By Amanda Renkiewicz / Photos by Laurentide
The ambiance was nothing less than magical: a corner fireplace lit up with merry flames, blissful music resonating throughout, and a feeling as warm and inviting as sinking into a hot bath. The music set a tone of total serenity and bliss. As an ode to the season, white lights and traditional Christmas decor, complete with a decorated tree, filled the space. It was an atmosphere that beckoned you inside, to shut out the hectic world, and simply, for a moment, be absolutely, truly, deeply, happy. I had entered the singular, enchanting setting of Laurentide Winery.
Northern Michigan is blessed as a wine lover’s paradise, with more wineries than a person can reach in a day (though many have tried). Every winery is as unique as a fingerprint, yet some seem to shimmer in memories as something strikingly special. Laurentide has achieved that glittering reputation. It was founded in 2006 by Bill and Susan Braymer and has conquered the intense competition found in dry white wines. The road to Laurentide is easy and beautiful as you drive up the Leelanau Peninsula. The tasting room is located on South French Road, barely a mile away from downtown Lake Leelanau. The tucked in an atmosphere of the building makes it seem like a special adventure to reach, yet Laurentide is a member of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, and a favored participant in signature events. Its location is ideal for those tasting along the trail and is less than thirty minutes from downtown Traverse City. For those who seek flawless wine, and a hidden gem (the winery was featured as one of only three wineries that achieved Hidden Gem status in a recently published book), Laurentide Winery is a MUST visit.
As an attendee of many wine dinners and events, I looked forward to what I was sure would be another wonderful evening. Fall in Fridays were a new Supper Series hosted by the winery owner, Susan Braymer. With a four-course meal prepared in house and an incredible wine pairing per course, it was far too delicious to miss. While I have often tasted the flagship Sauvignon Blanc (amazing), and the noteworthy, full-bodied red wines of Laurentide, nothing could have prepared me for the superb delights of the evening in store.
Sensational. From start to finish, Laurentide raised the bar to outrageous new heights.
I was greeted by the talented and personable Susan Braymer, owner and keeper of the wine and culinary industry’s knowledge and secrets. “I am not a chef though,” she was quick to correct me. Holding chefs in high esteem, she explains her own self-taught background, built upon family recipes and practice. “My husband and I built the premise of Laurentide on wine and food together, so I am constantly working on pairings. I am beholden to the season, the land, and the weather. I want the menu to be both accessible, tempting, unique, regional, and of course, a highlight with our wines.” As the cook, Susan crafted Fall in Fridays to be an affordable date night, an outing for locals and a place for out of town visitors. With an approachable four-course menu, the event began in October and continued through November with great success.
The menu was a reflection of Susan’s Polish upbringing. I had the extreme pleasure of enjoying my meal with Susan herself and was able to receive the background stories and inspirations she found for each course.
Pear and Feta Bubble de Bubble Vinaigrette Salad paired with Bubble de Bubble 2018
Our first course began with an artistic salad, drizzled with a dressing made from their effervescent Chardonnay. The feta added a creamy texture against the crisp pear and combined beautifully with the honeyed, sweet taste of the fruit and dressing. A sparkling pour of the 2018 Bubble de Bubble added a spark of fizz. It was a salad to win over everyone who avoids salads.
Savory Sweet Potato Soup with Maple Pecan Crumbles paired with Emergence White 2017
There’s no better time than a chilly day for soup, but Laurentide’s sweet potato soup was so delicious that I almost begged for the recipe to make it all year. It was made and served with Emergence White, their signature wine that’s won a Double Gold Medal, Best in Class award, and has a high score of 93 points. As a blend, it was made to be more than the sum of its parts, surpassing the individual varietals to reach new heights and greatness. Though its residual sugar was 1.5%, it’s popular with both sweet and dry lovers. The soup had a thrilling spice, that was cut to perfection with the Emergence, balancing the weight of the dish.
Polish Hunter Stew paired with Reserve Meritage 2017
An intriguingly named “Polish Hunter Stew” was the main entree of the night. “I chose Bigos (Polish stew), which harkens to my heritage and rings a bell for the local community. It’s a very medieval dish which I prepare with kielbasa and pork spareribs in sauerkraut and various spices. It’s something that I never had before, but my husband encountered many times when in Europe and Germany in particular. I made it with our Reserve Meritage, and believe that it’s the savory hit of the menu,” Susan concluded as I looked with both awe and excitement at the hearty portion before me.
Rather than a traditional stew in a bowl that’s primarily broth, Susan’s Hunter Stew was a carnivore’s dream. The sauerkraut base was lightened by surprising elements like earthy mushrooms, prunes for a touch of sweetness, and interesting spices of caraway, mustard seeds, and allspice ground straight from the berries. It was deeply flavored, with meat so tender it melted. Served with bread, the stew was outstanding, filling, and unique beyond belief. The easy to drink Reserve Meritage red wine was a perfect companion and pure satisfaction.
Sweet Steffie’s Apple Spice Riesling Cake paired with Sweet Riesling 2017
It seemed that Fall in Fridays could not get more phenomenal, and then dessert arrived. Sweet Steffie’s Apple Spice Riesling Cake was created in memory of Susan’s mother, who only had one flaw: she didn’t like wine. Despite this alarming news, Steffie was clearly a gem herself and passed on a recipe that Susan transitioned from one made with Polish vodka, to one made with Laurentide’s sweet Riesling wine. The dense cake was sweet and tart from the apples and a fitting conclusion to such a fabulous feast.
“I taste, taste, taste,” admitted Susan with a smile, recognizing the work involved with crafting such a fantastic menu. Susan’s tried and true method of finding the right dishes with the right wines is a gift for visitors. The Fall in Friday’s series was so popular that guests have been requesting a spring version. Susan also hosted a “Let’s Talk Turkey” session in November, where she taught attendees what works and what doesn’t for the holiday meal. She brought in food samples to try with her recommended wines, and far from simple turkey and mashed potatoes, provided her favorite recipes including winter chutney, spicy cornbread sausage dressing, and olive dip. “I use lots of sources, cookbooks, and my sommelier knowledge to help formulate a plan,” Susan explained, “but there’s more of an innate sense with balancing acid, fat, salt, and heat.” Her dishes reflect these layers of flavors, to bring depth to each dish. Along with a glass of her award-winning wine, there’s no possible way to go wrong.
Laurentide continues to entice visitors with their 2020 lineup of events. While everyone absolutely needs to do a traditional tasting, Laurentide also provides private vineyard tours beginning in May. They take part in the Leelanau Peninsula Small Plates event, where three individual seating times allow for adventurers to make it to three different wineries for a wine and food pairing. Don’t miss them for all of the trail’s Signature Events, either, with February’s Taste the Passion, March’s Sips Dips and Chips, and May’s Rose weekend, to name a few.
The experience at Laurentide is relaxed and remarkable. They honor and embrace their history, making their guests feel like welcomed family. The Braymers and Laurentide follow a brilliant philosophy: that food and wine are meant to be best friends. Join the friendship and taste the flavors that make Laurentide Winery a hidden gem and a treasure of Northern Michigan.
56 South French
Lake Leelanau, MI 49653
Phone: (231) 994-2147
Check Facebook for January-March off-season hours