You gotta start somewhere. When it comes to winemaking, it begins with the grapes. Engineer David De Carteret and his wife, recreational therapist Gretchen De Carteret, planted 300 grapevines — a mix of Marquette and Itasca — on their rural Livingston County farm in 2020. They just got another 600-plus vines including Frontenac in the ground, planning to eventually make wine under their own Maison Rouge brand. Michigan Wine Country checked in with Dave to see how things are going.
Q: What inspired you to get into the wine business?
A: We’ve always enjoyed the wine regions of Michigan. We bought the farm in 2015 and built the house and moved in in early 2018. At that point, the farm was typical in Michigan — corn and soy, some wheat, generally in that sort of crop rotation. We thought it would be neat to do something with the land that was a little more us … and I started looking into the possibility. At that time I had no idea that cold-hardy grape varieties even existed. You don’t see them when you go to the grocery store. I learned about those and pondered it for a while, and it looked like it could be an exciting venture for us to do literally in our front yard: grow some grapes and hopefully make some wine. I don’t have a wine background as far as making it, but it’s an opportunity to learn.
Q: Tell us about the farm.
A: Our total tillable acreage is about 15. Our farm is separated into probably four very distinct fields. So right now we are growing in the field that is closest to the house, on a three-acre plot. And we have things tentatively laid out right now so next year we can expand again … the plan is to add more of each of the three varietals we have right now. And we have a couple areas set aside to add potentially two more varietals if we want to go that way. We’re still making the decision on which ones to go with. The remainder of the farm is being farmed by a local farmer.
Q: So, how are things going?
A: Slow. We’re making progress. Things are growing. From what we planted last year, we will hopefully have some meaningful harvest at the end of 2022, from the first planting.
Q: What are your long-term plans?
A: We want to see what we can do with a small amount of grapes. We’re trying to grow and do this in a debt-free sense, minimizing our risk, because we want to retire someday. So, the first year, if it does good, we’re maybe looking at enough for 75 cases. That’s a relatively small amount of wine. We’re looking at potentially opening a little winery here … we’d like to do a production facility here and keep everything in the estate-grown category. But in the short term, with the relatively low volume we would have, contracting (production) out could be an attractive possibility. We’re also looking into moving into those other fields as we grow and gain experience and as the market potentially grows. With the acreage we have, we have good potential for being larger than I think we would want to be in the end. But never say never. It’s always take things as they come.
Q: How do you deal with waiting for the grapes to grow?
A: There’s a certain level of impatience, but you know what’s coming. You know you’re going to have the grapes and the wine. So it’s exciting because grapevines grow so fast that you can see changes in them — you can see the growth almost every day. It’s progress you can see immediately. Even if you don’t bear the fruits of your labor for three years, you can still see it when things are growing.
Q: And how does it all mesh with your profession as an engineer?
A: It goes well with engineering because there’s the science behind growing and winemaking. In engineering, you’re often working on projects where you won’t see anything for years, where with this you can plant something last weekend and there are buds on it this weekend. It’s a bit more of a gratification even though it’s a waiting process. There’s still that sense of progress being made.