How One Winery Designates Its Reserve Wines

Your customers may see the word “reserve” on the label and arrive at the conclusion that it means the wine is special, but do they really know what it means?

Shady Lane Cellars in Suttons Bay, Michigan is attempting to educate current and prospective customers alike, putting out an announcement this week explaining how it determines what it takes for its wines to get the reserve label, which refers to winemakers holding back what they feel is a particularly good vintage, allowing it to age longer and confidently telling its customers that it’s the cream of their crop.

Shady Lane Executive Winemaker and General Manager Kasey Wierzba started the reserve program at the Leelanau Peninsula-based winery in 2016 and it continues today. Wierzrba said she tastes every barrel of wine produced there – and often brings in Vineyard Manager Andy Fles and Assistant Winemaker Maddie Vint to join her. 

Every so often they come across a barrel that exceeds their expectations. 

At Shady Lane Cellars, Wierzba only makes 100 to 125 cases of most of the wines that earn this distinction. Whether they release it depends primarily on the climate and conditions during the growing season as well as the vintage itself. It doesn’t happen every year or growing season, either.

“It always seems that four to six barrels will really jump out at us,” Wierzba said. “These are really something special. Then, it all comes down to how the wine is maturing in the barrel.” 

Following the 2016 growing season, Wierzba found that Blaufrankisch had derived strong characteristics of blackberry. It became the first Shady Lane Cellars Reserve wine. The following year, Pinot Noir grapes had their own moment and Wierzba crafted a Pinot Noir Reserve. 

“Everything came together for Pinot Noir that year. It was a very warm, dry fall and very cool summer,” she said.

The process of crafting a reserve wine from these stand-out barrels takes just under three years, about 30 months. Once the reserve is ready for bottling, these wines are given special treatment. Shady Lane Cellars designates its reserve wines because it is hand-dipped in a wax enclosure.

“We go that extra mile with reserve wines,” Wierzba said. “We want you to know by looking at them that these are something extra special.”

Its public announcement also served to announce a new release.

It’s been about three years since Shady Lane Cellars has released a reserve wine, but it’s got another waiting in the wings. In 2019, the team made a Blaufrankisch Reserve. Wierzba said the upcoming reserve will be characterized by a lot of concentrated flavors, rich cherry, berry reduction and warm spices. It’s highly anticipated by wine fans, she said.

“It’s a really beautiful expression of the fruit,” said Wierzba. “Blaufrankisch tends toward rustic blue fruits – mulberry and blackberry. After aging in the barrel for 31 months, the warm baking spices are more evident.”

The winery also plans to release a 2020 Dry Riesling reserve in 2023.

Shady Lane encourages those who want access to reserve wines to join its wine club because those wines are released first to members, who receive four shipments of wine each year.

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