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Leelanau Cellars
by
K.L. Sullivan

Summary: Leelanau Cellars is the largest Michigan winery according to in-state sales data. Recently a new tasting room opened, highlighting their wines. The winery is currently located a short drive from the tasting room but soon will move to a renovated fruit processing building about two miles away. Be sure to enjoy the view from the tasting room windows of Omena Bay.

Leelanaucellars tasting roomLeelanau Cellars dock on Traverse BayApproaching the Leelanau Cellars tasting room close to Traverse Bay, one has a lovely view of the bay. Drive just past the tasting room to the driveway leading to a parking lot at the edge of Traverse Bay.

The wine tasting room shares a building with a restaurant. From large windows set into a corner of the tasting room, the view of the bay is outstanding. One almost has the feeling that the tasting room extends over a portion of the bay.

Leelanau Cellars tasting roomThe tasting room focuses on the Leelanau Cellars wines but a small area was set aside for jams and preserves, dried or chocolate covered cherries, cherry BBQ sauce, cherry Garlic Dip oil and cherry hot sauce. Also available were African handmade utensils, fish bowls, bowls and salad spoon sets.

Tony Lentych, General Manager, is informative about the wine production at Leelanau Cellars. He believes that the winery has “a price and wine for absolutely everyone.” The winery produces many reasonably priced wines. On the subject of corks, the winery continues to use corks and Tony believes that Leelanau Cellars “may be one of the last to go” completely to screw caps.

 

Leelanau CellarsWe met Nichole Birdsall, the first credentialed woman winemaker in Michigan, who knows how to bring the varietal out in a wine. Nicole is from California where she worked for several wineries and received her enology degree as well as a degree in nutritional science. She collaborates on all levels during the winemaking process. Nicole led us on a tour of the winery. We tasted several of her wines from tanks and barrels. She is passionate about the wines she produces. The wines produced by Leelanau Cellars are limited only by the hardiness of the vines due to the cold winter climate on Leelanau Peninsula.

vineyard at Leelanau CellarsThe property for the vineyards was originally a cherry farm. Michael Jacobson planted the vineyards in 1974. Michael was the second person in the county to replace a cherry orchard with grapevines.

Today the winery sells about 97,000 cases of wine and needs to purchase grapes and other fruits. The production of such a large amount of wine means they have a large work force that stays busy all year long. On the day of our visit in January, workers were bottling wine.

Leelanau Cellars winesBack at the winery tasting room, we tasted several Leelanau wines. We continued to enjoy the view of the water. In addition to grape wines there was also a focus on fruit wines. We tasted Merlot Neuveau 2007, which was aged for eight weeks. Released in December, this wine was light bodied with a light red color. It was a food friendly red that is good for white wine drinkers and a good celebration wine. Sleeping Bear Red was medium bodied with soft tannins. This wine had a blend of Baco Noir, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  It was fruity with some earthiness and had very soft tannins. Merlot 2006 had a red stone fruit aroma and flavor with tannins on the finish. The winery produced two “Cold House” fruit wines – cherry and peach. They were produced by freezing the fruit first then extracting the juice. The Peach “Cold House” Fruit Wine won a Silver medal. It had a dark gold color with a peach nose and flavor. It had a strong peach aftertaste and was semi-sweet. The Cherry “Cold House” Fruit Wine won a Gold Medal. It had a sweet and tart balance with a nice cherry finish. The Raspberry port had a sweet raspberry nose and taste. Drink this wine with dark chocolate.

Stop by the Leelanau Cellars tasting room and try some of their more than 35 wines. As Tony said, “Wine is about having fun.”

Leelanau Cellars Tasting Room
5019 North West Bay Shore Drive
Omena, Michigan

Tasting Room N 45° 03.309’  W 085°  35.310'


 

                                  

 
 
   

 


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