Patrick Spensley knows a thing or two about good wine.
The owner of Cherry Creek Cellars in Brooklyn, Michigan, got started in the industry a decade ago when he moved to New Zealand postcollege and began working in various vineyards and wineries there.
“[I] fell in love with the industry, the people, and decided that when I came home, I wanted to make a career out of it,” he says.
After returning to the States in 2011, he started working at Cherry Creek, then owned by John and Denise Burtka. He moved his way up to vineyard manager and winemaker and eventually bought the business — whose tasting room is a converted 1870s schoolhouse — in 2018.
Here, he reflects on his recent Double Gold win in the inaugural Judgement of Michigan, his winery’s commitment to using only Michigan-grown fruit in its products, and his “something for everybody” approach to wine tasting.
Q: Cherry Creek Cellars is committed to using only Michigan-grown fruit in its products. Why is that?
A: Throughout my time here and even before me, we’ve had some great relationships with growers on the west side of the state, Up North near the Traverse City area, and then obviously we have our own vineyards as well. We do use 100% Michigan fruit because we’re trying to prove — and we’re all getting there collectively as winemakers in Michigan — that, hey, you can make some really great wines with what we have to offer, and you don’t have to go outside of the state to A) get good grapes and B) make good wine. There’s definitely that available within the state, and why not take advantage of that? It’s right here in our backyard.
Q: Are there any wines that you’re excited about making from the 2021 harvest?
A: Whenever we can get our hands on some Sauvignon Blanc, I personally certainly like to, and … we do have some Sav Blanc this year and are looking forward to that. It made it through fermentation very well; we were happy with how that process went and are excited to move it along towards bottling and release during the early part of next year.
Q: What was it like to win a Double Gold at the inaugural Judgement of Michigan?
A: I’ve always participated in what used to be the Michigan Wine Competition, so I was excited to see the [Michigan Wine] Collaborative kind of take the reins on that and put something together. I really liked their approach of taking people from all parts of the industry as judges, and so to be able to check enough boxes across the board where we were deemed worthy of a Double Gold was obviously tremendously exciting. It helped us confirm what we’re doing here; we’re moving in the right direction by trying to use Michigan fruit [and] prove that Michigan fruit can make amazing wines that can hold their own in competitions with the tastes of customers and experts alike.
Q: How would you describe your award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, and what year was it?
A: It was a ’16. It had spent some significant time in barrel; we definitely didn’t rush it in the bottle. Being a ’16, it had been in bottle for a little while already, and even since the competition — and in part because of the competition and publicity we received from it — we’ve since sold out of that wine, which is something to have in our back pocket that, hey, we have this award, but just because it’s an award doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to meet the flavor preferences of the consumers. But then the fact that we turned around and sold out of it shortly thereafter in part because of the award I think would also allude to the fact that it’s an enjoyable wine by many palates. It’s a big, bold red, but because we did barrel age it for four years, it softened it a bit, kind of smoothed out some of the edges on it, so it had a nice lasting finish but with some of the big fruit character you’d expect in a nice Cab.
Q: Do you have any other favorite wines or ciders that you make at Cherry Creek Cellars?
A: We do pride ourselves on having a wine list that has something for everybody on it, so our list definitely runs the gamut from dry to sweet: red, white, rosé, some fruit wines, kind of everything in between. As a wine drinker and a winemaker, [I] definitely lean towards the drier stuff myself. We do a couple really nice red blends: a Cabernet and Chancellor blend that’s been a staff favorite — and customer favorite — and a staple around here for a long time. That’s our Montage. And then we have a couple of our other ones in the reserve line in the Charamar Collection. Our Proprietor’s Reserve is a Cab, Merlot, and Cab Franc blend. That’s a really nice, really well-balanced wine. And then I think even our — my personal preference — Gewürztraminer is a really nice wine. It kind of, in my mind, checks all the boxes of what makes a nice, dry, diverse, crisp, refreshing [wine with a] little bit of spice, little bit of fruit, little bit of floral.
Q: What can guests expect when they visit Cherry Creek Cellars?
A: It’s definitely an inviting atmosphere, welcoming. We take great pride in our staff being knowledgeable, not only in our wines but wine and the industry in general, and so with that being said, our goal when anybody walks through the door is to find something that suits their palate. It may not be your first or second or third try; we have a fairly extensive list, so we take pride in, hey, maybe even if you went through a tasting and didn’t find one that stuck out to you, let’s take the time and work with you. … Because there is something for everybody on our list — like I said, sweet, dry, red, white — and we’ll find it for you.
Beyond that, just a knowledgeable staff, welcoming staff. We’re laid-back, easygoing. We have a lot of fun with our events and music and entertainment schedule out here. [We have] live music all year long. In the summertime, it’s a big old party at our outdoor bar and patio when the bands are playing. In the winter, we convert that into our setting with igloos overlooking the vineyards. We keep the music going as long as we can, when Mother Nature’s willing to cooperate. And then even beyond that, through the winter, we tie in a lot more events with some wine and food pairings, our Wine-ter Festival, which is a big tented vendor market and bier tent with live music — a little bit of something for everybody.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.