I am honored to have been asked to participate in the upcoming Twitter Taste Michigan event that is being organized by my good friend Shannon Casey from Michigan by the Bottle. This tasting will feature the wines of Shady Lane Cellars. The event takes place next Tuesday, April 13th. Join in on the fun by grabbing some Shady Lane wine, and then tweeting your experiences and questions with the hashtag "#ttmi".
In preparation for the tasting, I thought I would take some time to learn a little bit more about the wine scene on the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan, and specifically about Shady Lane Cellars. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with the winemaker at Shady Lane Cellars, Adam Satchwell.
Vinotology: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your winery and your wines. Tell me a little about yourself. What is your background?
Adam: I have been in the wine business my entire adult life. I got a job in Kalamazoo, MI as a sales clerk in a wine/spirits/specialty food store very soon after graduating high school in 1976 and I've been at it since. In 1977 I moved to California, enrolled in the viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College, worked in some wineries as a cellar rat, continued my studies at U.C. Davis, worked in some more wineries, then found myself unexpectedly back in the Wash. DC area where I had graduated from high school. I continued in the wine industry in retail, eventually moved to NY to be the winemaker at Benmarl, then moved back to MI where I spent my "formative" years, and always considered "home". I worked retail again for a short period and then came on at Shady Lane Cellars in 2000. 2011 marks my 11th vintage here and my current capacity is winemaker and general manager.
Vinotology: Living way down South from you guys here in Texas, I know that there probably isn't a much bigger contrast in climates than our two states have. What are some of the unique features of winemaking and grape production in your area of Michigan? How does the climate affect your choices in varieties that you produce?
Adam: You might be surprised at the number of similarities our regions share. Don't get me wrong, it's not exactly the same, but anywhere you go in the world the criteria for producing quality wine is similar. You need a certain amount of growing season and heat units to ripen the fruit and some cooling during the night to retain certain compounds in the grapes that translate into many of the aromas and flavors in the wine. The difference between our region and any other is the extent of these seasonal characteristics. That's what makes any region different or unique.
The key to success in any winegrowing region is to understand the definition of that region, plant the appropriate varieties and farm them appropriate to the region and how that variety functions within that region. I won't get into individual site selection which is related but mostly one subset of this whole topic. So think Riesling in a warm or hot region such as Napa. Too much daytime heat, nights that are too warm to preserve the essential terpenes that help define the variety, therefore not an appropriate variety match to the region and its climate. Burgundy and Zinfandel, Sicily and Pinot Noir, Mosel and Cabernet Sauvignon... you get the idea. To make good wine you must match the region and the variety. Our region does well with the classic cool climate varieties; Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and others.
Adam: The property was purchased by Dr. Joseph O'Donnell in 1988 and the original vineyard of 11+ acres total mixed between Riesling, Chardonnay, Vignoles and Pinot Noir was begun in 1989. The winery functioned basically as a hobby farm, some production by neighboring winemakers but no real avenue for showing or selling the product. In 1999 a tasting room was opened and some consideration to sales began. In 2000 I came on with the purpose of taking this from hobby to business. We built our own winery in 2001 and began an expansion of the vineyards. Today we are at 52+ acres of grapes planted to Riesling (our primary variety at 24 acres), Gewurztraminer, Vignoles and Muscat for whites and Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankish, Merlot and an assortment of Hybrids for the reds. Our current production is 5000 cases and growing. We are distributed throughout Michigan, just opened distribution in Chicago and have representation in the NYC Metro area.
Vinotology: In reading about your winery on your website, one thing that really stood out was your commitment to trying to let your wines express their location and to be true to the grapes themselves. What are some of the ways that Shady Lane accomplishes this goal?
