Lighthouse Wine Shop: A Beacon to Great Vino in Southwest Michigan

       Cade Carmichael doesn’t want us to drink what he calls “supermarket wines” but he also isn’t advocating we take out a loan for an expensive bottle of wine. That’s why when he opened Lighthouse Wine Shop last year in St. Joseph, Michigan he decided to feature value wines.

         “I didn’t want to start off with big wine names,” he says. “Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive.  Value wines are those that taste like they should cost more than they do.”

         It’s all about knowing where to look and for those of us who don’t want to begin the laborious process of understanding the intricacies of every wine region and producer, Carmichael is willing to do the hard work for us. His fascination with wines came not from living in Southwest Michigan where we have a wonderful abundance of wineries but when he moved with his wife to Frankfurt, Germany where they lived for five years before returning to this area. From Frankfurt, it was easy to explore the wine regions of such countries as France and Italy as well as Germany.

         In the wine appellation of Côte de Nuit Villages in Burgundy, a historic region of France that produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. Appellation or  appellation d’origine contrôlée or AOC which stands for  “controlled designation of origin” is  certification granted by the government that refers to the area’s agriculture products—a list that includes not only wines, but other categories such as cheeses and butters.

         But the thing is, Carmichael tells me, is there are some value wines from the Côte de Nuit Villages that are very affordable if you know where to look. He shows me  bottles from Domaine Faively, a winery founded in 1825 in the Nuits-St. Georges.

         “Right next to Nuits-St. Georges is a small village called Vosne-Romanee,” says Carmichael. Another historic village like Nuits-St. Georges, Vosne-Romanee is known as having some of the most expensive burgundies in the world.

         “Vosne-Romanee literally shares a border with Nuits- St. Georges, so they have the same soil and growing conditions- the vineyards facing east get the morning sun and shade in the evening,” says Carmichael. “But there’s a huge difference.”

That means instead of spending a small fortune for a bottle from Vosne-Romanee, you can enjoy the wines of the Côte de Nuit Villages by choosing those produced by wineries in Nuits-St. Georges.

         In an interesting aside, Carmichael tells me that China is now producing Bordeaux style wines, using five Noble varietals— Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot—which comprise the best for making that type of wine. How is it working out?  Well, the 2013 vintage from Ao Yun—the name means flying above the clouds as the winery is 8,500 feet above sea level, in the foothills of the Himalayas that has similar growing conditions to the Bordeaux region of France—was awarded  a score of 93 by Wine Advocate and sells for around $300. But that’s an aside.

         When sourcing his wines Carmichael looks, of course, for value but also the unique such as those made from indigenous or natural yeast rather than cultivated yeast. Sometimes, through diligent searching he’s able to score big.

         “I bought the last three cases of Terreno Vitigno,” he says about a wine from Monleale, a sub region of Piedmont in the Tortonese hills of Italy. “It’s all that’s available.”

         He also has (or maybe had as Lighthouse’s specials sell out very quickly) Piccolo Derthona made from Timorasso, a varietal grape that’s nearly extinct.

         “I try to find things—they’re not weird—but unique,” he says.

         The Lighthouse Wine Shop is in the small mall on the corner of Glenlord Road and Red Arrow Highway and right across the street from Coach’s Bar & Grill in Stevensville. In keeping with Carmichael’s vow not to be a cookie cutter type place, he and his father-in-law built display boxes, used wine barrels as tables for showcasing wines. His wines are divided by country and there’s a good representation of Italy, Spain, France, South America, and California to name a few.

He also sells wine accoutrements like corkscrews, gift baskets and boxes. A major focal point on the store is the large white board or what Carmichael calls “a lyric board” that changes. He uses vinyl records for the music that plays in the background. The groups performing are modern and include Phoebe Bridgers & Waxahatchee as well as classics such as Johnny Cash, the Beatles and Chicago. Speaking of the latter, Carmichael says that his Chicago patrons seem to prefer French wines while those from this area choose Italian. He thinks that might a reflection of Whirlpool Corp. having manufacturing plants in Cassinetta, Naples, and Trento in Italy. Coincidentally as he’s saying this, Doug Washington walks in to buy a bottle of Italian red wine. A Whirlpool employee he says he worked for the company in Italy.

