Marty Lagina founded Mari Vineyards in 1999 with the desire to plant varietals that one does not associate with Michigan like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and others along with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. He had friends come and help him the first weekend of planting and before anyone realized what had occurred the first seven rows were a mish-mash of varietals, before the other rows were planted properly. In 2006 the first vintage of what they now consider their flagship wine was made aptly named Row 7 and the grapes are unknown and unidentified. There is now sixty acres planted and identifiable, so the moral of the story is do not let friends, no matter how well-intentioned help you plant your estate without the proper supervision.
The grand opening of the winery was 17 June, 2016. Also, that year they also showcased the wine cave that they had carved into the side of a hill underneath where the tasting room and wine facility is now located. It is actually the only wine cave in Michigan and created with the concept of having the perfect location for storing wines as they age, just like what is found back in Europe. If you go to their website you can actually watch a time-lapse video of the wine cave being created. The first vintage was in 2004, so by now they have some history and experience in winemaking. They are also famed in the region for their Nellaserra Hoop Houses, which are free standing hot houses erected over certain parts of the vineyards to give certain varietals a little longer growing season. They were actually interested in the fact that I was taking notes for a blog, in spite of the touring busses and limousines ferrying the partiers that wanted to get drunk. They had thirteen wines that were being offered, plus they also insisted that I try the Row 7, that was not being offered. Their price for a sampling was similar to the other locations at five tastes for eight dollars. Excluding Row 7, there are currently twenty varietals growing on the estate. The building that houses the tasting room is beautiful and they offer special tours and special treatments if you book ahead. This old Raconteur is not that clever at planning anymore and we like being treated like a stranger.
The first wine that we tasted was Troglodyte Bianco 2016, a Friuli-inspired wine and according to our hostess the favorite wine of the staff. This wine was a blend of sixty percent Pinot Blanc, twenty-five percent Gruner Veltliner and the balance was Sauvignon Blanc. The three varietals were aged separately, with the Pinot Blanc and the Gruner Veltliner in Stainless Steel and the Sauvignon Blanc in German Oak. The three juices were then blended and aged on the lees for eight months in barrels and then one month in the bottle before release. One would think that this would be an aromatic bomb, but it was very understated with herbs and spice present form the nose to the finish; it was a very nice drinking wine. The next wine was the Gewurztraminer 2016 and it has been a while since I have had a Michigan version of this grape that I so enjoy. This wine was aged for nine months on the lees in German Oak and then one month in Stainless Steel. I found the spices to be there but soft with assurances that they are expected to develop in the next year or so; I was noticing Juniper, Allspice and Nutmeg, while our hostess mentioned Vanilla, I did not catch that. The Scriptorium Riesling 2016 was their half dry Riesling and the fruit was harvested from three different vineyards on the estate. This was the sweetest of the white wines, but hardly cloying and I think it would be interesting with Barbequed and Smoked Ribs. We then switched over to the Cabernet Franc 2017, as if my Bride would pass on tasting a Cabernet Franc, but then you already know that. These vines were planted in 1999 as part of the initial plantings and this wine was aged for eighteen months in oak. The wine promised some red berries and chocolate and was a tad sweeter than what I expected, but it had a nice long mellow finish. The last wine that we tried from our book of tasting was the Praefectus 2017 which was a blend of seventy-five percent Cabernet Franc and the balance was Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Franc was aged in neutral oak and the Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in new oak and they rested for about twenty-five months. For being right out of the bottle it delivered some rich currant suggestions and smooth tannins, making it a very easy drinking wine by itself or with dinner. After our allotment of wine tasting, I guess our hostess decided that with my taking all of my scribbled notes that I must really be into the wines for more than the buzz, the limousine and bus tasters were into, offered us one more wine to try that was not on the printed sheet or on the website for purchase, but alluded to in the history of the winery. She poured us, and I might say it was better than a tasting pour, was the mysterious Row 7 Red Wine 2016. According to lore the vines that were planted on the first seven rows in the Jamieson Vineyard were Syrah, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple of white grapes that were not recorded at the time. This wine was aged for twenty-five months in French Oak and delivered a big wine, almost bigger than expected. It was the perfect wine to end our time at Mari Vineyards.