What’s Grown at Brys Estate Stays at Brys Estate
There are not many Midwest wineries consistently producing 100% estate grown wines. That’s because growing wine grapes in the center of the U.S. can be a risky proposition. When grapes fail to ripen or are damaged by the weather, imported grapes or juice are often a winery’s only option.
Despite the challenges, for the fourth year in a row, Brys Estate Winery in the Old Mission Peninsula of Michigan will supply all the grapes for all their wines. In keeping with the true definition of “estate grown,” all Brys Estate wine is made from Old Mission vineyards that the Brys Estate owns and manages.
According to Patrick Brys, operations manager at family owned Brys Estate, “I am happy to report that the last three vintages (2010, 2011, 2012) have been 100% estate grown, and it appears that our 2013 vintage will also be 100% estate grown.”
Brys was quick to point out that if mother nature throws a meteorological ‘curveball,” the winery will bring in outside fruit or juice to supply demand. “In 2009, we had a disastrous growing season,” he said, ” and as a result we supplemented our estate fruit with juice from outside of Michigan and the wine labels were all changed accordingly.”
Brys thinks that being 100% estate grown contributes to the success of the eight year old winery. Brys Estate sales are up 35%-40% during 2013 and gross revenues have doubled since ’09. Total production is now between 8,000 to 8,500 cases per year.
To meet the increased demand, Brys is actively considering planting six-to-eight additional acres of grapes next year. This planting would be on top of the 5.9 acres of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay that were planted in June of 2013.
Brys said that any new acreage is almost certain to include more Pinot Blanc vines. Brys Estate Pinot Blanc won Best of Class awards at both the 2013 Pacific Rim Wine Competition and the 2013 Riverside International Wine Competition. Currently, the winery produces only 400 cases of Pinot Blanc each year and the wine sells out quickly.
And it’s not only the vineyard that’s growing at Brys Estate. Next year, there are plan is to build an elevated deck along the eastern side of the winery with improved views of the vineyard and the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. While the project is still in the design phase, the Brys are hoping to add 40-50 additional outdoor seats for 2014.
‘Wineries around here are judged on their views and now visitors will be able to see just how great our view is,” Brys said.
Brys Estate is another Northern Michigan winery seeking to dispel the notion that quality red wine cannot be produced on the shores of Lake Michigan at 45 degrees north.
See related story: Black Star Boldly Goes Where Pinot Has Not Gone Before
Fifty-percent of the vineyard is planted in red grapes; Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Brys Estate averages around 3.5 tons per acre on the entire 31 acre vineyard, proof that red grape yields in Northern Michigan are sufficient to support commercial production.
“We have also been successful with changing people’s minds about red wines from this area,” Brys said. ‘Our site and Coenraad Stassen (Brys Estate’s winemaker) combine to make some amazing wines.”
The emphasis on red wines comes partially from Eileen Brys, Patrick’s mother and part of the husband and wife ownership team at Brys Estate. Patrick said his mother has always favored a more delicate Burgundian style of wine over fruitier, more alcoholic California wines.
The higher acid, cool climate wines of Michigan are tailor made for food. To showcase how well its wine pair with simple foods, the Winery features charcuterie and cheese on the patio where all wines are sold by the glass.
Ninety percent of Brys Estate wine is sold either in the tasting room of through the wine club, which is now approaching 1,500 members. (Brys reports the FedEx recently dedicated a full size semi-tractor trailer truck exclusively to handle wine club shipments.)
Between 60,000 and 80,000 people visit the upscale tasting room annually. (Brys Estate is not the winery to visit in flip flops and an old tee-shirt.) Bottle prices range from $15 for Riesling blends (Riesling/Pinot Noir and Riesling/Pinot Gris) to $40 for 750 ml of Merlot.
An unusual Riesling ice wine is $75 for a half bottle. Brys Estate’s ice wine has something of a transposed chemistry with 7% sugar and 13.9% alcohol. As a low sugar ice wine, it won a Best of Class at the 2013 Michigan Wine Show. In the tasting room, the ice wine is paired with a bite of cheesecake for $5 which is a bargain.
Brys Estate is open year round.