This summer I’m on a mission to explore uncharted territory in my own backyard, and improve Michigan’s economy one purchase at a time.
The strategy is simple. Visit 10 places I’ve never been before…just because, I’ve never been. Next on my list: Chateau de Leelanau Winery
Chateau de Leelanau Winery
When it comes to wine, I prefer to drink local. Since I live in the heart of northern Michigan wine country and work with several wineries I’ve had the opportunity to visit many tasting rooms. But until this summer I’d never been to Chateau de Leelanau. And it’s not because it’s off the beaten path. In fact, Chateau de Leelanau is on one of the most well traversed highways in the area, M-22, at the beginning of the Leelanau Wine Trail. And yet so many people pass them by. I wanted to find out why.
Matt Gregory, vintner, greeter and face of Chateau de Leelanau, was in the tasting room on the fateful day I walked through the door and sprang the news of my 10 Places I’ve Never Been series. Much like his wine industry cohorts he generously offered his time and some wine samples to walk me through the history of Chateau de Leelanau.
I’d like to say you can’t miss their tasting room, located on M-22 next to E. Hilltop Road, but the truth is so many people do. And that’s one thing the new owners are determined to change.
Those who remember the former tasting space will not recognize the building since Matt and his family moved in. They’ve cleared out the dusty tchotchkes, expanded the tasting bar and reinvented their brand with a simple clean logo. The goal: to rebuild the reputation of a winery born in the new millenium, and reborn in 2010.
While Matt and his family are new to the wine business, they are certainly not new to agriculture. In fact, that’s how they ended up with a winery in the first place. The tasting room for Chateau de Leelanau sits on M-22 just south of Suttons Bay. But the vineyard is several miles north — right next door to the Gregory family orchards, aka: Cherry Bay Orchards and Shoreline Fruit. When the winery and vineyards went up for sale, it seemed like a good time to make some wine.
I arrived in the winery for my tasting the same day Matt submitted his wines to the Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition for the first time. Since they’re a new winery, with less than a dozen wines for 2010, he sent them all. But the Gregory family didn’t join the wine ranks for the medals.
"We want to create palatte pleasing wines for the customers, that represent the agricultural background of Leelanau County," Matt explained. The industry folks often preach dry, dry, dry but nearly 90% of Chateau de Leelanau’s customers want sweet, sweet, sweet. The challenge is to produce wines that bring a smile to all their lips.
After trying the wines, I was quite surprised by my favorites. Typically I prefer sweet whites, and while I like their Select Harvest, and signature Bianca, that’s not what I left with. I fell for a bottle of red, Solem Farm Red to be exact. It’s the perfect backyard BBQ, easy-to-drink, red wine. My second surprise was their Hard Apple Cider. The unusual combination of Sweetango™, Northern Spy and Golden Delicious apples, grown on the family farm, makes for a fabulous hard cider.
Little known fact: the Cherry Wine and Hard Apple Cider are Chateau de Leelanau’s best sellers and neither were in their sights when they set out to make wine. This year Chateau de Leelanau will produce 1000 cases of Cherry wine, compared to a very limited supply of their signature Bianca, at just over 40 cases.
If there’s one thing that stands out about Matt and the approach at Chateau de Leelanau it’s their laid-back style.
"We’re farmers, man! We’re not a snooty joint,"
Matt explained as he showed off one of their latest additions. They’ve fenced in a ‘wine corral’ just outside the building, complete with a window for walk-up service. This summer guests will be able to relax and enjoy a taste or a glass while they soak up the sun with friends and family. And after hearing about weekend specials like Cherry Sangria (see their recipe on our
Summer Sippers: Cocktails from Northern Michigan
post) and the infamous cherry wine snowcone…I’m definitely coming back this summer!
Before I left I had to get some food and wine pairings from the winemaker. So next time you’re debating a menu, give these a try:
>> Cherry Wine paired with pulled pork tacos
>> Bianca with bacon-wrapped scallops
>> Solem Farm Red & anything off the backyard BBQ
Vintner’s Picks: 2010 Cab Franc and 2010 Pinot Noir
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the "family five" that make up the Chateau de Leelanau crew.
Don Gregory: The patriarch of Cherry Bay Orchards, one of the state’s largest cherry growers and production facilities
Matt Gregory: Nephew to Don, my host with the most, face of Chateau de Leelanau, and vintner
Roger Veliquette: The "food science guy," Roger crossed over from the Great Lakes Packing Company and brings years of experience to the table to tackle day-to-day aspects of winemaking
Andrew Gregory: Brother to Matt, who work for the marketing arm of the family cherry business, Shoreline Fruit
Mark Miezeo: Cousin to Andrew and Matt, and farm manager
Chateau de Leelanau is located on M-22 south of Sutton’s Bay at the intersection of E. Hilltop Road, that’s 5048 S. West Bayshore Dr, Suttons Bay for those using a GPS. For more information reach them by phone at 231.271.8888 or visit them online at chateaudeleelanau.com. Show them some love by becoming a fan of their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @CDLwinery You can also find them on the Traverse Traveler iPhone app — our free mobile guide to the Traverse Area. Download on iTunes here.
If there’s a place in northern Michigan you’ve been dying to visit, but you’ve never made the time, I’d like to hear about it. Join the conversation on the Traverse Traveler Facebook page, and let me know where you’re going.
And stay tuned, as I plan to explore the next stop on my 10 Places I’ve Never Been tour: Korner Gem.