The faces of Michigan wine: Jan Van Maanen
Metro Detroiter's passion for wine leads to second career up north
Jan Van Maanen
Editor's Note: Getting to know the people behind Michigan wine is a major part of the industry's allure. Periodically, we'll touch base with the faces behind the bar or barrels at Michigan's wineries. Today: Hawthorne Vineyards Tasting Room Manager Jan Van Maanen.
While her peers were tossing back shots in grimy dive bars, Jan Van Maanen took a more sophisticated approach to imbibing as a senior at Michigan State University.
Each month, she hosted wine and cheese parties at her apartment. They became "a real hit" among her friends.
"I started reading up on wine, cheese, appropriate pairings, and got totally 'geeky' with the whole idea," she says.
Fast forward to the present, and it's not so surprising that Van Maanen is now tasting room manager at Hawthorne Vineyards, the latest winery to open on northern Lower Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula.
She came by way of 22 years spent working for an IT company. She was among the casualties in a 2009 workforce reduction initiative.
"My husband, Keith, said, ‘Go do what you've always wanted to do, and we will find a way to make it work,' " she recalls.
What she wanted to do was delve deeper into wine. Her brother, a longtime Traverse City resident, helped make it happen by introducing her to Chateau Chantal Tasting Room Manager Bill Autenreith. She snagged a position at the Old Mission Peninsula-based winery and became a "jack of all trades," doing a little bit of everything around the tasting room — manning the bar, assisting with wine dinners, conducting tours — for several summers.
"I loved the energy and diversity at Chateau Chantal, not to mention the breathtaking views," she says, alluding to the winery's sweeping vineyard vistas and glimpses of both bays. "There are so many opportunities under one roof."
In the summer of 2010, Chateau Chantal CEO Jim Krupka introduced Van Maanen to Bruce Hawthorne, with whom she shared a similar corporate background and passion for the wine industry.
"Unbeknownst to me, this was a bit of an informal interview for the tasting room manager position at Hawthorne Vineyards," says Van Maanen.
Hawthorne and his wife, Cathy, had purchased 88 acres — including 13 vineyard acres— from Chateau Chantal in 2005. They doubled the acreage under vine shortly thereafter and continued to sell grapes back to Chateau Chantal until 2010. That year, they bottled their inaugural vintage, tapping Brian Hosmer, a winemaker for Chateau Chantal, to make their wine as well. With plans for a tasting room on the horizon, they were looking for someone to run the show.
"So with that, the corporate door was officially closed, and my dream career window was opened," says Van Maanen.
She continued working summers at Chateau Chantal until partway through 2012, when she began transitioning to her new gig down the road.
Hawthorne Vineyards opened for six weeks in fall 2012, offering sampling out of the cellar while construction on the tasting room wrapped up. The completed tasting room opened on May 1, 2013.
Situated on a hilltop overlooking both East and West Grand Traverse bays, the tasting room features an elegant dark wood interior, a stone patio with outdoor fireplace, and large windows to take in the surrounding water and woods.
As a boutique winery, Hawthorne's wine lineup is small and selective: chardonnay, pinot blanc, riesling, pinot grigio, lemberger, gamay noir, rosé, merlot, cabernet franc/merlot, pinot noir, and a newly released sweet white blend, Delish.
Van Maanen says she's filled with gratitude daily for the unrivaled beauty that surrounds her as she travels up winding, tree-lined Camino Maria Drive to Hawthorne's tasting room.
"I enter the tasting room in the morning and feel renewed," she says.
Pursuit of her dream has resulted in something of a double life for Van Maanen. A born-and-raised metro Detroiter, her primary residence remains in Birmingham. But driven by memories of her family's summer home on Elk Lake during her childhood, Van Maanen and her husband maintain a "retirement home" on Old Mission Peninsula.
Hawthorne is only open seasonally — May through October. So Keith travels north each weekend after his work week at General Motors during that time, and Van Maanen returns to southeast Michigan for most of the winter.
"When I'm in Traverse City, I do miss certain aspects of Detroit, as those are my roots," she says. "It seems odd to people in TC, but I am still a ‘city girl' at heart.
"When I get back to Detroit, I find myself missing the beauty and slower-paced lifestyle of TC. The nice thing is, it's only a four-hour commute, so I can get my fix either way!"
And while the immaculate, upscale space at Hawthorne may be a far cry from her college digs, Van Maanen's reason for being behind the bar — a desire to bond with fellow wine lovers — remains the same as when she was a college senior throwing pairing parties.
"It gives me great pleasure to share my passion with others," she says. "I feel very fortunate. Not a day goes by without thanking corporate America for releasing me."
For more information on Hawthorne Vineyards, visit hawthornevineyards.com or find them on Facebook.
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She's also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, a joint offsite tasting room in partnership with six Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township. Contact her at email@example.com.
QUICK SIP WITH JAN:
If you had to choose wines in the following categories to sip on, which would you choose?
A Hawthorne Vineyards wine: "Tough question … on a hot summer day, our rosé. It's a lovely blend of pinot noir and gamay noir. It's very crisp and dry, with a fruity finish. It's such a versatile wine, and so refreshing."
Another Michigan wine: "L. Mawby. Anything sparkling, any time of the year, any time of the day!"
A non-Michigan wine: "Domaine Carneros, Napa Valley. Amazing sparkling wines. See the pattern""
Is there a particular style/varietal to which you gravitate?
"This is seasonal for me. In the warmer summer months, I gravitate toward dry, crisp white wines, like pinot blanc or pinot grigio. In the cooler months, I gravitate towards a good cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon."