This week’s photo comes from the vineyards of Chateau de Leelanau in Traverse City, Michigan.
During my great weekend in Traverse City, we were treated to a tour of Grand Traverse Distillery. As part of the tour, we not only got to learn about the vodka and whiskey-making processes, but also got to try a variety of different spirits along the way. I always enjoy touring distilleries and breweries when I travel because more often than not they come at little or no charge!
Since vodka is one of my favorite spirits, I found it very interesting to learn how it’s made. Grand Traverse Distillery uses locally grown corn, wheat, and rye to distill all their spirits. Here’s a quick rundown of the process. It starts out looking like a very fine oatmeal. Sugar is added in the reaction tank (on the far left in the picture above). It sits for several hours, is cooled to 75 degrees for fermentation, and then the yeast is added. It typically takes 7 days for the sugar to convert into alcohol, but the longer it distills the more flavor it’s going to have later on. The concoction is then boiled to get the ethanol off. The distillation produces 3 parts: the heads, hearts, and tails. The hearts are the best and most desired part. The distiller performs a taste test to see when the vodka starts to become sweet and then switches from heads to hearts. Tails would be equivalent to rubbing alcohol. About 10% good alcohol can be salvaged from the leftover and the rest is then used for cleaning.
Per federal law, vodka has to be distilled at 190 proof, but is cut down to 80 proof to sell. The entire process from grain to bottle can take place in as little as 6 weeks, but is usually closer to 2 months.
After a great first day at Toast of the Season, how would the wineries of Day 2 compare? On the second day, we visited several more vineyards and had some exceptional food and wine pairings out on the Leelanau Peninsula.
Our first stop on the wine trail (9th for the weekend) was Brengman Brothers Vineyards. We began with their Riesling Med Dry paired with a vanilla cream puff with caramel. The Riesling had a sour taste, maybe a hint of grapefruit that went well with the cream puff. We sampled several wines here. The White Wine (yes, that was the name) was excellent. The Late Harvest Riesling had a nice flavor, with hints of honey and apricot. I had to try some cherry wines over the weekend since that’s one of the things Traverse City is famous for. The cherry wine here was both sweet and tart with a nice finish. We concluded this stop with their Runaway Hen Syrah. It was peppery with a dark chocolate finish and paired with a spicy chili. Chilis seemed to be a favorite for wine pairings because of the acidity in the tomatoes.
The next stop on our tour was Chateau de Leelanau. We also had chili here paired with the Solem Farm Red, a peppery yet still slightly sweet wine. My favorite wine here was the Riesling Harvest Select, which contained a blend of citrus, pear, and peach to form a light, everyday kind of wine. The was one of the wines I purchased over the weekend.