Jana Riesling (Leelanau Peninsula)

by Rick Coates of the Northern Express

jana-rieslingOkay, since the inception of Bottoms Up, I have been touting the local wine industry. Regular readers by now should be aware that wines from Northern Michigan have been garnering worldwide praise by top industry critics, and winning several top medals at major international wine competitions.

But as with anything new, there are always comparisons, and certainly wines from this region have and always will be compared to those from California. It wasn’t too long ago that the west coast was looking for its own respect on the world stage. They earned that by beating out the French in major tasting competitions and eventually seeing the distributions of California wines throughout Europe. But proud European wine regions would never consider making wine with grapes from California.

So certainly hell would have to freeze over before wineries from Napa or Sonoma Valley would ever think to make wine from grapes grown in Northern Michigan. Well, the devil is surely taking up hockey because California has come to the Leelanau Peninsula in search of grapes. Scott Harvey, a 30-year veteran California winemaker, who’s in search of finding the best possible Riesling grapes, ended up on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Harvey built his reputation on Zinfandel grapes from Amador County and Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, and when he launched his Jana Winery (named after his wife) a couple of years ago in Napa Valley, he wanted to include great Rieslings. “I found that the Leelanau Peninsula produces legendary Riesling, closest in style to its traditional European heritage,” he said.

But instead of trucking the grapes to California to make the wine, he chose to contract winemaker Shawn Walters (45 North and Longview, the two newest wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula) to make the wine. “I am proud to be associated with one of the new stars of American winemaking,” said Harvey. “In my opinion Shawn Walters is going to be the winemaker who will end up putting Michigan wines on the map.”

Wow, hell must be frozen over for a world renowned California winemaker to not only come to Northern Michigan to find grapes, but to allow for a winemaker from here to make the wine. The 2007 vintage of Jana Riesling from the Leelanau Peninsula will be out this spring and the 330 cases will be distributed to 30 states (although most of it will be on shelves and wine lists in Napa Valley) including Michigan. Additional information is at scottharveywines.com.

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