So it Begins
Our own Mark Powers of Uncorked Monthly, along with his wife and 21-month-old son Owen, recently visited the Chateau Chantal winery in Traverse City, Michigan. Owen was fascinated by the vines (he still has his souvenir stick) as well as the machinery: the new grape harvester. The hedger. The leaf remover.
Mom and Dad, however, were more interested in the wine and the stories behind the wine. (Yep. Sounds like Uncorked Monthly.) They spent an afternoon sipping vino and sitting on Chateau Chantal’s terrace overlooking the idyllic vineyard with winemakers Mark Johnson and Brian Hosmer. Conversation rambled pleasantly from wine to winemaking to…reality TV?
Powers had gotten wind of a forthcoming TV series called Wine Warriors, bringing the world of winemaking into the living rooms of reality TV junkies across the nation. But what did Chateau Chantal have to do with it? He had to ask.
It turns out the show producers made a visit to Chateau Chantal, hoping to include the winery in its series
“I didn’t make it into it,” Hosmer admitted, “because they were looking for problems, and they came in, and it was like…”
“Brian has no problems,” Johnson interrupted.
Hosmer agreed. “We’re so good at what we do. They were looking for issues. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We’re cleaning a tank.’ That’s not good TV.”
The guys thought being included in the show might be fun, but it also meant being followed around all day as they worked.
Johnson imitated a producer from the show. “‘Can you do that again?’ No, I’m not gonna do it again. I just did it. Why would I do it again?”
“We’ve already transferred the wine once,” laughed Hosmer. “We can’t do it again!”
Still, they went along for the reality ride, because as Johnson said, “It gets the idea into people’s heads that, wow, that really is a legitimate industry in Michigan. I think it would be good for the industry but to date, no network has picked it up.”
(At least not that we know of. We’ll be on the lookout, and we have a feeling you will be, too.)
Escaping the melodrama
But Johnson and Hosmer didn’t get into winemaking for the melodrama. In fact, Johnson was drawn to winemaking in an effort to escape melodrama. “I worked for the city of Hamburg, Germany for four years as a social worker,” he shared with The Powers’. “I was on the street a lot. I went through every bad thing it seems you can imagine. It was a city of two million people. I was working primarily with teenagers. Young Germans and Young Turks.
“The Germans, twenty years prior to that, had started to bring in Turkish ‘guest workers’, they called them. They came and they were making money hand over fist compared to what they were making in Turkey. Then they brought their wives and started having families, and these kids were growing up speaking Turkish at home, having to learn German in school and on the street, not feeling really Turkish when they would go home once a year for a four-week vacation with the family…and yet the German kids were not gonna let them think that they were at all German, because they were Turks. There was a lot of animosity on both sides.
“It was a tough road to hoe and I literally burned out. I had some murders that I had to deal with, and after four years I said to my wife, ‘…I need a sabbatical. I’m gonna take a year off and I want to work physically. I don’t want it to be hard…I want it to be mind-numbing. And that describes the wine business. Just kidding!”
Johnson went into the German apprenticeship system and worked in a small winery that had been in the same family for three generations. “It was a forty-acre vineyard, 12,000-case winery where everybody had to do everything and I really fell in love with it.”
Eventually, Johnson wound up studying at the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute in Germany’s Rheingau region. Geisenheim is the only German institution to award higher academic degrees in winemaking. “When I left there, I was in the unique situation of being an American with that degree, and there were only two others in the world, and so there were two job offers…in California. And my thinking was, ‘that’s just too damn easy’. It’s always hot and sunny. Every year is the same.”
Johnson enjoyed his ten years in Germany where he got to see that every vintage was different, and he knew that would be the case in Northern Michigan as well. “It’s what keeps you going,” he said. “It’s that challenge and it doesn’t ever get boring.”
Hosmer jokes that he “grew up in the wine mecca of Flint (Michigan),where (if it) didn’t come in a forty-ounce, it didn’t really exist.”
Hosmer didn’t discover wine until he was in college and traveled in Europe as a teaching assistant on a “study abroad” trip. “I became my professor’s wine procurer,” he divulged. “That was the job. He was an Italian, so he didn’t know how to eat if there wasn’t bread or wine on the table…(it was) like not having a fork. What are you gonna do?”
Hosmer worked in a research winery overseas until his professor told him to leave Europe because he had “to spend the summer where the grapes grow.” So Hosmer went to Michigan. Johnson eventually hired Hosmer to work at Chateau Chantal in 2007.
Both winemakers enjoy their profession for the same reasons.
“It’s the diversity,” said Johnson. “I’m, not just doing one thing…I can’t imagine just sitting in an office. I can’t imagine just being a farmer. And I don’t mean ‘just being a farmer’ as a negative thing. But I enjoy people way too much.”
Hosmer agreed. “I get to do the chemistry stuff, which I enjoy…but then occasionally when you see people, like Mark’s saying…they’re on vacation and they’re happy to see you.”
Chateau Chantal wines
Then the guys were ready to talk about Chateau Chantal wines – like their 2013 Late Harvest Riesling and 2013 Semi-Dry Riesling, which Johnson described as “the late teens/twenties woman…redhead…full of life and vivacious, ready for anything and lookin’ for a good time.”
Chateau Chantal also offers a 2012 Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay and a 2013 Unoaked Chardonnay. “A chardonnay (is) more of a mature woman. Refined. Not much make-up, not a lot of jewelry. Just very elegant and quite sure of herself; knows who she is and what she wants and what she’s doin’.”
Some might say, what’s wine without food? Before departing, the Powers’ were invited to participate in Chateau Chantal’s fall 2014 wine and food pairing taste-test. After sampling three options, the winning duo was pancetta-wrapped salmon with a shitake and crimini oyster sauce paired with their Proprietor’s Reserve Pinot Noir. This item will be added to Chateau Chantal’s autumn menu for their unique food-and-wine events, such as their Sensory Treat Tours and Wine Education Dinners.
For more information on Chateau Chantal in Traverse City, Michigan and to purchase wine, visit www.ChateauChantal.com.
By: Uncorked Monthly