Friday, June 19, 2020

Grape Spotlight: Michigan Blaufrankisch

"Blaufrankisch is a variety that has shown it can not just grow well here, but can also make stylistically unique wines that can stand out on a broader stage. It's a wine that is exciting to introduce to people as it opens up a different definition to them of what a great red wine can be", Drew Perry, winemaker at Aurora Cellars
Blaufränkisch was the prized red grape in the Austro-Hungarian Empire having originated in Lower Styria, now part of Slovenia, and planted across the Carpathian Basin. Its name translates to 'Blue Frankish' or perhaps 'Blue Francs' based on either the blue coats or currency used by Napoleon’s troops after their conquest of Vienna. Blaufränkisch's offspring, Zweigelt, is the largest planted red grape in Austria whereas Blaufränkisch is centered in Burgenland - just across the border from Hungary and the Magyar plantings of Kékfrankos. From this Capital of Kékfrankos near Sopron, the grape spread where it is now the most planted red grape variety in Hungary -- Szekszard and Villany in particular. In Germany, Blaufränkisch is known as Lemberger most likely from the Lower Styria town of Lemberg pri Šmarju where the grape was apparently export to Deutschland.

In the United States, the grape is labeled either Lemberger or Blaufränkisch, with the later adopted in Michigan.  In the Great Lake state, Blaufränkisch is planted primarily in the northern wine regions of the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula - regions suitable for this late-ripening and cold-tolerant grape. Aurora Cellars has four acres planted in this last peninsula, the first three planted in 2007. According to Perry, the grape requires a long ripening season because "it tends to stall a bit at the end" and proper canopy management encourages early skin development and provides airflow that reduces disease pressure.  One result of this process is the Aurora Cellars 2016 Leelanau Peninsula Blaufrankisch ($34)  - aged 18 months in  French oak.  Like its Central European counterparts, this wine provided distinct black pepper notes upfront and a spicier pepper profile in the tail accompanied by a proper mouthfeel.  On the other hand, its fruit profile was dominated by blueberries as opposed to red or black cherries usually associated with Central Europe Blaufränkisch.  Nicely done.

Before Perry became the winemaker at Aurora, he was the assistant winemaker to Brian Ulbrich at Left Foot Charley. This winery grows Blaufränkisch at their Benzie vineyard (located on Lake Michigan) and at a new vineyard on the Old Mission Peninsula, in addition to sourcing from other small family-owned vineyards.  Ulbrich believes that the grape is well-suited for Michigan because it’s relatively winter hardy. With bud break arriving early and its late ripening, assuming no spring frost, then the grape has a long season to ripen. In the case of the Left Foot Charley 2018 Blaufränkisch ($22) - a blend from both the two vineyards mentioned above - this means a brighter fruit-forward profile showing juicy red cherries and developing structure.  Little spice on the front end and finish leaving a refreshing and friendly wine.

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