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Cruising The Rhine And Sampling Wine With AMAWaterways

TK CLASS TKMark Johnson chats with Paul about the pleasures of visiting German Vineyards and the differences in German wines. They talk about how the perception of German wines differs from the reality. Mark’s Chateau Chantal winery in Michigan is a great place to start any journey involving Mark’s wines. The fall he is leading a wine cruise on the Rhine with AMAWaterways to bring his background and knowledge to play in touring a wine region he knows well. Johnson is the WineMaker and also the Vice President at Chateau Chantal. His responsibilities include overseeing Chantal’s grape growing and wine production and distribution marketing. Mr. Johnson received his B.A. degree in social work from Michigan State University in 1974. Mark lived in Germany for many years and in 1983, he received a degree in Viticulture and Enology at the Federal Research Station and Institute in Geisenheim, Germany. One of Mark’s interests in in making a truly unique wine.

On years when weather permits Chantal preserves a portion of the Riesling grapes to be harvested after the first hard freeze. Ice wine was first produced in Michigan in 1983 by Mark Johnson, who was working at Chateau Grand Traverse at the time. Chantal continues to follow the German laws that govern what wine qualifies as ice wine. German wine law is similar to the United States wine law and both dictate that ice wine must be picked only when the grapes are frozen on the vine. Because of the impossibility of predicting nature, making ice wine requires a great deal of luck. The grapes are generally picked in December after prolonged below freezing temperatures, to ensure they are frozen all the way through. But on warmer years the grapes cannot be picked until late into January or February. It can also be difficult to protect the grapes from birds and wind as they stay on the vine until after they are very ripe. Leaving the grapes on the vine until the first hard freeze ensures the grapes have reached their full ripeness while the ice captures the excess water leaving naturally concentrated sugars. Ice wine is sometimes referred to as liquid gold because of its high cost to make and purchase and because of the wine’s intense sweetness. When asked why Chantal still makes it year after year Johnson replied “A good ice wine is almost certain to bring home a medal or two. I do think that natural ice wine is something incredibly special, and it’s quite rare. And because they can’t do it in California.”