Baby Steps: Wine Aficionados Get Ready for First Grape Planting

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Dave and Gretchen De Carteret with their dog, Sampson. Photo by Eric De Carteret, Courtesy of Dave De Carteret

Dave De Carteret might be a “winemaking novice,” but that hasn’t stopped the engineer from founding his business, Maison Rouge, to make and sell wine from grapes he’ll grow on his own property in rural Livingston County.

De Carteret and his wife, recreational therapist Gretchen, got the idea to plant some vines when they “outgrew” their suburban home in Howell and bought a large piece of land near Fenton in 2015.

“We set out looking for five acres, and we ended up with over 40,” De Carteret says. “It was not really a conscious decision to go buy a farm, but it kind of happened that way.

“We fell in love with the property.”

There, the couple built a red house — hence the name Maison Rouge — where they’ve been living since 2017.

The property turned out to be more than just a home site, though. Since about 15 of the roughly 40 acres are tillable, the De Carterets, who enjoy wine tasting in Traverse City, saw an opportunity to start a project they could carry into their eventual retirement.

“We thought we could do — had this desire to do — a little bit more and see if we can’t turn … what we enjoy in life into kind of a side business for us and see how it goes,” De Carteret says.

A farmer is currently cultivating the 15 arable acres, so the De Carterets plan to start small with their planting this spring — about a third of an acre — and expand once their agreement with the farmer is up next year. After some research, they’ve settled on two cold-hardy varietals suited to the local climate: Marquette (a red) and Itasca (a white). De Carteret anticipates the vines will be mature and ready to harvest in 2022 and will produce about 75 cases of wine — “enough for us and some friends, really,” he says.

He plans to plant more vines in 2021 for a larger harvest in 2023, from which he could make enough wine to sell in 2024. Based on how much of the land turns out to be suitable for vines and how much he and his family can realistically manage, De Carteret anticipates potentially planting 10 acres.

Although they are still in the early planning stages, the couple would also like to open a winery and sell their estate-grown wine on-site.

“With the size of operation that we have, it’s really suited toward, I think, having a tasting room format as opposed to trying to market and put into a retail environment,” De Carteret says.

In the meantime, he’s been doing his research, which is where his engineering background has come in handy.

“Reading and learning and researching is what I’ve spent my life and career doing from an engineering perspective, so this is another adventure,” he says. “It’s another opportunity to learn and apply what I’ve learned.”

 

 

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