         When I started working on this column, I received an email from Janet Fletcher, who lives in Napa Valley, California  where she develops and tests recipes for cookbooks and magazine features, evaluate cheeses for her classes and columns, does extensive gardening, and prepares dinner nightly with her winemaker husband. I’ve talked to her frequently in the past and wrote about several of her cookbooks including Wine Country Table and Cheese and Beer. I also follow her blog Planet Cheese.

Fletcher, who has won three James Beard Awards and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Bert Greene Award, has a new cookbook out called Gather: Casual Cooking from Wine Country Gardens and I asked her if she would share recipes. She agreed, including recipes easily made at home and the California wines she suggests using when serving them.

The following are recipes she shared along with anecdotes about their origins and Fletcher’s wine recommendations. These wines are necessarily easily available but when a Merlot is called for you can substitute a local Merlot or one from another area though keep in mind that Fletcher paired her food and wines very carefully.

Maggie’s Ranch Chicken

Serves 4

Ranch chicken has nothing to do with ranch dressing, says Katie Wetzel Murphy of Alexander Valley Vineyards. “It’s what we called this dish as kids,” she recalls. “It seems that my mother, Maggie, only made it when we came to ‘The Ranch,’ which is what we called the vineyards before we had a winery.” Baked with honey, mustard, and tarragon, the quartered chicken emerges with a crisp brown skin, and the sweet aroma draws everyone to the kitchen. “Kids like it and adults like it,” says Katie, “and most of the food we make has to be that way.”

1 whole chicken, 4 to 4 1/2 pounds, backbone removed, then quartered

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup honey

4 tablespoons salted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 fresh tarragon sprigs, each 6 inches long

Wine: Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the chicken quarters all over with salt and pepper. Put the quarters into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a small saucepan, combine the honey, butter, and mustard over low heat and stir until the butter melts. Pour the honey mixture evenly over the chicken. Place a tarragon sprig on each quarter.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, then remove the dish from the oven, spoon the dish juices over the chicken, and return the dish to the oven for 30 minutes more. The chicken will be fully cooked, with beautifully browned skin. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle.

Antipasto Platter with Southern-Style Pickled Okra

Makes 6 pints

“Napa Valley’s Regusci Winery proprietor, Laura Regusci, developed a passion for pickling in her grandmother’s Kentucky kitchen,” he writes. The family pastime began as a way to preserve vegetables for winter and share homegrown gifts with neighbors. Today, Laura carries on the tradition, growing okra and other seasonable vegetables in the Regusci estate garden for pickling. Each Thanksgiving, pickled okra adds a southern spirit to the family’s antipasto board

3 pounds small okra

6 cups distilled white vinegar

4 cups water

1/2 cup kosher or sea salt

1/4 cup sugar

For Each Pint Jar:

1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1/4 teaspoon dill seeds

6 black peppercorns

6 cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 fresh oregano sprig

1 bay leaf

Pinch of ground coriander

Pinch of red chile flakes

When creating the antipasto platter use the pickled vegetables along with alongside figs, salami, other charcuterie meats, and marinated  veggies like artichokes.

Suggested Wine: Regusci Winery Rosé

Have ready six sterilized pint canning jars and two-part lids. Trim the okra stems if needed to fit the whole pods upright in the jars. Otherwise, leave the stems intact.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep hot.

Into each of the six jars, put the mustard seeds, dill seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, garlic, oregano, bay leaf, coriander, and chile flakes. Fill the jars with the okra, packing it in upright—alternating the stems up and down if needed—as tightly as possible. Fill the jars with the hot liquid, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and top each jar with a flat lid and screw band. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, then cool on racks without disturbing.

Refrigerate any jars that failed to seal and use within 2 weeks. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Wait for at least 1 week before opening a jar to allow the flavor to mellow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.