To many wine drinkers (and writers) the world is flat. Beyond Bordeaux there is a large sea with only a small island called California visible across it. But wine is made elsewhere in the world and elsewhere in the United States. Where, for instance, do you find Chateau Grand Travers? In Michigan, that's where, about 250 miles northwest of Detroit on a peninusla that juts into the Grand Travers bay of Lake Michigan.
It is Michigan's only 100 percent vinifera vineyard and owner Ed O'Keefe made some 8,000 gallons of wine this past fall from 3-year-old vines. This fall he predicts a yield of 30,000. The bulk of the vines are either riesling or chardonnay, though there is some zinfandel, too, and one day O'Keefe hopes to have 120 acres under cultimation. In the meantime, he says he has "kept myself alive" by making generic apple and cherry wines.
There are two reasons to spotlight Chateau Grand Travers.
First, while the peninsula site provides warmer weather than is normal in Michigan, it still becomes very cold at times. O'Keefe claims his vines were exposed to temperatures as low as minus 9 degrees (for half an hour) without damage. If his vines continue to thrive, they will provide strong evidence for those who are trying to further the cause of vinifera as vines that can withstand extremes in temperature.
Second, the wines themselves, at least the riesling and chardonnay I tasted, are of remarkable quality. O'Keefe is enamored of German wines, so his approach, even with chardonnay, is to aim for fruity wines with lower than normal alcohol. He has succeeded already in making wine from botrytis-infected grapes, so one can look forward to Chateau Grand Travers of auslese or higher residual sugar quantity.
O'Keefe has great confidence in the potential of his vineyard. His problem, he said during a visit to Washington, has been financing. Establishing the vineyard has been a costly undertaking and evidently there are more than a few people in Michigan, including bankers, who are skeptical about the enterprise will succeed. "I wish someone in Michigan would show the understanding of vineyard problems that the Bank of America does in California, O'Keefe said.
The next trick is to find a way to get some of his wines onto retail shelves here.
Meanwhile, in California, grapevine plantings increased another 5,564 acres last year. Most are intended to produce white wines. The leaders were: French columbard, chenin blanc, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. For trivia fans, there were 327,133 acres of wine grape vines in the state at harvest time last fall.
Speaking of chardonnay, the Monterey Vineyard's respected winemaker, Richard Ptereson, made a strong statement about the grape's nomenclauture in his April newsletter. "Chardonnay should never be spelled with a Pinot," he wrote. "Unfortunately," he continued, "chardonnay in France has long been confused with pinot blanc - the true pinot, white-fruited variant of pinot noir. The chardonnay vine is more vigorous and fruitful than the true pinots and it begins new growth earlier in the spring than either pinot noir or pinot blanc. The chardonnay usually ripens early in the fall and has excellent winter hardiness - features which might must allow chardonnay wines to be produced (in future years) from, perhaps as many as 20 or 30 of the United States!"
Another noted California winemaker, Joe Heitz, has announced a second vineyard labeled cabernet sauvignon. A 1975 Heitz, "Fay Vineyard" cabernet will be sold, beginning in August to California retail stores and restaurants for $13.50 a bottle or $145.80 a case. By contrast, the Heitz "Martha's Vineyard" cabernet, probably the Napa Valley's most famous wine, is being sold at the winery for $270 per case for the 1972 and $226 per case for the 1973.
Much closer to home, in Middleburg, Va. to be exact, preparations are underway for the eighth annual Wine-Growing Seminar and Wine Festival and Vineyard Tour. The day-long event will take place on Staurday, Aug. 25. Five vineyards are scheduled as stops on the tour. The seminar, at which importer Peter M. F. Sichel will be a featured speaker, is to be held at the Piedmont Vineyards of Mrs. Thomas Furness.
Mrs. Furness, who is 81, achieved the distinction earlier this year of marketing Virginia's first chardonnay wine. It was from the 1977 vintage. Her vineyard, which was planted beginning in 1973, also contains semillon and seyval blanc vines.
Another Virginia wine first will be recorded this weekend when Shenandoah Vineyards celebrates its grand opening. The vineyard, the first in the Shenandoah Valley, is making both white and red table wines. It is located on Route 686 at Edinburgh, 30 miles south of Winchester. For further information call the vineyard at 703-984-8699.