Grape harvest promises rich vintage

By Ian Richardson
Sun contributor
Across the board in the Leelanau Peninsula the 2002 vintage looks like a great one, with all the wineries bringing in great fruit in large quantities. This year’s grape crop benefited from a long, warm growing season with rain falling right when the grapes needed it the most. While late spring frosts damaged several Leelanau fruit crops, grapes were unaffected. According to Chris Guest, winemaker for Raftshol vineyards and Willow Vineyards, the late spring caused a reduction in the number of warming days, the days needed to ripen grapes, but quickly caught up once summer kicked in with an abundance of high temperature days and little rain. I was recently able to spend an afternoon with Chris as he went from Raftshol vineyards to Willow vineyards.

At Raftshol Vineyards I spoke with Warren Raftshol, the owner of the winery, about the new vintage and his wines. I watched as Warren plunged the caps (the layer of crushed grape skins that impart color, flavor, and tannin to wine) on bins of merlot. According to Warren his 2002 merlot is inky black and they had a ton of fruit in all varieties this year, including his cabernet sauvignon (yes, it does grow in Michigan). The merlot and cabernet are fermenting in bins and destined to be bottled in his Claret, a Bordeaux blend and in his Raftshol Red. The merlot will also be bottled varietally. Although I think he should bottle his cabernet varietally, because no one else up here does it, he says he will use it only in his blends.
As compared to Raftshol’s 2001 vintage of chardonnay, the 2002 roughly tripled in case production. I tasted the 2000 Chardonnay, his next released vintage of chardonnay and found it had the same full-body as the 1999, and was slightly more complex. While Warren makes several white wines, when I think of Raftshol I think of reds and the 2002 vintage gives us all a reason to be excited because he is going to have a lot of them and they are going to be great. I will be giving reports as to how these 2002 wines progress.
Upon invitation by Chris Guest, I followed him to Willow Vineyard to watch him and owners John and Jo Crampton create some of their wine. I had never been to Willow before and all the hype I’d heard about their beautiful winery setting was well deserved. The massive stones that line the driveway and south sloping vineyards bathed in sunlight overlooking Lake Michigan are stunning.
While I visited with the Cramptons and Chris I was able to watch as they made a baci rose from pinot noir grapes. They produce a chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot gris and the rose is a new wine for them. While at Willow I was able to taste several wines including their current release 2000 chardonnay and their 2001 chardonnay. The latter is an absolute stunner of a wine, full, rich, and oily with a slightly higher alcohol content than most Michigan wines, an expression of good things to come. I also tasted their pinot noir, which had bright, juicy fruit. Willow doesn’t filter any of their wines, which allows for more of the terroir to come through into the wine (you get a better sense of the soil these wines came from.
It’s a wonderful feeling watching how wine is made, to witness the excitement of the owners and winemakers as they nurture and create what we enjoy when we pop the cork on a bottle of wine. It’s a great feeling to be involved in an industry where so many down to earth and generous people abound. It is people like Warren, John and Jo, Chris Guest and many others that make Leelanau’s wine industry a great one. Congratulations to all the wineries on a great vintage. Cheers!