Certified Superfan

Jeremy Jurewicz, certified specialist of wine, talks about Michigan’s ‘unique’ vino
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Vanessa and Jeremy Jurewicz enjoy a glass of wine at Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula. All photos courtesy of Jeremy Jurewicz

Jeremy Jurewicz from Grand Rapids is a big fan of wine — so much so, in fact, that he took his interest to the next level last year by becoming a certified specialist of wine via the Society of Wine Educators.

He’s also a longtime superfan of Michigan wine in particular, and he regularly visits the tasting rooms in the Traverse City area with his wife, Vanessa.

Here, we talked to Jurewicz about how he has benefited from his formal wine training, his favorite wineries Up North, and his tips for visiting a Michigan tasting room.

This interview has been edited for length.

How has your certified specialist of wine training changed your perspective on wine or enhanced your experience with it?
It gives you a confidence to feel even more that you know what you’re talking about, because the world of wine is so huge and massive that even if you do pass the test like I did, I only know the tip of the iceberg. But going through a 14-week class and learning, taking tests, and having to memorize all different terms and methods of making wine, you get much more of a broad understanding of everything that goes into it. When you go wine tasting, you know what to ask, or what different varietals are, or choices that a winemaker might make to get a dry wine or a semidry wine [or a] sweet wine. It gives you a much greater appreciation of the work and love that goes into not only making the wine but appreciating it on your own — learning more about the aromas and the depth of flavor and being able to pick those things out when you do go wine tasting.

Jeremy Jurewicz at his favorite Michigan winery, Mari Vineyards.

How did you get into Michigan wine specifically?
I’ve been going up to northern Michigan since I was little, in the ’80s and ’90s. I absolutely love the Traverse City area. When I [turned] 21, my parents said, “Let’s start going to some wineries.” And this was late ’90s, early 2000s, and the wine scene was way different than it is now, but it was just starting to grow, and I thought [it was] so cool up there. And it really captivated my imagination because I love European culture and the great wine regions of France and Italy, and I thought, especially back then, “We have rolling hills and vineyards two and a half hours away from home. This is amazing. I don’t need to get on a plane to do this.” And as the years went by, I just liked it more and more as I grew to understand and appreciate more about wine.

What makes Michigan wines special? How do they compare with wines from other regions?
A lot of what I say will be based on Old Mission and Leelanau. [That area is] a very different, unique place. This far in the middle of North America, we shouldn’t be able to make wine like they can in Michigan, but because of the Great Lakes, it really has a moderating effect on the climate, so it gives it kind of a continental climate with a little maritime influence. And it really shouldn’t work with how cold it is and the shorter growing season, but it does, and it results in cool-climate, crisp wines, and the reds are lighter and more aromatic. I’ve been out to Oregon, to Willamette Valley, and I love that — it’s somewhat similar. I like cooler-climate wines; I’m not a huge fan of California wines that are overripe and jammy and taste like a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. I really like how different Michigan wines are; they’re unique.

Jeremy Jurewicz gets a behind-the-scenes look at 2 Lads Winery.

Can you tell me about some of your favorite Michigan wineries?
First and foremost, Mari Vineyards up on Old Mission. It’s the best winery in the state. They do really interesting Italian varietals that shouldn’t be able to work in Michigan, but they’ve got their hoop house way of growing it, which extends their growing season for three or four weeks, that other people don’t have. Their reds are really great. And it’s a beautiful building, too. It’s like an Italian villa sitting up there on the hill.

2 Lads is another one of my favorites, and that is my wife’s favorite. We’ve been members there for five years or so on Old Mission, and they do great reds, great Pinot Noir. The Rieslings are very good.

Another one on Old Mission: Hawthorne, definitely a favorite. It’s very small. From the tasting room outside, you can see both bays. They’ve got the best Chardonnay in the state.

And then Bel Lago [on the Leelanau Peninsula]. Great Pinot Noir. And like every place up there, it’s a beautiful view wherever you go. The people are always nice — that Midwestern kindness.

Have you had any particularly memorable experiences while visiting any of Michigan’s wineries?
Last year, we went to Black Star Farms, and they were not too busy, and they were short-staffed. So we sat up at the bar, and Lee Lutes, who’s the head winemaker there, and he has been for about 20 years, was working behind the bar. I recognized who he was, and I saw his name tag, and I was like, “Holy cow, [that’s] the head winemaker here!” So we sat for probably an hour and a half and talked to him, and I just kept asking questions (I had a winemaker there, so I wasn’t going to let that go). That was very memorable.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for other people interested in going wine tasting at Michigan wineries?
Go beyond the cherry wine and the Rieslings that are great, that Michigan’s known for, but try varietals you’ve never heard of. If you think Michigan can’t do reds because it’s too cold, that’s totally not true. The reds are great. The Pinot Noirs, the Gamays are great — they’re just lighter-style. Don’t expect a heavy, bold California Cabernet.

Ask questions. Most of the people who work up there are just waiting for someone to ask them real wine questions.

Last one I would say is go in the offseason. We try to go once every season, every year. The summer is great, but it’s busy. Try to go during harvest in October, or try to visit a winery on a Thursday in February or March. It’s a much different experience to sit by the fire at Mari than to have it be super busy and have to sit on the lawn in July.

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