After seven years in New England, I relocated to southeast Michigan in December 2014. Despite having been born and raised in Detroit (proud graduate of Cass Tech High School!), Michigan hasn’t been home for more years than I am willing to admit to.
Relocating in winter while also working 100% from home is not conducive to exploration – my first several months’ experiences were limited to weekly grocery store runs, babysitting for my sister, and an occasional weekend movie with cousins.
So with a few days vacation in late May I decided it was time to learn my new home state of Michigan the way I learned my last – one winery at a time. With a full tank of gas and a randomly chosen winery on Michigan’s Pioneer Wine Trail, I headed out for what turned out to be an auspicious start to my latest Win(e)ding Roads adventures.
Housed in a beautifully restored 1870s schoolhouse in the heart of the Irish Hills, only a few short miles from the Michigan International Speedway, Cherry Creek Winery and Vineyards is a great find – neither the winery nor the wines disappoint.
Founded more than 15 years ago by Denise and John Burtkas, Cherry Creek Winery has two locations, the original in Albion, MI and the Old Schoolhouse, which opened about 10 years ago. All wines are 100% Michigan grapes sourced from the Burtkas’s vineyards in southeast Michigan and through partnerships with vineyards along the Lake Michigan coastline.
With a menu that includes reds, whites, rosés and a fruit wine (Michigan Cherry, of course), picking only five for this first tasting was the hard part…
Wood Duck White (Dry Riesling)
I’ve found myself more interested in Rieslings recently, particularly as I’m finding more local wineries making a dry Riesling, instead of the often too sweet versions that seemed to be everywhere only a few short years ago.
The Wood Duck White is a really nice wine. Light, crisp, with just a hint of grapefruit on the finish, I found it soft in the mouth and very drinkable. The fruit and acid are nicely balanced, and the wine has a nice full body which gives it structure. A great wine for a lazy summer afternoon.
It was one of the bottles I brought home with me, and we uncorked it last night pairing it with grilled Lake Superior whitefish and fresh Michigan corn. The wine complimented the fish beautifully, and the corn’s sweetness brought out some of the wine’s lightly floral notes.
I loved the nose on this wine – notes of citrus, honeysuckle (perhaps? I am not as good differentiating florals as I should be), the nose evoked light spring breezes. In the mouth, the wine was sharp, but not tart, with citrus notes that hit the edges of my tongue. The wine also evolved in the mouth, starting out smooth and somewhat quiet in the front of the mouth only to open up on the finish.
Moving on to the Reds, I started with the Merlot, which came highly recommended by my tasting room host, Jenna, as one of her personal favorites. The nose was fruity, predominately cherry, very reminiscent of the red wines I found in Connecticut (in fact, I once participated in a blind tasting of Merlots at McLaughlin Vineyards in Connecticut and was the only person to correctly identify the McLaughlin Merlot, which I did solely from the nose).
In the mouth, the wine is more subtle than I expected – I think the nose misled me, and I expected a more fruit-forward wine such as the ones I had been drinking in Connecticut. I found this wine to be more herbaceous than fruity, medium-bodied with mineral notes and an interesting slight chalky finish.
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chancellor Noir, this was my favorite of the afternoon. Deeper nose than the Merlot but with similar notes of cherry, the wine is smooth and rich. In the mouth, the wine has notes of stone fruits but not so strong that the wine becomes “jammy.” Brought a bottle of this home as well, and am looking forward to opening it later this summer, perhaps paired with grilled steaks or lamb chops.
100% estate grown at the Old Schoolhouse location, the Frontenac was the most interesting wine of my visit. Served chilled, the wine had strong notes of cranberry – which I admit, I don’t come across often. Fruit forward with a strong but smooth finish. The wine wasn’t available for sale the day I was there, but it’s definitely worth a return visit later in the year for another taste.
In addition to the wines, Cherry Creek also has a small gift shop featuring locally made sauces, jams and jellies and a Michigan cherry salsa which is highly addictive! The winery hosts local musicians from 5-8pm Saturdays through mid-September and will be opening a cafe sometime this summer. The Burtkas have also recently launched the Grand River Brewery, in Jackson, Michigan featuring local craft beers, handcrafted spirits, and Cherry Creek wines.