Getting to Know Winemaker James Lester

By Wendi Onuki / Photography By Wendi Onuki | July 06, 2016
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Read our Summer 2016 article about James Lester and Wyncroft Wine here.

What’s the best wine you’ve 
ever tasted?
It’s a tossup: a 1964 Chateau Latour or a 1980 Mongeard-Mugneret Grands-Echezeaux. I can’t decide which two of those wines was most profound.

What’s your favorite spot in the world to drink wine?
Anywhere in France. It’s the mother of all the great wine styles that we have, and you can’t beat the ambience of the French culture, French architecture, the vineyards, the landscape. It’s a marvelous place.

What’s your favorite local restaurant?
My favorite restaurant in Michigan 
has closed. Tapawingo, in Ellsworth, was my favorite restaurant in Michigan and probably my favorite restaurant on the planet.

What’s your ultimate food-wine pairing?
My barrel-fermented Chardonnay with steamed lobster tails in a Cognac-cream morel mushroom sauce. That’s probably one of the best food-wine pairings I’ve ever experienced. It only happened once, and I’ll never forget it. The other is grilled duck breast with my Pinot Noir. It’s just unbelievable how those go together.

What’s your favorite Wyncroft wine?
My 1999 Pinot Noir. It was one of those wines, when you take one sip 
of it, you instantly know it’s a great wine. It was so sensuous and mouth-filling. When you have great wine in your glass and take a sip, you sort of slip into another dimension … of aesthetic appreciation. Those are magical moments.

Describe your job in three words.
Difficult. Joyous. Grounding.

What’s your dream other job?
I’d be a wine importer, probably. I’d 
be in the business. I’d probably travel in France and find small estates and bring wine to this country, because I love my business.

Who’s your dream drinking partner?
Probably Jesus. He talked about wine a lot, and vineyards, and we know that he drank wine. I would say that he’s probably one of the most enigmatic figures in history. You can be an Orthodox Christian or an atheist, and he still fascinates.

When was the moment you knew you would become a winemaker?
It was Christmas Day 1983, and I had just made my first tiny experimental batch of Pinot Noir from Michigan-grown grapes. I wasn’t expecting the wine to be anything interesting or spectacular, and as I was syphoning off the lees, this perfume came out of this little jug—truly an amazing aroma. It reminded me of a very fine bottle of Burgundy that I had just tasted. In a flash, I realized that Michigan has the potential of making truly great wine, and that’s what I needed to do.

What’s your best advice for 
wine enthusiasts?
Know that wine is food, and it should go with food. You can never in your lifetime learn all there is to learn about wine. It’s something that can fascinate you your entire lifetime. And there’s no end to the joy and pleasure that it can give at your dinner table. It’s got such complex flavors—this tremendous spectrum of flavors that you never thought could exist in one single fruit. Learn about good food and good wine and how they work together. It’s art for the nourishment of your body, as well as your soul.

Pullman, MI

Tastings available by appointment.

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