Frankenmuth, "Michigan's Little Bavaria," is a popular tourist destination known more as place to find good sauerbraten served with a stein of Heineken than as somewhere to discover the next impudent little Pinot Noir. Cristy Catlett (B'04) and Andrew Grimm (B'03), who manage the Frankenmuth tasting room of Leelenau County-based vineyard and winery Chateau de Leelenau, stand ready to help with just that kind of discovery.
"All I can say about our Pinot Noir is, 'Thank you, Sideways,' for promoting this kind of wine," says Grimm, CDL's tasting associate, of the hit 2004 movie. "We're fortunate to have a wine-maker from British Columbia with experience with reds in the northern climates. He's really learned how to harness the essence out of that grape in a short season."
In addition to his responsibilities at the tasting room, which also stocks such wine-related paraphernalia as stemmed glasses, bottle stoppers, corkscrews and packets of mulling spices, Grimm handles wholesale operations for about half of the lower peninsula. He's also bottled the vintner's barrel Chardonnay.
"This is a very hands-on group," notes Catlett, the winery's Frankenmuth tasting room manager. "We wear multiple hats. One day we'll be bottling wine, the next day we're landscaping." Also interior decorating. The two helped establish the warm atmosphere of the tasting room, which belies its short history, having just opened in January of 2005.
In addition to being a more centrally located hub for its wholesale operations, the Frankenmuth location presents an opportunity for a wider-range of both tourists and locals to experience the vintner's several varieties. Catlett says that the tasting room is doing exactly what it should - letting people make new wine discoveries.
"People who prefer dry wines are surprised they enjoy something sweet, like our Late Harvest Riesling," she says. "People who don't think they like Chardonnay are shocked when they like the Chardonnay Sur Lie, which is made in a steel tank and so it doesn't have the oak flavor. It's a good feeling when you help someone find a wine they enjoy."
This past year, the winemaker released its Pinot Noir just in time to ride the wave of the Sideways-inspired popularity. And while both Grimm and Catlett stress the solid business skills they learned as part of the Music Industry Management degrees they earned at Ferris, they're also qualified to give you a critique of the film's soundtrack while pointing out their Pinot's best qualities.
For more about Chateau de Leelenau, visit www.chateaudeleelanau.com.