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Tastemakers: Croft Chestnuts/Northern Michigan Red Wine

Rick Coates - October 19th, 2009
Tastemakers: Croft Chestnuts/Northern Michigan Red Wine
Rick Coates 10/19/09

Croft Chestnuts
In 1904, diseased Asian chestnut trees were planted in New York City, resulting in the destruction of the American chestnut industry. Only a few groves of trees out west survived. For the past 100 years most of the chestnuts sold in America have been imported.
But now American farmers are trying to revitalize the chestnut industry including Croft Orchards of the Old Mission Peninsula. According to Ella Cooper-Froehlich, project manager the orchards at Croft LLC, “We are seeing a resurgence in this industry and we have 1,600 trees collectively at three locations in the area. We started harvesting this past weekend and we have orders to fill all over the country.”
According to Froehlich: “Chestnuts are a delicious health food rich in nutrition. Just a handful of other foods can match the nutritional value of a chestnut. As opposed to most other nuts, chestnuts have a high water content and very little oil, thus making them virtually fat free. They are high in complex carbohydrates, contain high quality protein comparable to eggs, but are gluten free, cholesterol free, and are very low in fat (1-2 percent while other nuts can be over 50 percent fat).”
In many countries chestnuts are used as a potato substitute, and while they are tasty just roasted and served as is, they are also wonderful ingredients in several recipes. Here are a few tasty ones (just google for a recipe): Chestnut Squash Soup, Chestnut Stuffing, and for dessert, Chocolate Chestnut Bourbon Torte.
To learn more about Croft Chestnuts go to or call them at 231-633-1277 to purchase. --Rick Coates

Northern Michigan Red Wine
One of my favorite hobbies is opening a bottle of red wine from Northern Michigan and sharing it with friends that are self-proclaimed “wine snobs.” Recently, I was at a dinner and opened a bottle of 1999 Tempesta from the Bel Lago on the Leelanau Peninsula. Wow, my friends were convinced they were drinking something from France and one guessed that, “this must be a $75 bottle from California, definitely a Bordeaux blend.”
They were shocked when I pulled the bottle from the bag to see that they were drinking a Northern Michigan red.
I have been touting the virtues of Northern Michigan wines for years in this column and have received some critical letters whenever I start suggesting Michigan has the ability to make great reds. Just two weeks ago on ABC World News with Charlie Gibson a three-minute segment on winemaking in Northern Michigan aired. Chicago Tribune food and wine critic Bill Daley was interviewed, touting the greatness of wines from Northern Michigan. While sipping on a red from Two Lads winery on the Old Mission Peninsula he said: “This is good -- I poured it at a dinner party and everyone thought it was French. They (Michigan winemakers) see their wines’ being someday as good as the wines from all the great regions and they are going to do it.”
Bill Daley reviews wines from all over the world; his work as a wine and restaurant critic is respected throughout the country. So if someone with his palate tastes the greatness of these wines, maybe it is time for those of us who live right here to do the same. The secret is to taste potential of these youthful reds and cellar them.
I recently hosted an event of 300 wine drinkers and pulled out four cases of Northern Michigan reds from my cellar. All of these wines were from 2001 or earlier vintages, and boy was I rewarded for my patience. In particular the reds from 1998 were spectacular.
Even restaurants such as Stella in Traverse City are touting reds from the region. My server during a recent visit suggested that I try the 2006 Villa Mari Vineyards (Old Mission) red wine. It was exceptional and among the best youthful reds from the region I have tasted. She was quick to point out they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Gill’s Pier Cabernet Franc. When servers at fine restaurants are recommending Northern Michigan red wines with confidence, then take their word for it not mine -- after all, they are banking their tip on it. Go to and type in Michigan wine to view the segement. --Rick Coates

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