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
Michigan, which is different than the SW region of our state mind you,
we have several distinguishing traits. First, you must realize that we
are roughly 250 miles NORTH of the Niagara region in Ontario. Some of us up here refer to our spot
on the planet as "the edge of viticultural sanity". Travel a couple of
miles in most any direction and you can't do what we do. We do have what
is a truly unique set of geographic, geologic and climatic conditions that we call
"Continental Maritime". Any where else on the planet you have one or the
other. Continental is just that, within and influenced by continental
factors, a very large land mass without the influence of a very large body of water. Think
South Dakota or central Asia. Hot summers, very cold winters of a longer
duration. Maritime is of course influenced by a very large body of
water. Think the California coast, Bordeaux, Italy, etc. What we have is both, the only
winegrowing region where that occurs, thanks to our location within the
North American continent and the Great Lakes. Other continental regions
may have what they consider considerable water nearby but nothing large enough to have a significant
controlling influence on seasonal definition and weather patterns. So
there we are, continental maritime.
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.
with a weed hoe and hand hoes.
found that the two primary pests that inflict are vineyard are related
to neighboring farms and their activities. In the spring when our
neighbors to the west start cutting hay it disrupts the favored habitat for these bugs and
they move on the wind into our vineyard. We have found that if we mow
our open areas on the west side of our farm just prior to this they do
not have a sufficient environment to thrive and continue to breed and move. This
mowing we do has effectively reduced the insect pressure by 80 to 90%.
We just don't get the bugs in our vines establishing populations and
wreaking havoc like we used to. Then to further control, if needed we use an organic
material called Aza-Direct which acts as a growth regulator and prevents
the bug from developing from the immature to mature stage thereby
eliminating an established population. This material is also safe for bees which are a very
important insect as pollinators around here.
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