Our vision is to produce exemplary, classic cool-climate wines on the Leelanau Peninsula of Northern Michigan. Our focus is to craft wines that exhibit both elegance of structure and intensity of aroma and flavor. We are guided by the nature of our vineyards and the fruit they produce. We respect that every wine is a product of a thousand details, all of which need to be governed by the philosophy of reaching toward and developing an expression of place. We believe our vineyards and our team, all of which is our “terroir”, make Shady Lane Cellars that place to achieve this vision.
Vineyard Philosophy and Practices
We are committed to producing the highest quality fruit with the lowest impact upon our surroundings. Our vineyard operates with tolerance of the seasonal shifts in both insect and disease pressure while respecting these same seasonal shifts in fruit development. We commit every resource available to nurture our vineyard and guide the vines to produce within the fruit the needed components with which we can craft the finest wines possible… truly world class. By combining new products, the latest technology and traditionally proven farming techniques we are able to reduce or eliminate the use of potentially harmful practices. At the same time we have increased the efficacy of the practices we do employ by way of proper timing and use. Our ultimate goal is to be the best winegrowers possible in every respect; respect for the wine, respect for our farm, respect for our employees and respect for our environment both locally and beyond.
Recent advances in organics have brought an array of products to the agricultural market. In 2008 our pesticide program consisted of 80% organic, and we are optimistic for a 90-100% program in the next couple years. We accomplish this with constant monitoring of the vineyard throughout the growing season. This monitoring helps the vines tell us what is happening. Once in tune with the vines and the vineyard as a whole, only then are we able to exercise tolerance. This tolerance is our philosophy. Every variety we grow has a different tolerance level at various points in the season. We are ever aware of this seasonal ebb and flow for each variety and treat them as such, different. We opt for a case-by-case approach to disease management as opposed to the “all-at-once” program. Our unique microclimate on the 150-acre farm allows the vines this freedom. In return the vines provide fruit with a pure expression of place.
Returning to some old world mechanical techniques is an important component of our management strategy. We also employ such tactics as recycling spring prunings back into the vineyard, composting and other means of organic fertilization to increase soil health. Mechanical weed control as well as planting cover crop reduces the need for herbicide while adding valuable nutrients back into the soil. Mowing is a delicate balance to control disease pressure and protect beneficial insect populations. Human hands provide the vines with an open architecture that allows for maximum sunlight and airflow to aid in disease control and encourage ripening. All of the mechanical work done in the vineyard is governed by the season. Every vintage provides the vines with a variety specific set of events we address on an individual basis. This attention insures the fruit to be an expression of place.
The Shady Lane tolerance philosophy requires dedication. In turn, this dedication yields premium quality fruit as well as the assurance that Shady Lane Cellars is a responsible steward of the land. Or vines appreciate this philosophy and the reward is an expression of place in every bottle.
It may seem the geological history of the Leelanau Peninsula is far removed from who we are and what we do but in truth it is an essential element of just that.
Approximately 11000 years ago the Wisconsin Ice Shelf moved south and shaped what we now know as the Leelanau Peninsula. As this massive glacier moved it took the existing bedrock of primarily granite and ground it into increasingly smaller pieces. This glacier receded and advanced several times over the course of 1000 years and more and eventually left behind a patchwork of gravel, sand and heavier soils such as clay. The Sleeping Bear Dunes at the southern end of Leelanau are the result of the forward edge of this glacier depositing the smallest and finest of this ground up bedrock in one location. The remainder of the Leelanau Peninsula was left as a patchwork of soil types with lighter, sandier soils dominating. Over the next several thousand years erosion from the weather elements of rain and wind wore away the landscape around the higher elevations resulting in the hills and valleys we see today. This erosion also continued the creation of the patchwork of soil types we see by carrying gravel and sand into various locations. The elevation our vineyard enjoys above the level of Lake Michigan is another result of this glacial movement and erosion.
Our macroclimate (regional) and microclimate (immediate surroundings) are the partners to the geological history that determine the nature of our growing seasons and the resulting fruit quality. Climate considerations go well beyond just the length of the growing season. Clearly the length of season is the most easily understood element of our climate because we live within the seasons and observe them daily. Other very important climate elements are arguably of greater impact on our winegrowing. Considering the length of growing season by itself gives a misleading and somewhat inaccurate picture of the total growing season.
