a sign announcing a winery (I swear I can spot those suckers from miles away).  We had seen another sign when we were going in the other direction; of course we thought they would be long closed before we headed back that way.  But, as it turns out, it was only 4:30, a bit earlier than we had anticipated.  And Harbinger stays open until 6!

The outside of the winery is a big old warehouse (it used to be a logging truck shop), with these gigantic wooden doors concealing what is going on within.  When you open the doors, you have to turn around and pull them back closed, because this isn’t a door that will swing shut on its own.  Inside, you are greeted with a large tasting room decorated with wine barrels around the edges, a wooden tasting bar with bar stools on the left, and a living room set of a couch and chairs on the right.  In between are several tables and chairs who want a more restaurant feel.

The exterior at Harbinger Winery with those big wooden doors

The exterior at Harbinger Winery with those big wooden doors

The joint was jumping!  There were 4 men dressed in camo and overalls seated at one table, sipping red wine (one guy was having a beer) – they looked like the least likely wine lovers I have ever seen.  The couch and chairs were filled with two couples.  A man at another table was chatting up the server and obviously knew her well.  And another guy was going through their beer lineup at the end of the tasting bar.  While we were there, several people came and went.  Even though this was one of the busier tasting rooms we have visited, the two servers were on top of their game, serving promptly and remembering where each customer was in the lineup.  And they were friendly and chatty, making everybody feel welcome.

The Interior at Harbinger - it had cleared out a bit by this time.

The Interior at Harbinger – it had cleared out a bit by this time.

You could choose to taste through their flight, purchase by the glass or bottle, or have a beer flight of northwest beers.  Even though they didn’t brew the beers themselves, they had a good variety of northwest beers that I hadn’t tried before; if I were local I would certainly do the beer flight sometimes.

The restroom at Harbinger is decorated with all of their labels from years gone by.

The restroom at Harbinger is decorated with all of their labels from years gone by.

We tasted through their flight, starting with the whites – a Viognier and a Rosé of Lemberger – neither wine was really my taste.  To be honest, I was a little worried at that point that I wasn’t going to be a fan of any of their wines.  But then we moved on to the reds, and wow – I was impressed!  Their Barbera was excellent, a great balance of light tannins and acidity.  El Jefe, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre had bold tannins and earthy flavors mixed with bright berries.  The Rapture was a great Cabernet Franc with big tannins and pepper notes.

Our tasting finished off with the Blackberry Bliss, a blackberry wine aged in oak barrels.  I really enjoyed it, but I was really surprised when Jon wanted a bottle as he normally doesn’t like sweeter wines.

Their grapes are sourced from several vineyards near Yakima, including Crawford Vineyard, Sagemoor, Elephant Mountain, Two Coyote and Piper; several are in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, which consistently receives high reviews.  The blackberries and raspberries for their Bliss line of fruit wines are sourced locally, from Graymarsh Farm in Sequim.

We purchased the Barbera and the Blackberry Bliss – the Barbera is already long gone, but I can’t wait to open the Blackberry Bliss!  Our visit to Harbinger was a lot of fun – they definitely have a fun vibe and friendly staff.  If you have a chance, go pull open those big wooden doors!  Just remember to close them behind you!