A Chat With Winemaker John Wyman of Victoria Creek in Leelanau

John Wyman’s Victoria Creek Vineyards sits above the headwaters of Victoria Creek near the ghost town of Isadore. Since 1999, Victoria Creek Vineyards has operated as a green, off-the-grid vineyard and winery, manufacturing all of its own energy from wind and solar power. Wyman farms under a philosophy of full-circle symbiosis, wherein native species co-regulate the health of the vineyard.

In addition to the Pinot Noir used in Victoria Creek’s Wooden Boat and Lighthouse wines, the vineyard is planted to over 23 species of vinifera.

What motivated you to start Victoria Creek Vineyards?

My grandfather farmed his whole life. When I was a little boy I would visit him in the Les Cheneaux where he would summer after retirement. He was proud of me for being the only grandchild to follow his farming legacy, so the name Wooden Boat [wooden boats are icons of Les Cheneaux’s waters] is a tribute to him. I like being a part of grapes and winebecause it requires a very diverse set of skills.

What are the challenges of growing Pinot Noir?

Its growth habit. Pinot has a floppy canopy, and it is hard to keep it neat unless it is tucked and pinched inside the catch wires, which requires a lot of labor input. Making consistently good wine is difficult and takes years of learning. Luckily I have a lot of great examples around me to follow.

What are the rewards?

It’s easy to prune, ripens early and is fairly cold hardy. Making wine from Pinot Noir is fun because it is made in so many different styles. There are few expectations, and the wine lends itself well to creative liberty.

Wooden Boat is an unusual blend of Pinot and Merlot, how does the wine benefit?

Pinot Noir is thin and light but complex. Merlot is dark and soft, but somewhat uninteresting on its own. So the Merlotsoftens the Pinot Noir and provides color and depth. And the Pinot Noir gives the Merlot complexity.

Victoria Creek Vineyards is not open to the public. The vineyard’s wines Wooden Boat, Sandcastle and Lighthouse are available through local restaurants and retailers.

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