April is Michigan Wine Month, and many wineries are taking advantage of the national media focus on one of TC’s hottest industries to try and take their wine further. Going the furthest in one sense are Chateau Chantal Winemaker Mark Johnson and Director of Hospitality Brian Lillie. The pair have begun “#DeutschlandExpedition” – their quest for the perfect Riesling pairing in the heart of Riesling country in the Mosel and Rhine Valleys.
Chateau Chantal has been one of the local leaders in food and wine education with regular classes, dinners and winery tours. Although Riesling is one of the signature wines at Chantal and in Northern Michigan, Brian says, “Some of the destinations we plan to cover have existed for literally centuries – one place since the early 1200s. Riesling isn’t just another wine in catalog there. It’s a way of life. This expedition will allow me delve deeper into the whole wine and food experience. I hope to broaden my horizons in the experience and to discover something unique that I can reproduce for our guests in Traverse City.”
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Mark who was educated in both enology and viticulture in Geisenheim, known in Germany as Weinstadt (“Wine Town”). Mark lived in the Rhine River Valley for several years where his German wife and he started a family and has returned almost annually since he moved back to Old Mission in the 1980s.
“There is no better place to learn about Riesling and the food that best pairs with it, than going directly to the source,” says Mark. He adds, “While Riesling will definitely be a major focus of the trip, we will also be detouring into the Champagne region of France for a couple of days. While there we will, of course be visiting a couple of Champagne houses. My belief is that nobody does hospitality of a VIP nature better than the folks in Champagne. I have experienced it personally on three different visits but want Brian, as our hospitality manager, to experience it as well and pick up any ideas that we might be able to incorporate into our business at Chateau Chantal.”