Shannon and Cortney Casey—a couple of local wine kids who are indeed technically young enough to be my kids—have come up with a bad-ass way of promoting Michigan wines.
Two ways, actually.
The first time I encountered them was via their video/podcast website, Michigan By The Bottle. Established in 2009, MBTB is dedicated entirely to wines from Michigan, which the Caseys rightly believe is both under-represented on the national scene and under-appreciated here at home. Their videos feature winemaker interviews, travel diaries and visual tasting notes and are meant to target what Cortney and Shannon consider an untapped, state-wide wealth of potential fans of decent Michigan wines.
Naturally, they have their work cut out for them considering that Michigan is, for the most part, composed of farmers and homeboys and factory workers who have not yet really begun to smoke-out the pleasures in sophisticated wine.
If they never do, it won’t be for MBTB’s lack of a full-court press.
The Tasting Room
So, in December, 2012, they opened a unique tasting room in Shelby Township, joining forces with six high-profile Michigan wineries: Chateau Aeronautique (Jackson); Chateau de Leelanau (Suttons Bay); Domaine Berrien Cellars (Berrien Springs); Gill's Pier Vineyard & Winery (Northport); Peninsula Cellars (Traverse City); Sandhill Crane Vineyards (Jackson).
By the cities noted, folks who understand the various Michigan microclimates will note that all four major Michigan wine trails, Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula and Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail, are represented.
Likewise, all six wineries are family-run, which, to the Caseys, was an important factor in forming the partnerships.
For background, Cortney is a lithe, athletic young woman—evidence of her obsession with distance running—and also a hell of a good writer. In fact, prior to opening the tasting room, she was a reporter C & G Newspapers, covering Sterling Heights and Macomb County. The articles on the MBTB website are not only well written, but a tad more professional than those you might find on this one.
Her husband Shannon is a big, intense fellow; I’m not sure if he can act, but if he can, I’d cast him as Falstaff in Henry IV in a cocaine heartbeat. By day he is sales director at BBC Title Agency in Royal Oak; by night, he can be found pouring wine at the tasting room. It must be said, Shannon: Such a burning-the-candle-at-both-ends work ethic is most un-Falstaffian of you.
The room itself is slick, clean and personal, with a long, wooden, L-shaped bar, small tables for those who prefer not to belly up, and one wall lined with hundreds of wine bottles from the winery consorts, available for prices—like those attached to most Michigan wines, which are pretty close to phenomenal.
The only personal issue I have with the place is that it is on the opposite side of town from me; I’d love to hang out there more often.
The Tasting Menu
Michigan By The Bottles’ tasting menu options are somewhat unusual too—however delightful. Full Flights come with five 2 oz. samples, plus Flight Bites (small plates of cheese and chocolate). Mini Flights are available as three 2 oz. samples; you can add Flight Bites for a nominal charge.
The night I showed up, I tucked into the following:
2008 Manigold Vineyard Gewurztraminer from Peninsula Cellars: I figured that if they had the stones to list an ’08 gewurtz, I had the stones to give it a shot. From most wineries outside of Alsace, of course, a five-year-old gewürztraminer would be seriously beyond its shelf life, but this one remained solid and complex with no real sign of fading. Pretty floral perfume on the nose and dry, full-bodied notes of peach and melon on the palate.
2011 Marsanne from Berrien Cellars: I love this winery, which I actually tripped over for the first time when completely lost and wandering around Berrien Springs in a foul mood. They love unusual (for Michigan) varietals like roussanne, lemberger and marsanne. This one showed citrus, stone fruit, honey, green apple and a hint of almond.
2011 Pinot Noir from Chateau de Leelanau: This tough-to-grow, often fickle varietal has made remarkable strides in Michigan, especially as vines age and vinification technique improves. Chateau de Leelanau’s version covers all the expected notes of pinot with integrity: Sweet currant and black cherry flavors nestling in a leathery backbone.
2011 Pinot Gris from Chateau Aeronautique: I was surprised to learn that they could grow anything in Jackson besides felons and Republicans, let alone pinot gris. This proved very impressive, slightly sweet with complex aromas of honeysuckle and pear and a palate which includes pear, apple, nectarine and a bit of caramel on the finish. The wine proved a revelation—now I wish they’d reveal the origin of their odd moniker.
2011 Riesling from Gills’ Pier: Had to go with this one since riesling is among Gill’s Pier’s main raison d'être. I like theirs particularly because, for some strange viticultural reason, they always seem to show several nuance notes unusual for riesling. 2011 is no exception, leading with honey, pineapple and creamed peach on the nose followed by somewhat more predictable flavors of evergreen, apple and the elusive, but desirable petrol that a lot of Michigan rieslings can’t seem to locate.
In all, a cool east side destination joint run by a cool couple who are obviously very much in love—that’s why I figured that Valentine’s Day would be a good one to give them and Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room a well-deserved plug.
Supporting the state with every sip!
Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room
45645 Hayes, Shelby Township