Shady Creek Winery, Michigan City, Indiana
Since I am from the state of Indiana, I thought it only fitting that my first official post should be about the Hoosier State and one of its fine wineries.
Indiana was home to one of the first commercial wineries in the US, so is it any surprise that their should be commercial wineries there now? No, but I was surprised to find this one—mainly because it is located in the very city in which I grew up, but only cropped up in 2009 —well after I had moved to Philadelphia. My experience with Shady Creek came in the form of a Christmas present from my sister, Chrissy, who bought me a mixed case (results below).
Michigan City is a small city nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, in the far northwestern corner of Indiana. It has miles of beautiful beaches adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, whose 15,000 acres are home to prairies, bogs, marshes, forests, and sand dunes, as well as a vast collection of flora and fauna. It is a stone’s throw from Michigan, and a clear view of the sunset across the lake and over the Chicago skyline is one of its many natural, visual charms. The city grew around its harbor, which is now used primarily for fishing– and pleasure– boats, and its steel mills flourished due to proximity to both Chicago and Detroit.
Its early history centers around Native Americans—namely members of Iroquois and Algonquian tribes, who visited the area as early as 5000 years ago. History places the region at the center of a Potawatomi Nation until they were forcibly removed in the 1830’s.
The macabre is always a draw to me, and the more-recent story of murderous Belle Gunness certainly deserves that moniker. Michigan City is also home to the Indiana State Prison, which once housed John Dillinger. Ironically, the township of Long Beach was at one time a home to Al Capone and, more recently, the current Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts.
But, what about wine?
As I mentioned earlier, Indiana has a long history of commercial wine-production.
John James (Actually Jean-Jacques) Dufour opened the nation’s first, successful commercial winery in the early 1800’s in Indiana territory on the North bank of the Ohio River, which forms the border between Indiana and Kentucky. This settlement was in Vevay—about halfway between Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH. Kentucky also lays claim to the nation’s “first” commercial winery, as Dufour initially settled in Kentucky. He planted vines there through capital funding by a vineyard association. There was at least one famous, founding member of this association: Henry Clay. Clay, the politician, later advocated for a colony for freed slaves in Africa and helped to found Monrovia (later Liberia) for that purpose. Following a first, unsuccessful harvest, the funding for Dufour’s commercial vineyard in Kentucky ended.
Dufour then moved to Vevay and planted a different, more successful grape: The Cape Grape. Cape is thought to be a “spontaneous” hybrid—as happens in the wild– between a Vitis labrusca grape and, possibly, a Vitis vinifera grape. From whence came this “Cape” grape? From Philadelphia, of course, in the neighborhood of Springgettsbury. Of the many synonyms for Cape grape (including Vevay) are Schuylkill, Schuylkill Muscadel, and Schuylkill Muscadine. Bartram’s Gardens, the nation’s first botanical gardens, is located along the Schuylkill River, and it was there that the grapes were popularized.
The region around that early vineyard comprises one of only two American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in Indiana, the Ohio River Valley AVA, which spans lands in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. A second AVA was approved only in February of 2013, and lies solely within south central Indiana. Neither AVA now grows the Cape grape, and it is likely extinct. Both areas do grow the hybrid grape Traminette, which is Indiana’s signature grape.
Further North—and closer to Shady Creek– is the Lake Michigan Shore AVA., which lies solely within the borders of Michigan. It is from here – at distances ranging from 10—100 miles away— that Shady Creek sources many of its white grapes: Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Vignoles. Reds (such as Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon) are sourced both locally and further afield on the West Coast. Their popular Cherry Wine features cherries from Michigan.
I had never had wine from produced in Indiana, nor made from grapes from the Lake Michigan Shore AVA. Therefore, I had no idea what to expect, or even any frame of reference for tasting. Here are the results.
Shady Creek offers many different wines, from grapes sourced from the Lake Michigan Shore AVA or from the western US.
I have not yet sampled all of the wines I received, but I have made a good start and will add to the list as I drink more of them!
The grapes are Lake Michigan Shore sourced. The wine has a good structure with some bright acid, and I thought I tasted some light notes of new American Oak. The wine has lemony citrus notes, as well as a bit of light, light peach. The palate has a soupçon of unripe nuts and green olives.
I enjoyed this and later discovered that it is a decorated wine. In 2011 the NV Pinot Grigio was awarded a silver medal in the Indy (Indianapolis) International Wine Competition, while it received a bronze in 2012.
This red wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. These are not listed on the bottle, and my initial guess missed the Merlot. The wine has a great earthy nose with cherry notes, and the unmistakable notes of graphite and cherry in the waxy mouth. It has very nice, round tannins and a long finish.
The Rescued Dog is another award-winning wine, also receiving bronze at the 2012 Indy competition.
Rip Tide is, apparently, made with chambourcin grapes sourced from Lake Michigan Shore AVA. The website says it is a blend, but of which varietals I do not know.
Chambourcin is one of my favorite grapes on the East Coast, and this one has the same blackberry juiciness that I enjoy. It also has nice cherry notes and a bit of chocolate. The chocolate and velvety mouth-feel is rather reminiscent of merlot, which thus may be part of the blend. It has a medium weight and nice, round tannins. A good pour.
This is a semi-sweet wine with vignoles grapes sourced from Lake Michigan Shore.
It has a bit of sweetness, but enough pucker (acidity) for balance. It became my “afternoon” wine.
So far, I have enjoyed all of the wines I’ve tried. My major complaint is that the labels sometimes lack varietal information, and this is also missing from the website.
Overall, I would definitely recommend the wines I have tried.