May it Please the Palate: An afternoon at Sandhill Crane Winery

By Nick Roumel

On a recent Sunday, my wife and I dropped our teenage daughter off at camp, and to help celebrate our new found freedom, we made an impulsive stop at Sandhill Crane Winery, about half an hour west of Ann Arbor, between Jackson and Chelsea. Sandhill Crane is family owned wine producing vineyard, open since 2003, and is opening a lot of eyes with its array of award-winning varietals.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with visiting this beautiful winery, in the lush rolling hills of rural Michigan, and sitting in the tasting room, as the staff agreeably pours you taste after taste of whatever you desire. (Note: have a designated driver on retainer.) It is then appropriate to hand over the plastic and buy a few bottles. Fortunately, this is not difficult at Sandhill Crane. Their wines are outstanding - with some, like a previous vintage of the "Sassy Rose" --rivaling their counterparts in France, according to wine writer David Creighton.

I especially enjoyed a newly released Pinot Grigio, a Cabernet Franc, dry and sweet Rieslings, and a Chanson (a bone-dry white wine made with Chardonel, a hybrid of Cheyval and Chardonnay grapes). I also picked up a couple bottles of the gold-medal winning "Blushing Crane" rosé, an eminently quaffable summer treat, with a portion of the cost benefitting the nearby Haehnle Bird Sanctuary. I'm sure I would have enjoyed even more, had I the wherewithal and constitution to delve even further down their wine list.

Their crown jewel is a high end port-style wine, "840," which is the one exception to a free tasting - it's $5 per ounce - but you won't be disappointed. If you haven't tried a port recently, or equate them with stuffy cigar bars, I say "harrumph." This one is aged in French oak barrels, is not too sweet, with hints of vanilla. According to the winery's Executive Director, Heather Price, "It pairs beautifully with rich duck dishes, blue cheeses, and indulgent desserts like tiramisu." (Just a typical lunch at our law firm; how about yours?)

Winemaker Holly Balansag supplements the vineyard's own grapes and orchards with locally grown fruit and even maple syrup for Sandhill Crane's more traditional wines, as well as its delightfully unique specialty products like mead. The dedication to locally grown products extends to the newly expanded café, featuring not only lighter fare like sandwiches, but gourmet offerings such as Beef Bourguignon and Paella on "Thirsty Thursdays," when they also provide live musical entertainment. Not to mention the occasional chocolate-chip-and-bacon cookie in the dessert case.

Sandhill Crane will also gladly host your wedding, reception, or other event. But if there are no such celebrations in your future, there's always the Sunday afternoon drive, or the visit on Thirsty Thursday.

Their website is at www.sandhillcranevineyards.com, but it is outdated as they focus more on their Facebook page and other media. And no, I don't know these people, nor have I agreed to shill for a spot of muscatel - but I think it's definitely worth promoting not only a quality winery, but a perfect destination to toast a day without the kids.

Published: Thu, Jun 28, 2012

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