An important factor in evaluating growing seasons is daily hours of sunlight. Due to our position near the 45th parallel we experience more hours of sunlight per day during the growing season than more southerly regions such as the Napa Valley. During our growing season we average 14 hours 8 minutes between sunrise and sunset, Napa averages 13 hours 11 minutes. The hours of sunlight determine the time of activities within the vine such as photosynthesis.
The temperature during the growing season is another factor during the growing season. The temperature level is often expressed in terms of Growing Degree Days (GDD). GDD is a calculation of temperature accumulation above a base temperature that affects growth and vine function. When considering GDD it is important to understand that one level of GDD is not better or worse. Grape varieties will produce different qualities in the fruit dependent on GDD, so there are GDD ranges that are appropriate for particular varieties and wine styles. Again using Napa as a comparison you find that in the northern section of the valley near Calistoga they historically experience more than 3500 GDD in a season. Recently that number often exceeds 4000 GDD, even approaching 5000. This temperature level favors varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon that require more heat to ripen. It does not favor Riesling, which loses all of its fresh fruit qualities and signature acidity in this kind of climate. The Carneros region of southern Napa Valley averages around 2500 GDD. This climate is the reason Pinot Noir excels in Carneros but not Calistoga. The GDD measured at the MSU Horticultural Station just a mile from us has our average during the years of 2000 to 2007 at 2459 during our growing season. In the years from 2005 to 2007 the GDD average was 2696. Keep in mind that all wine grape varieties are not the same and do not have the same requirements. This measurement of our climate is why we produce the varieties we do so successfully. Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and the others we grow are the varieties that will excel in our climate, not Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. In fact our climate regarding GDD is better than most in the world for growing the varieties we do.
One more temperature consideration is what is called diurnal temperature. This is the measurement of the difference between the low and high temperature in any given day. If the high temperature is 85 and the low is 52 the diurnal temperature is 33, the difference between the two. A higher diurnal temperature favors the varieties we grow. The warmer daytime temperatures allow for the development of flavor and structural compounds within the fruit, while the cooler nighttime temperatures retain components within the fruit such as our trademark acidity.
Another factor in our climate is geography. Lake Michigan to our west and Grand Traverse Bay to our east are important to our growing season. This is further intensified by all of the Great Lakes. These bodies of water help moderate the onset and extend the total length of our growing season. The fact that our season begins at a later time than others is an advantage in that it allows the vines to come out of dormancy at a time that the danger of freeze and frost has passed in most years. It also delays the beginning of temperatures too cold to adequately ripen our fruit. Coupled with our relative elevation above the surrounding bodies of water our growing season becomes one that is superior for our selected varieties. This geographical element is referred to as Continental Maritime. Continental climates are those that are within a large land mass and not influenced by a large body of water, such as Kansas. Maritime climates are influenced by water, such as the Pacific or Atlantic coastlines. We are unique in the world in that the Great Lakes contribute a maritime influence to an otherwise continental climate.
Shady Lane Cellars History
After searching for many years, we purchased a 100 year-old fruit farm on a hilltop outside Suttons Bay in 1987. The goal was to join the growing number of grape growers in northern Michigan, and possibly produce some noteworthy wine. This beautiful property had everything needed to grow excellent cool-climate fruit. The combination of well-drained sandy soils, southern exposures, good air drainage and altitude were all there. This was the dream that became Shady Lane Cellars.
Inspired by a handful of growers who pioneered vineyards in the region, planting began in 1988 with just over 11 acres of Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Vignoles. In 1992 we produced our first wines, a pair of methode champenoise sparkling wines. The quality of these wines was immediately evident. The 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs and the Brut produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were released in 1996 and quickly earned medals in several national and international wine competitions. Plans were made to increase production from the estate grown fruit to include a sparkling Riesling and several still table wines. In 1999 construction was completed on the conversion of a nearly 100 year-old fieldstone chicken coop into a beautifully elegant tasting room appointed in copper, Douglas Fir, Italian tile and granite.
In 2001 we built our present winery and outfitted it with the latest in state of the art winemaking equipment. All of our equipment is designed to handle the fruit as gently as possible while allowing our winemaker the control to extract and build upon the all of the desirable elements present in our fruit. Built onto the winery is a temperature-controlled warehouse for the final aging of the wines.
Since 2001 we have expanded our total acreage to 150 and our vineyards to just over 52 acres with additional plantings of Riesling and Pinot Noir, as well as Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Blue Franc (also known as Blaufrankish or Lemberger), Gewurztraminer and others.