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Country of Origin: USA
Location: Fennville, Michigan
People: Jim & Carol Gonzalez, Owners | Andrew Backlin, Winemaker | Ben Guerrin, Vineyard Manager
Viticulture: Practicing Organic
Located in the heart of the Fennville AVA, Modales is producing cool climate, terroir-driven wines that challenge the perception of what is possible for Michigan viticulture and Michigan wines.
In 2014, Jim and Carol Gonzales purchased their first vineyard La Esperanza (The Hope) a little over a mile from Lake Michigan. Their intention was to be good farmers and sell their grapes to local wineries. But when those wineries started to win awards with their fruit, they decided to take things to the next level.
In 2016, they purchased 75 acres of farmland in Fennville, christening her La Gracia (The Grace) and began to realize their vision of not only crafting quality Michigan wines but restoring the land to a state of health and vigor. They hired Northern California winemaker Andrew Backlin (previously at Steele Wines and Duckhorn), broke ground for the production site and winery, and opened their doors to the public in 2019.
Incorporating sustainable practices on land that was farmed for decades with conventional methods is not without its challenges, but Vineyard Manager Ben Guerrin was not one to shy away from the undertaking setting the goal for organic certification by 2024. It is the experience of many farmers that utilizing practices that create healthy soils results in plants that are better able to withstand disease, insects, and climatic stresses. Healthy vines translate to better quality wine. Encouraging biodiversity through cover cropping, green manure, and the introduction of animals such as the woolly eaters, aka sheep, blue bird boxes, and raptor perches as well as beneficial insects create a healthy community for all life.
Because of these practices Andrew and Ben are witnessing the emergence of a truly diverse ecosystem within the vineyard that reduces the need for intervention, not just on the ranch, but in the winemaking process as well. Native yeast thrives in a healthy vineyard becoming the main driver for fermentation and is one of the components in the expression of terroir.
The vibrant personalities of La Esperanza and La Gracia vineyards are unique in their expressions due to soil type and relation to Lake Michigan’s influence. La Esperanza has heavy clay soils which results in concentrated, mineral-rich wines. La Gracia has a sandier composition and is located further inland, producing livelier wines with bright fruit character. Established grape varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and newly planted Gamay are a large part of the estate but experimental vineyards that include Rkatsiteli, Semillon, Alicante Bouschet, Teroldego, Lagrein, Tannat and Petit Manseng reflect the curious nature of Andrew and his team as they push the boundaries of winemaking in Michigan especially in the realm of rich, complex red wines. What rules can be broken, what old standards can be challenged, and what is truly possible for Michigan Wines? Here, at Modales, they are crushing it.
Vinepair: Michigan Winemakers Are Making High-Quality Wines With Locally Grown Vinifera Grapes
Red Wine Cats: Michigan Wine