When Brengman Brothers Winery found itself with a surplus of high-quality grapes, it hatched a plan to expand its offerings to make use of the excess inventory.
A little over a year ago, the Leelanau County winery began the process of securing the necessary approvals to open a distillery. It plans to begin offering distilled products as soon as its distiller’s license is approved.
“We had a problem with having too many grapes of certain types,” says Robert Brengman, winemaker at Brengman Brothers Winery. Some wines don’t reach expected growth in sales, he explains, while other wines become more popular than expected.
“We decided that with these wonderful fruits, like Gewürztraminer and Riesling, that we should make brandies out of those,” he says.
To make brandy, he says, you need a distiller’s license. They first sought the township’s approval, which Brengman Brothers Winery received earlier this year. The application is now at the state level, where the Michigan Liquor Control Commission will review it.
“Once we receive approval from the state, we’ll get permission from the feds, and we’ll be a legit distillery,” Brengman says.
Up to the Challenge
After receiving a distiller’s license, Brengman Brothers Winery plans to offer a variety of brandies, including Cognac and grappa. They believe diversifying can only add to the winery’s appeal.
“From a consumer standpoint, we look forward to satisfying those palates that enjoy some very nice brandies, and that would be our goal,” says winery co-owner Ed Brengman.
“We’re in the wine and the spirits business, and I think they’ll complement each other, I really do,” Ed says. “I think it will bring a little bit wider clientele.”
The brothers see a high demand for Cognac in particular, though they will not officially label their “Cognac,” since the name indicates that the brandy was produced in the Cognac region of France.
“We know that there’s not enough of Cognac made in this country,” Robert says, “… and it seems like that’s a good sector to focus on to be able to provide people of this country a beautiful beverage that’s actually made with grapes grown here.”
He adds, “We like the fact that there’s not a lot of that made here, and we are up to the challenge to make it and make it as well as the Europeans, or even better.”
Making Cognac isn’t easy. Robert says it’s one of the more difficult distilled beverages to make, but that Brengman Brothers likes a challenge.
“That kind of fits within our mold,” he says. “We like things that are a challenge, we like to make things that are hard to make, and to make them great.”
Robert notes that one of the biggest challenges will be learning the brandy-making process.
The winery plans to hire a consultant or a staff distiller to help. The distillery will require investment in new equipment as well. They’re currently researching what they’ll need.
“There’s always a capital investment of equipment,” Ed says. “The still itself can range anywhere from $15,000 up to $100,000.”
The Time Is Ripe
The distillery and tasting room will be located in the winery’s existing facilities. The brothers are hopeful they can start producing brandies soon.
“We’re ready to go tomorrow,” Robert says, “but we have to wait for all of the government approvals, and once we receive those, we’ll just move our plans ahead.”
Of course, the timing also depends on when the fruit is ripe.
“October-November is when we can actually start using the fruit to make the brandies,” Robert says. “So, in an ideal world, we would have this set up and ready to go by October of this year.”
Most important for the winery, though, is to continue satisfying customers.
“People enjoy our very fine wines that we make here and grow,” Ed says, “and so we’re going to try to continue on that path and take care of those good patrons that we have.”