Rosé has been around for millennia, but in recent years it has experienced a surge in popularity in the United States — and especially in Michigan.
“Over the years, there have been resurgences of rosés,” says Eddie O’Keefe, president of Chateau Grand Traverse on the Old Mission Peninsula. “But it seems that really in the last couple years is when rosés really have taken hold and people are accepting of many different styles.”
To meet the new demand, wineries around Michigan are producing rosés in a variety of styles to suit every palate.
Chateau Grand Traverse offers two different styles of rosé. The first is the winery’s premium Vin Gris, or Pinot Noir rosé. It’s a drier, European-style wine made using 100% Pinot Noir grapes.
“Our Vin Gris, which is kind of a French style, if you want to call it that, is just a very elegant, beautiful wine,” O’Keefe says. “It’s just got a nice color, and the flavor profile exudes almost a cherry-like characteristic.
“As it matures a little bit, it develops a little bit of a creamy or vanilla style, and between the acidity, the crispness, the cherry, and the vanilla, it has a ‘wow’ factor. People that try it and like it go, ‘My gosh, I’ve never tried something like this. It’s just a beautiful wine.’”
The winery’s other rosé, the Grand Traverse Select Rosé, is “more of a mainstream, sweeter-style” wine, he says. It’s made from a blend of red varietals — plus a little white wine for the color and style — selected by the winemaker.
“The Grand Traverse Select Rosé is a summertime drink,” O’Keefe says. “It’s something you don’t have to put too much thought to. It’s just meant to be enjoyed during the warmer months or whenever you would prefer.”
Old and New Methods
Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan also makes a traditional, dry rosé and a blended, sweet rosé. The dry rosé is new this year.
“I’m just very excited about this Pinot Noir rosé that we have coming out,” says Adam McBride, owner and winemaker. “The color’s beautiful, and we did some taste testing of it last week, and the flavors are great, the acidity is bright, and we’re really looking forward to tasting it more.”
For that wine, McBride followed the traditional method used in Europe, much like the team at Chateau Grand Traverse.
“There’s three ways to get to a rosé, but the most common and most traditional method is where you let the grape [juice] ferment with the grape skins for just a really, really short period of time,” he says. “So you’re starting with red grapes or black grapes, you let them ferment with the grape skins for a short period of time, and then you press the juice from the skins.”
The limited contact between the juice and the skins means only a small amount of color is extracted from the skins, which results in the distinctive pink color of rosé instead of the deep red of a red wine.
Hickory Creek’s Gentil rosé, on the other hand, is a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, and “just a splash” of Zinfandel. To determine the exact proportions of each varietal, McBride and his team conduct trials of different blends.
“We take different ratios of different wines and mix them together through a bench trial process and see what combinations we like the best from a flavor standpoint and a color standpoint,” he says.
He chooses which grapes to use in his winery’s rosés based on both color and other components like acidity and sugar content. In dry rosé, he often uses Cabernet Franc but has also tried Marquette and now Pinot Noir.
Both styles of rosé are popular with customers.
“Usually, it’s our best-selling wine by the glass during the summertime,” he says. “And our 2020 rosé, our dry rosé, was one of our best-selling wines year-round for us.”
‘Summer, Sunshine, and Relaxation’
McBride speculates that rosé is so popular because it can serve as a middle ground between red and white wine, in addition to being refreshing.
“It has components of both [red wine and white wine] — so it’ll have a little bit of structure, a little bit of tannin, a little bit of color that the red wine drinkers like, but it often presents more like a white wine, so it’s got good acidity, and usually it’s very crisp and refreshing,” he says. “We often see a couple that comes to the winery, and one of them likes red wine and one of them likes white wine, so their compromise is a rosé.”
Paul Hamelin, owner of Verterra Winery in Leland, says he likes making rosé for similar reasons.
“It generates the feeling of summer, sunshine, and relaxation,” he says.
He also points out the impressive range of possibilities with rosé.
“You literally can make a rosé out of most any red grape,” he says. “You can be quite versatile in making rosés.”
Verterra focuses on traditional dry rosés. Hamelin spent some time in the South of France, a region famous for dry rosé, and when he had the opportunity to start producing rosés at his winery using Michigan fruit, he jumped at the chance.
The winery now makes three dry rosés — Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot — and one sparkling dry rosé, a Chardonnay with Merlot for color. The rosés from the 2021 harvest will be released in Verterra’s tasting room in April.
The versatility of rosés means that as Michigan wine lovers’ tastes change, winemakers have room to explore other styles and varietals.
“We’re always branching out, making new styles, even if we’re 48 years old,” O’Keefe says of the winemaking team at Chateau Grand Traverse. “We’re not set in our ways. It’s always fun to experiment with new styles, and it will be interesting to see where consumer trends go.”