2017 Vintage Report
Mild temperatures persisted throughout the winter season with the coldest day barely hitting single digits. The vines on the home estate, having perfectly hardened off during autumn, made it through winter’s threat without a dent. However, a warmer than average April brought out our first buds before the end of the month, and we held our breath. In the first week of May, nearing the full moon, a clear, frosty morning brought temperatures dipping down to 29 degrees before 5:00 AM, pulling us out of bed to light bonfires in the predawn of the lower field. A hopeful attempt at drawing the cold air downhill and away from the tender green shoots which carried our crop. Whether due to our efforts or not, we suffered just a little spotty bud damage amongst the Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Coupled with judicious pruning, we had sufficient bud survival to give us our first full crop from our newest vineyard we planted in 2014 at our home estate in Pullman.
Our Avonlea Vineyard in Buchanan didn’t fare quite as well, having sustained some significant damage on one cold, wintery night that had temperatures plummeting to 11 below. The few surviving buds then took a second hit by the spring frost in early May leaving us just a few clusters here and there. It was heart breaking to have to suffer another major crop loss from this amazing site. Undaunted, we are continuing our remedial work there, and have planted approximately 600 new chardonnay vines last May.
The summer weather was nearly perfect with highs staying in the 80’s and overnight temperatures dipping into the 60’s. The vines are fully functioning in this range, and flavors developed quickly. Veraison came early with the Pinot Noir turning color by the first week of August, and the other varietals shortly behind. September began with the grapes tasting nearly mature and ripe. However, lab analysis measured very high acidity, so we waited. A heat wave hit in mid to late September and temperatures soared into the mid-nineties for a good week to ten days, bringing sugars up and acids down to a perfect balance.
First to harvest was the Pinot Noir, which was kicked off by a hardy crew of volunteers who withstood the unseasonable heat wave to bring in perfectly ripened grapes. We hand-harvested five barrels worth from these young vines. Our home estate vineyard was planted with Dijon clones 115, 943, Calera, Rhys “SW”, and Wadenswil 2A. The wine seems to be leaning toward a Cote de Beaune style at this stage of its vinification, which pleases me, as our Avonlea Pinot Noir tends to taste more like a Cote de Nuits. It is exciting to me to be able to make Pinot Noir from two different Michigan AVA’s—Lake Michigan Shore and now Fennville, and discover the distinct differences between the two.
Our Merlot crop came in soon after the Pinot Noir with amazing concentrated flavors and thick black skins. Lastly, we brought in the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at slightly over 23 brix. The young wines are inky and massive, like classic Bordeaux. It will be a great experience to put together the blend for our “Shou” from such lovely wines. The red wines will likely be bottled this autumn and released in the spring of 2019.
In between the Merlot and Cabernet harvest, we picked the Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc—enough to make 400 cases! We will produce two iterations of wine from this harvest. We’ll bottle a blend in the early spring, under our Marland label, of the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that will be predominately Sauvignon Blanc and showcase the bright citrusy elements typical of the grape. We’ll also produce a “Shou Blanc” this year, under our Wyncroft label, which will be 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40%, Semillon. Half the Semillon was aged in a new Billon acacia wood barrel as is done by some of the finest estates in Pessac-Leognan. The acacia adds a subtle hazelnut savor that complements the strong citrus flavors in the wine and supports the silky texture that Semillon brings to the blend. The “Shou Blanc” will be bottled late spring, capturing the fresh, crisp fruit character of the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. We hope to release it later this summer.
We look forward to sharing these wines with you this year.