'On The Map' visits Chateau Fontaine in Lake Leelanau
Leelanau County has become a hotspot for wineries. 25 have taken over the peninsula, making it a destination spot for wine enthusiasts all over the world.
Dan Matthies is the owner of Chateau Fontaine, a winery and vineyard in Lake Leelanau.
He said he had his land sampled by MSU Extension 30 years ago after hearing the area was good for growing grapes.
“So they did 27 core samples. And 26 were 6.5 pH, and one was 6.4. You don’t get much better than that.”
6.4 pH is the ideal soil for vines to thrive.
Chateau Fontaine also has rolling hills and south facing slopes, making the property near perfect for winemaking.
Erwin Elsner is a Viticulture Expert with MSU Extension.
“Most of what we grow here would be called cold-climate grapes. They don't require super warm summers, they do better in warmer summers but they don't have to have it. Especially riesling, which is a very cool climate adapted grape and that is one we really excel at here because it suits our territory.”
Matthies said Lake Leelanau is another secret weapon for the winery.
“One of the keys to making great wines. Why? Because Lake Michigan is warming up, this is west Grand Traverse Bay, that's warming up. We have one more secret that no one place that grows grapes has, a 27-mile long shallow lake that also helps keep the shallows growing.”
After planting vines in the early 90’s, Matthies bottled his first Chardonnay in 1998.
The winery opened for business in 2000.
“That is what I call a fruit-forward chardonnay with lots of flavor, etcetera and etcetera, it's just a very very lovely wine. To me, wine is fruit in a bottle.”
He said he lives by that motto and adds no sugar or sulfates to the 15 wines made by Fontaine.
Matthies sticks to the French style of winemaking.
“We do ours on the French style, the European style, which is light and fruity and little tones of apple and citrus that go into a really nice creamy complexity with just a kiss of oak on the back side."
We tried a variety of wines like Pinot Gris, Laughing Waters Rosé and Cherry Wine.
Matthies said every year the wine they produce gets better and better. He says he and his wife practiced with their family to perfect the flavor.
“We learned. And we learned because we didn’t make the greatest wines. We didn't make the worst either. But everytime we made a bad one you say to yourself, I’m never doing that again, you learn something in the industry.”
Chateau Fontaine isn’t just known by wine enthusiasts in the state.
The winery has garnered international attention by winning dozens of awards.
Matthies’s dry and semi-sweet Riesling won best Riesling at an international wine competition back to back in 2012 and 2013.
“What that means is, here’s a winery in northern Michigan that has won a world award.”
Elsner, viticulture expert, said he expects the recognition of northern Michigan wineries to continue to grow.
“Certainly the visitation of the wine trails is no where near it’s peak, I think there's going to be a lot more attention to that area as word keeps getting out about the world quality wine we can make of varieties we specialize in.”
Matthies said he still plans to keep the tasting operation relatively small.
“Everybody thinks in the wine business, you need the Taj Mahal. You do not need the Taj Mahal. You need great wine, that’s what it’s all about. There’s so many wineries out there right now that have so much money into their tasting rooms, and their operations, that they’re never going to make a dime.”
Stepping into Chateau Fontaine is like visiting a quaint french homestead.
The vineyard sits atop the hill facing the tasting room.
You feel at home the second you stop by to taste wine and chat with Matthies and his family.
“It’s a wonderful business, and I hope my granddaughter is going to be involved in it down the road, right now we are having fun.”
Chateau Fontaine is putting Leelanau, and Michigan wineries, on the map.