Drink Pink

Michigan wineries use a variety of grapes and methods to create crisp, refreshing rosé
No summer soiree is complete without bubbles, Mawby’s specialty. Photo by Tom Balazs, Two Twisted Trees Photography

Nothing says warm weather quite like popping a bottle of rosé. The blush beverage — traditionally made by allowing red wine grapes to soak on their richly colored skins for just a short amount of time, imparting a pale hue — comes in an assortment of crisp, summer-ready flavor profiles. Michigan winemakers use a variety of grapes and methods to create rosés, some of which are now gaining recognition on a national scale.

“What makes Michigan wines unique in the whole scheme of wines from around the world is there’s so much vintage variation,” says Kasey Wierzba, executive winemaker and general manager at Shady Lane Cellars in Suttons Bay.

The winery’s 2022 Pinot Noir rosé received a silver award at the 2023 International Women’s Wine & Spirits Competition in Santa Rosa, California.

“Every year, our [Pinot Noir rosé] is a little different,” Wierzba says. “We often get a real strawberries-and-cream flavor, but this year, we’re getting more raspberry, fresh fruit, and orange peel.”

Using the traditional skin-contact method, Wierzba makes the wine entirely from Pinot Noir grapes grown in the winery’s estate vineyard. The grapes are harvested during the third week of September and put right away into the press for a 15-hour cold soak.

“When the grapes are in the press doing their cold soak, the natural enzymes are breaking down the pulp, breaking down the skins, and all of those wonderful anthocyanins and flavors and aromatics from the skins are being kind of bled into the juice itself,” Wierzba explains. “And that’s where we get the color, as well as a little bit more structure and tannin influence.”

Pressing — which removes all the seeds and skins from the juice — happens the following day, and then the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks.

Another excellent Michigan-made option for a traditional skin-contact rosé comes from Sandhill Crane Vineyards in Jackson. The winery’s Sassy Rosé — named for the winery’s tenacious late vineyard dog Rosie — is made from 100% Michigan-grown Cabernet Franc grapes.

“We crush the Cabernet Franc and let it soak on the skins for somewhere between 12 and 24 hours, depending on what the grapes are looking like that particular year,” says winemaker Holly Peterson. “It usually has lots of strawberry and cherry flavors and is more of a dry, sophisticated, French-style rosé.”

The skin-contact method isn’t the only way of making rosé. At Domaine Berrien Cellars in Berrien Springs, winemaker Amy Birk uses a direct-press method to produce the winery’s refreshing and fruity Pink Satin rosé.

“We use a hybrid grape known as St. Vincent, which is a rarer grape you don’t see planted a lot of places, and it’s very deeply colored,” Birk says. The grapes are harvested and then immediately pressed and separated from their skins. The resulting rosé is surprisingly rich in color, thanks to the natural pigment of the St. Vincent grapes, and features a juicy, tart acidity.

“It’s very lively; it doesn’t sit on the palate very much,” Birk says. “It’s got notes of cranberry and watermelon Jolly Rancher, but without the sweetness. It’s the staff’s favorite thing to drink in the summer!”

Of course, no spring or summer soiree is complete without bubbles. At Mawby in Suttons Bay, sparkling is the specialty. And while Michigan wine lovers may be rather familiar with Sex, the winery’s bestselling brut rosé, Claire Lepine — manager of the winery’s Fizz Club — recommends trying Grace, Mawby’s higher-end sparkling rosé.

“Grace is crafted in the traditional Champagne method, or méthode Champenoise, which means the bubbles occur in the bottle,” Lepine says. Following a brief skin-contact period, “the juice is pressed, it ferments, it goes into the bottle. Then we add something called a dosage, which starts that secondary fermentation. The wine then hangs out in the bottle for two to five years.”

Made from a combination of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Regent grapes, Grace boasts numerous national and international accolades. It took home a silver medal at the 2023 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships in London. The wine also received a score of 90 points from wine critic James Suckling, and a score of 91 points from Wine & Spirits magazine.

Lepine says that compared with Sex, which is crafted in what’s known as the cuve close method, Grace offers a finer bubble and a more complex flavor. (The cuve close method entails a secondary fermentation that happens outside of the bottle, in a pressurized tank.)

“It’s definitely more refined, for lack of a better word,” Lepine says. “We love when people get to try [Sex and Grace] side by side, because they’re not that different in color, but they are a very different tasting experience.”

This article originally appeared in the 2024 Michigan Wine Country magazine.

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