Custom Crush for Michigan

French Road Cellars is state's first dedicated custom crush winery

by Linda Jones McKee
French Road
Shiny new French Road custom crush produced about 5,000 cases of wine during the 2009 crush, its first. The winery can grow to a 20,000-case capacity.

Lake Leelanau, Mich.—French Road Cellars doesn’t have a tasting room. The winery doesn’t have a label or a website, and doesn’t show up on the map for the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. The reason: French Road Cellars is a custom-crush winery—the first of its type in Michigan—whose goal is to help the local wine industry in northern Michigan produce better wine.

The winery, owned by Doug and Laura Matthies in Lake Leelanau, opened just in time for harvest this past fall. The facility was built and equipped in seven months, and during the harvest in 2009 produced approximately 5,000 cases of wine. Doug Matthies designed the winery, which is 6,000 square feet.

“I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time,” Doug Matthies told Wines & Vines recently. “There are between two and five start-up wineries in northern Michigan every year, and most produce less than 5,000 gallons. It’s expensive to hire people to work up here—you have to bring people in, pay moving expenses and good salaries. And the necessary winemaking equipment takes a pretty significant investment. I want to help the smaller guys who want to get into the wine industry, and help out the industry by bringing in new people with quality products.”

Matthies comes from a wine industry background. He started working in cherry orchards when he was 13, and has been managing vineyards for 20 years. He served as vineyard manager at Leelanau Wine Cellars for several years, and in 1999 started Big Paw Vineyard Services, a consulting company that plants and maintains vineyards. His parents own Chateau Fontaine in Lake Leelanau, and that is another reason Doug Matthies has no plans to develop a label of his own.

Doug Matthies and Shawn Walters bring decades of vineyard
and winery experience to their new venture.

Because his background is more oriented to viticulture, Matthies works closely with Shawn Walters, owner of One World Winery Consulting. In response to a question concerning his winemaking background, Walters, who began working in wineries 18 years ago as a cellar rat, noted, “I’ve learned in the school of hard knocks—no formal training, just 18 crushes.” He was winemaker and vineyard manager at Leelanau Wine Cellars for a number of years before deciding he preferred making “artisan wines” for smaller, boutique wineries. He now consults for a number of northern Michigan wineries.

French Road Cellars is designed to be a 20,000-case facility. It currently has cooperage for 6,000 cases, with stainless steel tanks on order for another 4,000 cases, in order to handle the anticipated volume during harvest in 2010. Its equipment includes a Milani destemmer-crusher that is designed to destem grapes while leaving the berries whole; a Enoveneta bladder press; and a Fimer nine-spout bottling line that can handle 400 cases per day with either a cork or screwcap finish. The press has a capacity of 3 tons.

Walters sees French Road Cellars as a great opportunity for the local wine industry. “We can help smaller growers be successful in getting into the business of making wine,” Walters stated. “They can bring us the fruits of their labors, and we can help them produce clean, well-made, varietally expressive wines.”

For more information about French Road Cellars, e-mail dmatthies@aol.com or oneworldwinery@gmail.com; or phone Matthies at (231) 256-0680.

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