Michigan, Ohio ‘wine country’ make for delicious destinations

When great wine experiences are within driving distance, who needs Napa?

Let’s start in Michigan, then bring it closer to home.

My first encounter with 2 Lads winery (2LWinery.com) was brief but impressive: One of its reserve reds, a cabernet franc, was runner-up for “Best of Show” in the 2009 Ohio vs. Michigan Wine Clash that I judged two years ago.

My second brush with 2 Lads was much lengthier and even more satisfying. It came in June during an all-too-brief visit to the Traverse City area of northern Michigan, which boasts a growing number of exciting new wineries making estate-grown wines on the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas and other areas around Grand Traverse Bay near the Lake Michigan shoreline.

2 Lads Winery is making a variety of whites (chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling) and reds (cabernet franc, pinot noir) from 22 acres of vineyards that were planted in 1999, 2001 and 2008. Across the board, the wines are delicious — they rival Ohio’s best estate-grown wines and are setting a high bar of quality for cool-climate wines produced in the Great Lakes region. Among the highlights: a ripe, robust 2 Lads 2010 Cabernet Franc/Merlot, $25; a refreshing and zingy 2 Lads 2011 Rose of Cabernet Franc ($19), and a perfectly balanced, flavorful 2 Lads 2011 Pinot Grigio ($17).

And here’s a kicker: 2 Lads recently received approval to begin shipping their wines to Ohio.

There are other wineries nearby making impressive wines — among them Left Foot Charley, which released a stellar 2011 Pinot Blanc ($22), and Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, which produced a fine unoaked 2011 Naked Chardonnay Estate Grown Old Mission Peninsula ($22) — that help make the Traverse City area a worthwhile travel destination for wine lovers.

If you go, do not miss Sleeping Bear Dunes, a stunning natural landmark that will make you think you are not in Michigan anymore. And save time (and money) to eat dinner at Trattoria Stella, which served up a hauntingly good “duo” soup of roasted tomato and potato soup, served cold on separate sides of a soup plate. It was a dish I think I could eat every day for the rest of my life — if tomatoes were in season year-round.

For more information about 2 Lads Winery, call Caryn Chachulski at (231) 223-7722.

Cask Tasting this weekend

In Ohio’s closest thing to “wine country,” The Grand River Valley wine region’s inaugural Cask Tasting to be held from noon to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 15, will allow visitors to sample wines aged in five kinds of oak from various countries, paired with food.

Designed as a progressive food-and-wine-tasting, the Cask event will be held at five wineries in the Grand River Valley, located northeast of Cleveland: Debonne Vineyards, Ferrante Winery & Ristorante, Grand River Cellars Winery & Restaurant, Laurello Vineyards and St. Joseph Vineyards.

Here’s how it came about: The five wineries got together and agreed to each purchase a 500-gallon cask barrel, using oak from different countries. Each winery then put only red wines from their winery into the barrel. The first vintage in the barrel was in 2010, and a second vintage was added in 2011. Each year, 100 gallons will be bottled from these barrels, making room for the next year’s harvest.

The five participating wineries are within about 10 minutes of each other, making the event convenient for visitors, who can start the tasting at any of the five wineries, event organizers said. Each winery will feature its cask wine and another regional wine paired with an appetizer. The cost is $6 per person at each winery. For more information, call (440) 466-3485. For information about accommodations and other attractions in the area, contact the Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.visitashtabulacounty.com) or the Lake County Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.lakevisit.com).

Events closer to home

If you live in southwest or west-central Ohio and can’t make the trip northeast this weekend — or if you return from the Grand River “Cask” stoked to learn more about Ohio wines grown and produced closer to home — check out the events and wines at Brandeberry Winery (www.brandeberrywinery.com) in Clark County near Yellow Springs, or at Valley Vineyards (www.valleyvineyards.com) near Morrow in Warren County, or at the Winery at Versailles (www.wineryatversailles.com) in Darke County. For locations of other Ohio wineries in our region and elsewhere in the state, go to TasteOhioWines.com or OhioWines.org.

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