Adam: As I referenced above we are a cool climate winegrowing region and that means something very specific and different than being in a warm climate region such as California. And let me just take this opportunity to address what I see some in California refer to as their "cool climate" locations. They are not in any way, shape or form cool climate. Carneros is not cool climate. Russian River is not cool climate. Santa Barbara, Monterey, Mendocino or any other winegrowing region in California is not cool climate by definition. What they are less warm. There, I have that off my chest. So, what I do to express our region and vineyard, our "terroir" to use a much over used term these days, is look for ways to first preserve and develop the aromatic/flavor/structure components in the vineyard, then bring it out in the cellar. What I want my wines to show is what I call a high tone aromatic component mirrored by the flavors and with a structure that supports these elements while retaining a sense of elegance in the wine. In this respect I see no difference between my white wines and my red wines. I want the same guiding principle to be evident in every wine of mine. Intense aromatics and flavors driven by a focused purity of fruit, persistence of presence on the palate and an finishing elegance framed by lower alcohol and brighter, more vibrant acidity than is the trend in the popular (but I feel often misguided, again a subject for another day) wine publications of the day. Accomplishing this is done by a variety of vineyard practices tailored to the variety and individual site on our property, then guided to the final expression within the winery, but minimally so. The cliche I will throw out is that the wine is made in the vineyard. Absolutely, positively true. If it is not in the grape I cannot create from a void new components in the wine. I do employ the same production principles all winemakers the world over employ. The chemistry and the science is the same, it is in the application of these production principles that mark successful cool climate wines in general and in my wines specifically.
Adam: We are currently operating at about 90% organic in the vineyard. First, let me say that organic does not mean a cessation of farming. We still spray for mildews and insects, we just use organic, low risk materials. We have done a great deal of research on OMRI certified materials for use in our vineyard. The challenge has been to find effective materials that we can buy locally and that are effective in our climatic conditions. Many of the materials were not in Michigan but in California, Australia, etc. We have spent several years speaking with manufacturers and dealers in order to make these available to us and so far the choices have widened considerably. We have combined this with weather stations throughout our vineyard with software that models disease pressure and timing to tailor an overall program to our vineyard. The net result is we spray less, we use organic materials every time they are available and effective and we have results that are superior to the past conventional "spray early and spray often" approach that has been used for years in our industry.
The bottom line to all of this is we must better understand our vineyards as a whole ecological system and learn to operate within that system. We have an appreciation and maintain a tolerance for how our land, the soils, the weather, the place as a whole needs to exist to be healthy and at the same time a beneficial environment for what we do. We don't fight it we embrace it.
Vinotology: What varieties of wine are you producing right now, and what would you consider to be your "signature" wines?
Adam: We produce wines that are focused on the superior aspects of our growing region and to me that means aromatics, breadth of flavor and elegance. Our sufficiently warm days and beautifully cool nights mean development within our fruit that ripens flavors and structure more than adequately yet retain vital compounds that accentuate this high-toned, pretty aromatic component to our wines. And that goes for all of my wines, white and red alike. What we have here is a region that doesn't just do enough to get away with winegrowing (as many people assume about us) but is a superior region for winegrowing of a defined nature. It is all about what is appropriate for any and all winegrowing regions. As an example let's use Napa Valley. Everybody knows that Cabernet Sauvignon does incredibly well there. The match between variety and place makes Cabernet Sauvignon an appropriate choice for Napa. The nature and pace of ripening there favors some things but is wholly inappropriate for others such as Riesling that demands significantly cooler environs to develop this variety to its full potential. Conversely, Germany is a great place for Riesling but not so for Cabernet Sauvignon. The winegrowing world is full of these examples. Burgundy and Pinot Noir is good, Burgundy and Zinfandel is bad. Hermitage and Syrah good, Hermitage and Pinot Noir bad. Finger Lakes and Riesling good, Finger Lakes and Grenache bad. You get the idea. So to answer your question of what we grow I feel it is important to answer the why first. All that said we concentrate on varieties where I can not only capture good ripening but accentuate to their fullest aromatics and elegance. Riesling of course, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Blaufrankish (which we label as Blue Franc) and Cabernet Franc are our focus. I have trouble saying what a signature wine for us is, it is more about signature expression of the how, who, what, why that we are.
Vinotology: What is the main thing that you would like to see come out of this Twitter Taste Michigan event?
Adam: Exposure and most importantly understanding. I want folks to see and experience that we are a truly unique region, a classic cool climate winegrowing location. As I said above we express beautiful yet intensely pronounced aromatics and flavors while at the same time offering a sense of elegance, depth and genuine interest in our wines. Our wines taste like our wines, not like Napa or Rheinpfalz or Barossa or any other place. Our wines have identity and purpose and verve and vibrancy... our wines are genuine.
Images are from the Shady Lane Cellars website