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Vendor Spotlight: Shady Lane Cellars

Gwyn Duesbery

Vendor Spotlight: Shady Lane Cellars

Grove proudly supports Michigan wineries

Blue Franc, or Blaufränkish, by Shady Lane Cellars, has become a popular Michigan wine offered at Grove. Produced from start to finish in Suttons Bay on the Leelanau Peninsula, Blue Franc's flavor profile offers “concentrated fruit flavors of blueberry, mulberry, and blackberry… with a big mouthfeel, soft, lush tannins and a level of black pepper and cedar spice.” It pairs well with our rich Roasted Lamb and mouthwatering Strip Loin, just like Shady Lane Cellars pairs well with Grove.

Head winemaker Kasey Wierzba makes award-winning wines that have put the spotlight on Michigan's wine industry, giving recognition to all their hard work. Some of these include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Franc, and Vignoles, as well as many other blends. The vineyard’s unique climate allows Shady Lane Cellars to produce wines with vibrant flavors that all wine lovers enjoy.

We recently talked with Rick DeBlasio, the General Manager at Shady Lane Cellars, about the vineyard’s journey.

What makes wine production an interesting career?

"As long as you're passionate about what you do it will be interesting. There is often the perception that like other types of production, wineries just take grapes and crank out product all year long. In reality, we start with annual crop cycles for our fruit, and from there it can be anywhere from 6-24 months to get the initial end result.

"Wine production is a constant evolution that begins in the vineyard. Climate, weather, geology and the vineyard's philosophy will impact the fruit that goes into the wine. It is then turned over to the winemaker who is part scientist, part artist, and part chef. From there, all that's left is to enjoy!"

How has Shady Lane set itself apart from other Michigan wineries?

"Shady Lane has a long agricultural history in the region, with the original fruit farm dating back over 100 years. The first vines went in the ground in 1989, and the first vintage was in 1992. The winery opened to the public in 1999, and was recently purchased by Mr. Richard Fortune in 2013. There is a lot of variability in the business, especially in emerging regions. We feel a strong connection to our history and our roots and are excited to see what the future holds.

"One of the elements of our estate that differentiates us from other local vineyards is the size of our vineyard. We have nearly 50 acres under vine at the estate and another 14 acres just up the peninsula from our location. Being a small winery, we have a large resource in our vineyard that allows us to produce wines almost exclusively with estate fruit."

Do outside forces influence or shape the way Shady Lane makes wine?

"Certainly. There is a long list of environmental factors that contribute to the end result—most of which we can't control, and can be rather dramatic, especially in Northern Michigan! Weather is the most influential variable that we have to manage, but the variability year to year is an element that makes wine exciting. We also have to pay attention to market demands. We stay true to our values and the standard of quality with which we strive to achieve. The opinions of our guests and what they look for in a wine is and always has been very important to us."

What is the most pressing concern to Shady Lane as a winery?

"After the last two vintages, it's warm, mild, consistent weather. The continued growth of our region and state as a legitimate and recognized wine region of quality and distinction is also something of great concern to us."

In what ways does Shady Lane Cellars continue to grow?

"We recently went through a major addition to our tasting room, where we added a large outdoor patio, fireplace, and a 32' covered tasting pavilion. We love the beautiful summers up north and nothing is better than sharing a glass of wine with great friends out on the patio. We also added hard cider to our product mix last year, using local Leelanau apples and serving it exclusively in our tasting room."

Shady Lane Cellars supplies Grove and Essence restaurants with elegant wines. That said, what does it feel like to get Shady Lane wines into the hands of more Michigan residents and wine lovers around the world?

"Our relationship with Essence Restaurants, particularly Grove, is something we truly value. We are a small winery from a lesser-known region, and the opportunity to have great industry partners like Grove gives us a chance to put our products in front of folks who may not otherwise experience them. We know our quality will compete—we just need the opportunity."

Shady Lane Cellars has been recognized for the production of quite a few different wines, what does that mean for the vineyard?

"We take great pride in the management of our vineyard and the production of our wines. Having a larger estate vineyard allows us to grow a number of different varieties and give our winemaker opportunities to try different things. We have more variance in smaller lots. Most of our products fall around 200 cases or less."

Which wines have been the greatest successes?

"Riesling is probably the noble grape of Michigan because it's well suited to the climate. It's also a widely versatile grape from a flavor profile, ranging from bone-dry to dessert sweet. We've also developed a reputation for our red wines, something often overlooked in our region. We grow a variety called Blaufrankish: a rather obscure variety traditionally grown in Austria, but a red well-suited for cool climates. Ours has an interesting, distinct black-pepper note to it that you can't miss."

How has Shady Lane dealt with the process of being recognized as an established winery?

"From a regional perspective, a wide interest has developed throughout our region about Traverse City area wineries. We've seen a lot of support, and enjoy repeat customers in our tasting room from GR and Chicago. From a national perspective, it's exciting to watch as Michigan becomes more of an established national wine region."

How has Shady Lane Cellars’ winemaking style developed since its inception?

"Initially, Shady Lane Cellars mainly focused on sparkling wine production. Over the years, we've shifted still wine, and even more recently, growing the red side of our portfolio. We've always worked to stay true to our vineyard and our region, and let the natural influences on the grapes drive our style. Our cool climate helps us create beautifully vibrant, crisp, clean white wines, and fresh, full and intense reds."

Michigan has seen a drastic increase in the making of fine wines in the last decade. What do you think of this wine journey and where do you think Michigan’s wine future is heading?

"I think the journey is just beginning! The growth and evolution of the region have been incredible, driven by great people working hard and doing great things—both the folks in the industry and all our champions who have supported us all these years. What's unique about Michigan wine is how closely it grows to the water. On the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in Northern Michigan, our proximity to water drives nearly everything in our vineyards. This, along with being on the 45th parallel, makes us an ideal location to grow certain grapes. Michigan has the environment, the people, and the product to continue driving the growth of our region, and that's really exciting!"

Grove loves Shady Lane Cellars!

Grove is proud of the waves Shady Lane Cellars has created in Michigan’s wine industry and is even prouder to offer a small taste of that to our customers. For even more wine, be sure to follow M-22 just north of Traverse City and visit their beautiful vineyard and tasting room. If you're looking to stay more local, stop into Grove and try our latest offering from Shady Lane paired with the perfect dish.

Contact Shady Lane Cellars by phone (231) 947-8865, or visit their website for more information. And make sure to stop by the vineyard’s tasting room this summer at 9580 E Shady Lane in Suttons Bay, MI!