Dablon Vineyards Brings European Flavor to Southwest Michigan

Grapes and growing strategies adopted from France set the nationally recognized winery apart
From left: Bill Schopf, owner of Dablon Vineyards; Rudy Shafer, the winemaker; and Allison Snyder, the tasting room manager, stand in Dablon’s award-winning tasting room. Both photos courtesy of Dablon

The team members at Dablon Vineyards in Baroda are big believers in the idea that exceptional wines can only be made from exceptional grapes. When Bill Schopf first purchased 44 acres in 2009, he began with just 4 acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fourteen years later, Schopf and winemaker Rudy Shafer now grow 17 varieties of grapes and make more than 30 estate wines.

Their hard work has paid off in national recognition. Midwest Living recently named Dablon the best winery in the Midwest, and USA Today recognized Dablon’s tasting room as one of the 10 best in the nation in its 2023 readers’ choice awards.

Here, Schopf and Shafer share their secret to growing world-class European grapes, details of their award-winning tasting room, and more.

How did you get your start growing European grapes in Baroda?
Bill Schopf: We started out growing Burgundy grapes … and began to expand to Bordeaux and other European varieties with a lot of success. Within a few years, it became clear that we could grow world-class grapes, and we needed to build a winery so that we could make world-class wines.

Whether you’re planting and growing grapes or aging wines, everything takes time in this industry. Most recently, we wanted to grow Nebbiolo grapes from Italy and Tempranillo grapes from Spain, and when we spoke to the nursery that we buy our vines from, they said, “You’ve grown everything else we’ve sold you — you can do these.” And they were correct.

How would you describe your winemaking process?
Rudy Shafer: Our winemaking process isn’t too different from other wineries’. We pick the grapes, lay them, crush them, [and] ferment them. … If we want to make a Bordeaux wine, we select yeast from the Bordeaux region of France. We really try to do things as authentically as we can here in Michigan.

Schopf: Something that sets us apart is the way that we plant and crop the vines. We follow the Burgundy and Bordeaux styles of spacing with our vines. We use a high density of vines but don’t ask them to grow more than 3 pounds of fruit each year. That has a big impact; it’s different than what you’d see in other parts of Michigan.

You grow some grapes that are less common in Michigan. How are you able to do that?
Schopf: I don’t know of a region in the world where you can grow better wine than Southwest Michigan. Our proximity to Lake Michigan has a great impact on our climate, and the hills that we are on are great for drainage — water drainage and hot and cold air drainage. We also have very complex soil here. The wines that we grow here speak to the uniqueness of our soils.

Dablon winemaker Rudy Shafer (left) and owner Bill Schopf pose with a bottle of their 2020 estate Tempranillo-Tannat blend.

Shafer: Bill is right. Everything we do contributes to great grapes. We cut the crop down. If we were to leave, say, 4 or 5 tons per acre, grapes like Tempranillo would be difficult to ripen by late October. If you shorten the crop load down to around 3 tons per acre, we can get it done no problem. It’s just techniques like those that enable us to do what we’re doing.

Which wines are you most likely to recommend to visitors?
Shafer: We recommend any of our big reds, specifically our Malbec. Some people don’t like Malbec, and if they do, they’re used to the taste from Mendoza, Argentina. Our Malbec is more of a cool-climate Bordeaux style. People who don’t like Malbec will try ours and end up leaving with bottles of it to take home. We have a Tannat and Petit Verdot [and] some Tempranillo-Tannat blends. We’re always looking to sell some of our different stuff. People don’t always know what they want to try because of how extensive our list is, so we try to push them to something that they won’t be able to try at other tasting rooms.

You were recently listed as one of the top 10 wine tasting rooms in the U.S. What sets your tasting room apart from others?
Schopf: Our tasting room sits up so you can look down over the vineyard. It’s also over our main production facilities, so you can see where and how your wine is being made. We also built a large patio so when people visit in the warmer months, they can sit among the vines. We want to show people everything so that they can see that Michigan can make … some world-class wines. They see it, taste it, and believe it.

Our tasting room has been super powerful in selling the brand to our customers. We have a very educated staff; they can answer all sorts of questions, and we want them to do more than just sell and pour. I spend a lot of time in the tasting room with my staff, and they’re always learning. Our tasting room provides visitors with an entire experience.

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