The O’Keefes: Putting The Grand Into Traverse Bay

As ‘heavyweight’ is not a term to be used lightly, ‘grand’ must be accompanied by a certain level of grandeur, as in Grandfather Time, grandioso or Chateau Grand Traverse.

Meanwhile, Old Mission’s heavyweight title belt remains firmly around the midsection of Edward O’Keefe, Chateau Grand Traverse’s founder and CEO.

Alaska Jewel; Old Mission jewel: Take your pick.

The oldest and largest commercial winery in Michigan, Chateau Grand Traverse took its first inspired gulp of Northern air in 1974—the same year that frostbacks Alanis Morissette, Chris Pronger and that mawkish, snaggletoothed eskimo Jewel did.  The last three haven’t done much lately, but in 2011, the CGT ’10 Dry Riesling (a steal at $13) took double gold at the Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition.  And earlier this year, the 2012 International Eastern Wine Competition recognized the interesting Gamay Noir Reserve 2008 with a gold medal along with a ‘Best of Class’—although I wonder how many other four-year-old oak-aged gamays it had to face.

In any event, medal harvesting is nothing new to the winery, which now produces eighteen varietals drawn from four vineyards encompassing 120 acres of prime Grand Traverse Bay real estate, resulting in an annual output of around 85,000 cases.  Reds, whites and strikingly charming cherry wines notwithstanding, l’enfant terrible of CGT is riesling, about which Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia editor Tom Stevenson said, “All vintages of Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Rieslings are world class to one degree or another, but it is more difficult to make a dry style of Riesling and Chateau Grand Traverse’s Select Harvest and Whole Cluster Dry Rieslings are where the winery truly excels.”

Of course, winemaking is a team effort, from the humble fungal hyphae enlivening the soil to the dude or dudette who slaps the label on the bottle.  But in general, the exultation or the excoriation of a winery’s wares winds up in the lap of a single fellow or fellowette:

The vintner.

Do  Not Make Jokes About My Name

Bernd Croissant; burnt croissant: Take your pick.

“Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ smokin’ from the oven…” – Dough Boy, Pillsbury’s albino spokesmuffin.

“…Or a stein of wine from the vine….”  – Bernd Croissant, Chateau Grand Traverse’s winemaker.

Drinking Rhein wine from a stein is fine for German-born Bernd, who likely has riesling running through his veins.  A CGT fixture since 1993, he rightly prides himself in overseeing operations from the field to the press—and that’s even before he starts making wine.

Winemaker; trouble maker: Take your pick

Which frees up time for my man Sean O’Keefe, who also wears the title ‘winemaker’, to do some serious schmoozing as company veep and trade relations mouthpiece.  He’s the largish lout with the Rob Roy locks you’ll see at most shows and tastings touting the wonders of North Country riesling.  Although his name suggests that he should be slamming Guinness and making wine from shamrock juice, he is perfectly fluent in German, the result of an education at the Geisenheim Wine Institute in the Rheingau.  When Bernd and him get gabbing in Teutonic tongue twisters, you can bet that they are trying to sidle back toward world domination via the Gospel of Riesling.

Information Central?

Speaking of grandstanding grandiloquence (we were so), it is obvious from the end game that the whole O’Keefe operation is founded on a intelligent approach to ground, grapes and Grand Traverse grandiosity, so the winery’s generous offer (according to their shelf-shouter website) to answer any question is in perfect fit with their vinous mission statement.

“Being a family-owned company, it’s easy for everyone to be personally involved with our product and to keep up with what’s going on around the winery. We invite you to ask us anything – whether on a tour, at a tasting, or just passing through the web site – we are here to help and happy to do so.”

Okay, so here goes:

Dear Ed and Sean,

  1. Does the open mapping theorem imply the Baire category theorem?
  2. What moshling do you get in sesone 2 number 4?
  3. What’s the deal with the size of Ann Coulter’s adam’s apple?
  4. Is the Maclaurin series expansion of sin x related to the inclusion-exclusion principle?

While you are pondering responses suitable of your grand Grand Traverse gravitas, I will pop the cork on a bottle of one or more of the following:

Tasting Notes:

Chateau Grand Traverse Select Semi-Dry Riesling, Old Mission Peninsula, NV, around $12:  The San Francisco Chronicle folks liked this one—they festooned it with gold at their highfalutin’ 2008 competition.  The vintage-free label assures that there is consistency year to year; important, since this style of wine, which is called semi-dry but is really medium sweet, is a volkswein ideal for John and Jane Master Race Doe.  I note a floral nose with a slightly bruised apple sweetness; there’s peach and apricot in the mouth and a quick, soft finish.

Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling, OMP, 2010, around $14:  Blink and blink again, but it’s still there:  A full fifth of late harvest riesling for fourteen bucks.  Not a blockbuster of a vine-hanger by anybody’s stretch, this is nonetheless a remarkable mouthful for the price, filled with concentrated honey, apricot and toasty baked apple backed up with a sharp backbone of acidity.

Chateau Grand Traverse Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented, OMP, 2010, around $16:  In nicely balanced vintages like ‘10, Michigan’s one-time vinifera bugbear has begun to show remarkably well, emphasizing the tropical profile of this popular grape.  Juicy with pineapple and white peach up front with a touch of creamy, oak-driven lemon mousse on the finish.

Chateau Grand Traverse Gamay Noir Reserve, OMP, 2009, around $18:  So closely associated is this grape with Beaujolais in northern France that the California wine gestapo passed a law making it illegal to call the grape ‘gamay beaujolais’ after 2007.  Apparently, gamay noir is just fine.  The wine shows a depth of oomph a bit more pronounced than some of the very basic French versions; this wine maintains its plum/pepper characteristic behind plenty of purplish floral esters.  I prefer the tang to the tannin, but this wine has held up well after four months of barrel aging.  It may hold up yet longer, although personally, I would not tempt fate—I’d drink it tonight.

Chateau Grand Traverse Cherry Reserve, NV, around $19:  If life hands you cherries…?  Port-styled—meaning the addition of cherry brandy to halt fermentation and keep the stuff sweet—this is an astonishingly attractive dessert wine showcasing a clean, classic example of what late-picked Ballaton and Montmorency cherries are capable of.  Sufficiently hefty at 18.5% alcohol, it’s contains all the fruit and spices of cherry pie without the associated bloat and cholesterol…  Take your pick.

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