Take my advice and read this twice:
Brys Dry Ice is gold-medal nice; and Patrick Brys is that in a trice—as sisters Katie and Stephanie Brys can likewise entice.
No, I’m not channeling the ghost of Dr. Seuss; it’s a mnemonic device (okay, I’ll stop rhyming now) to ensure that you remember how to pronounce ‘Brys’. Unlike me, who forgot and made the mistake of pronouncing it like that Jewish covenant ceremony wherein they lop off the fleshy little tchotchke from a malchick prick on the eighth day of a young boy’s life, then hold a big feast where the main course is, often, unfortunately, ironically, brysket.
Of course, the Bryses could take the easy way out and simply change the spelling to Bryce, but in that case, somebody might mistake this cool, supernally-attractive Michigan family with that deranged Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper who blew a such a bipolar gasket on Friday night (over going 0 for 4; welcome to the Majors, psycho) that he hit himself in the head with his own bat.
Personally, I’d rather be confused for Hassidic foreskin than for loony-tunes Harper.
Far more mellow, engaging, bright and non-violent is Patrick Brys—the Prodigal Son returned to the family fold after many years of college-going, house buying and wild, wild West wandering. Armed with a marketing degree and a world-view, Patrick became Brys Estate Vineyard Operations Manager in 2010, and also, the porte-parole de famille who deals with squirrely wine writers (me) when we show up unannounced and want an interview.
Acquitting himself admirably, Patrick sat me on the beautiful, if season-dependent patio annexed to the tasting room—a brick and mahogany gem—and ran through a series of current Brys releases.
But First, Some Background Noise:
Eileen and Walter Brys entered the wine biz via the most common route: Health insurance. Well, maybe by ‘common’ I mean ‘absolutely anomalous’, but it is true that a lot of retiring Michigan wine lovers (some of whom are in the insurance biz) dream about opening a winery—and that far fewer actually have the chutzpah to do it. The Bryses searched Texas, California, Oregon and New York before pulling the ol’ Dorothy-Gale-From-Kansas, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard…”
Settling on an eighty-acre 1890’s homestead halfway up the Old Mission Peninsula, the brace of Brys unleashed their first vintage in 2005 to accolades, kudos and laurels—even a few medals. Renovation of the once-derelict property has been ongoing, and the property now boasts a guest house, tasting room and 32 acres committed to vinifera va-va-voomeries.
Brys Estate Dry Riesling, Old Mission, 2011, about $20: A characteristic sweet/tart Michigan riesling; juicy with mandarin orange and apricot and shored up by lemon-lime acidity; the wine shows the sort of refined elegance that has become a hallmark of winemaker Coenraad Stassen’s style. Riesling harvest is usually three to four tons per acre—a bit much to create a really deep and complex example, but for the purpose at hand—which I suspect is a user-friendly food wine—the bill is well fit.
Brys Estate ‘Naked’ Chardonnay, Old Mission, 2011, around $22: Now that the vines are maturing, one surprise (to me) about Michigan chardonnay is the emergence of distinct, definable tropical fruit flavors. This one, wisely left unoaked, shows a profound pastiche of pineapple, banana, mango, guava and kiwi; this is a wine to prove that Old Mission may indeed have a unique handle on this often ‘blank canvas’ varietal.
Brys Estate Pinot Blanc, Old Mission, 2011, about $24: A beautiful, envelope-pushing rarity: Michigan pinot blanc. Now nearly bullied out of Burgundy, the varietal has found new life in the New World, and here produces a typically nose-neutral wine with integrated acidity, pear and apple notes and a nutty (almond) finish.
Brys Estate Pinot Noir/Riesling, Old Mission, 2011, around $15: Any time a truly weird blend like this comes across the board, my hypnapompic image is of a winemaker saying, ‘What the heck are we going to do with the leftover pinot noir and riesling?’ No idea if this is the case here, but the wine comes across as simple, succulent and strange: Traces of tangerine, strawberry, cherry and cinnamon lace a rosé-esque blush; it does not appear to have aspirations beyond being a quaffable porch-pounder, but the wine world is plenty big enough for these.
Brys Estate Cabernet Franc, Old Mission, 2010, about $35: A Tasters Guild International award winner, this driza-bone (listed at 0.00% residual sugar—for real?) cab franc shows the Northern face of this early-ripening varietal. Less acidic than cabernet sauvignon, it is often used as a secondary or even tertiary blending grape in France, but here it produces lone-varietal wines of noblesse and polish. The rich Brys 2010, from five low-yield acres, displays bright blackberry, plum, oak spice and vanilla along with an appealing tension between sweet and savory fruit notes.
Brys Estate Dry Ice, Old Mission, 2008, around $75: December 7, 1941 may live in infamy, but December 7, 2008 shows a bit more promise. That’s the chilly evening that riesling was picked for the Brys Estate’s signature ice wine. With residual sugar of 6.8%, Dry Ice is indeed dry by dessert wine standards, and is a congenial concentration of baked apple, dried pineapple, nutmeg, apricot nectar and lively, grapefruit-flavored acidity.
Meanwhile, the gorgeous Brys girls have moved back to Texas, but Walter Brys’s niece Judy Shaughnessy has picked up some of the slack as Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager.
Which for clan Brys wound up being a perfectly nice splice, any way you roll the…
Ivories, shakers, tombstones, Boggle bits… anything but ‘dice’.