It’s not crucial to travel to France’s eastern wine region to experience a Burgundian Chardonnay. The style is characterized more by its crisp minerality and full fruit notes than its oak-aged counterparts. And Shady Lane Cellars Winemaker Kasey Wierzba has been handcrafting wines like this - from the ground up - since 2016.

“We are aiming for a Burgundian style Chardonnay,” said Wierzba. “I think one of the most important similarities is in the oak presence. We aim to have the oak enhance the fruit - as opposed to being a very prominent part of the wine style. We do this by aging in both stainless steel and more neutral French oak.”

Chardonnay grapes were among the original grapes planted on the property at Shady Lane Cellars. But they were primarily used in sparkling wine. Six years ago, Wierzba began crafting Shady Lane Cellars’ first still Chardonnay.

“We do what the French call Bâtonnage, which is a process of stirring up the lees, proteinous sediment from the yeast,” Wierzba said. “This creates the rounder, creamier texture that Chardonnay is known for.”

This is not the same Chardonnay you’ll find on the West Coast. There isn’t a buttery note to be found. And that’s just how Wierzba intended it.

“The butteriness character in Chardonnay is from the malolactic fermentation,” she explains. “This is actually a bacterial fermentation when the bacteria metabolize malic acid and change it to lactic acid. This will shift the acidity to an acid that is much softer. There are some bacterial strains that are known for enhancing the butteriness - and others strains that do not.

“At Shady Lane Cellars we aim to have the wine go through malolactic fermentation - using bacteria strains that do not create the buttery characteristic. This allows the fruit expression to shine through in the wine.”

So what exactly will you taste instead?

“Leelanau County chardonnay grapes are full of white peach and melon aromas and flavors and we don't want to cover the fruit up but let the fruit ride on reserved oak and a round mouthfeel,” she said.

This summer it’s possible to try a vertical flight of Chardonnay – comparing Shady Lane Cellars wines from 2017, 2018 and 2019 – right in the tasting room.

“Each vintage has a different expression of the grape,” said Wierzba. “This is influenced by vintage weather, ripeness, barrel cooperage and simply the wine's age.”

A vertical flight offers the perfect opportunity to compare and experience what this Michigan region has to offer.

“We wanted our guests to experience this by tasting the wines back to back,” said Wierzba. “The 2017 is an aged library release. The 2018 is our current release and the 2019 is a pre-release.”

A tasting card is delivered with each wine flight so guests can compare notes. The 2017 Chardonnay, for example, has notes of rustic apple, melon and vanilla with a dry finish. It’s 2018 counterpart has a richer expression of oak with lemon cream and a crème brulèe finish. The pre-release 2019 gives hints of star fruit and preserved lemons with a toasty vanilla finish.

Experience Shady Lane Cellars’ Vertical Chardonnay Tasting during any visit to the winery this August. The cost is $12 for the Tasting Flight or $55 for a 3-bottle Vertical Chardonnay Pack. A tasting fee is waived when patrons choose to purchase of the 3-bottle Chardonnay pack.