Believe it or not, Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is home to not only one wine country, but two. You’ve got the neighboring Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in the far north, and then you’ve got the vineyards sprinkled around small towns like Berrian Springs, Union Pier, and Paw Paw in the southwest corner of the state. It’s an industry with well over 100 years of rich history, encompassing bathtubs and oak barrels, wild grapes and classy Montmorency cherries.
And with New Year’s Eve nigh upon us, it’s time to crack open yet another quality Michigan vino, St. Julian Winery’s Michigan Cherry Wine.
St. Julian dates back to the prohibition era, setting up shop in Windsor, Ontario, right across river from Detroit. It was the heady days of The Purple Gang, when bootlegged hooch was big business and alcohol content was king. Many a barrel was undoubtedly smuggled over the border to sake the unquenchable thirst of Detroit drunkards, making millionaires out of two-bit thugs.
After prohibition ended with the passage of the 21st amendment, the company moved to its present location in Paw Paw, closer to the fertile vineyards of Michigan’s historic valleys, gently sloping, unadorned lands on the banks of languid, muddy rivers and ice-cold lakes. OK, so it isn’t exactly Tuscany, but what’d you expect?
St. Julian artfully blends three varieties of tart, Michigan-grown cherries in its cherry wine from the region: Montmorency, Balleton, and Meteor. Michigan produces three-quarters of the country’s tart cherries, so I guess you could say we’re the tart cherry capital of the United States. Typically, people make pies and juice with ’em, or even eat ’em raw – only a few are smart enough to ferment ’em to make a delicious, distinctive wine.
Count Michiganders among that select group.
Cherry wine is considered a dessert wine, a digestif to be slowly sipped after a filling meal. After all, cherries are sweet. However, what makes Michigan’s cherry wines unique is that the sweetness is offset with the natural tart qualities of the state’s common varieties. It adds just enough character to make the wine beguiling rather than cloying.
Enough, perhaps, to make it a meal in and of itself.
So this New Year’s, instead of getting puke drunk on champagne and getting herpes from shared mixed drinks, consider sharing a relaxed evening with St. Julian’s Michigan Cherry Wine. You might just wake up in your own bed this time.