Ever since planting our first vines in 2006, we have had a philosophy about the wine we would produce from them. Growing grapes in a cold climate is far different from growing them in a warm climate, and we have always said we would not try to make our grapes into something they were not. As an example, we only produce dry red wine from Marquette grapes in the hottest and driest of seasons...to do so in a cool or wet year just does not produce a good dry Marquette. However, grapes grown in our micro climate will produce excellent bubbly in almost any year, which is why we ventured into the sparkling wine niche soon after opening the winery.
I have always wanted to produce sparkling wine the way the French do, which is to produce carbonation naturally with a second fermentation that happens in the very bottle from which the wine will be consumed. Grapes we grow in Wisconsin, and Frontenac Gris specifically, are ideally suited to this style of sparkling wine. At peak maturity, we have relatively low sugar and high acidity, both of which make for good bubbly. So first we produce a still wine, and then we bottle it down with additional yeast and sugar. The wine re-ferments in the bottle, producing a bit of additional alcohol and a whole lot of carbonation. The wine is then "laid down" to age. The batch we are releasing this year was laid down in 2011...an "extended tirage" or extended aging period of seven years. I am not a patient person by nature, so for me, this has been excruciating. But it was the plan all along, so we have waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, the time has come to release our first...and possibly only...extended tirage sparkling wine.
But before we can release this wine, we have to remove the yeast from the bottle, and for this procedure, we need help. So we pack up the bottles in a metal cage and ship it to L Mawby Winery in Suttons Bay, Michigan. Larry Mawby planted his vineyard in the early 70's, and before long recognized the climate of northern Michigan was ideally suited to making sparkling wine. He has since become nationally recognized for his bubbly, but yet remains extremely approachable and helpful to new producers. We have been making the trek to Suttons Bay every other year since 2010 to have our sparkling wine disgorged at the one and only L Mawby Winery.
Seven years aging sur lees (on the yeast) has made for a beautifully complex sparkling wine. The fruit-iness of Frontenac Gris has been muted a bit, and there is a toasty characteristic not found in batches released at a younger age. If you are a true Champagne enthusiast, this is a sparkling wine you must try.
It would be remiss of me if I did not recognize the crew at L Mawby, so many thanks go out to Tony, Bill, and the rest of the production team who took such good care of us on our trip to Michigan this year. If you find yourself anywhere near Traverse City, definitely work in a side trip to Suttons Bay and L Mawby. I promise you will not be disappointed.