Half a Century and Counting

Chateau Grand Traverse celebrates 50 years
Chateau Grand Traverse celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2024. Both photos courtesy of Chateau Grand Traverse

The name Chateau Grand Traverse has become synonymous with success in the Michigan wine industry. In 2024, the Traverse City winery celebrates 50 years of hard work, award-winning wines, and proving skeptics wrong.

Since the beginning, Chateau Grand Traverse has been a family operation. “When my father decided to commit to opening a winery, we moved up from the suburbs in Southfield to Traverse City,” says Eddie O’Keefe, president and CEO. “My father, who passed away in 2001, was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He worked as an undercover narcotics officer in New York, trained as an elite gymnast, worked in the nursing home business — you name it.”

Ed O’Keefe saw opening a winery as the perfect challenge. He began investigating and exploring wine regions in Germany, New York, Canada, and California.

“We vacationed in Traverse City, and he realized that the area reflected a lot of the characteristics of the great wine-growing regions of the world,” Eddie says. “My dad didn’t want to just grow grapes — he wanted to grow European vinifera grapes,” which was unusual in Michigan at the time. Concord grapes were the norm in the state’s vineyards.

Eddie cites several factors that led to his father’s decision to plant a vineyard and start a winery in Traverse City: elevation levels, sun exposure, the smoothness of the land, and the large bodies of water nearby. Still, despite the experts that Ed O’Keefe brought in to inspect the land and the extensive research he did on growing vinifera grapes, the family was met with skepticism.

“A lot of people told him he was a fool for trying to make this work,” Eddie says. “I ran into someone the other day who said, ‘Well, your dad never really cared what anyone said. He believed wholeheartedly in what he was doing.’”

That belief (and hard work) has paid off, and Chateau Grand Traverse is celebrating 50 years of business in 2024. The winery has become a powerhouse both in Michigan and across the country. In fact, per a press release from Chateau Grand Traverse, the winery is responsible for more than 75% of the state’s total Riesling production and at least 3% of the Riesling output in the U.S. Its late-harvest Riesling in particular is a bestseller. “We’ve made it since 1977, and it’s probably one of my favorite wines we make,” Eddie says.

The winery has plenty of exciting plans on the horizon as part of its yearlong anniversary celebration. Leaning into its legacy, Chateau Grand Traverse has a couple of specials in store for its wine club members: a tribute to “retro wines” like its 1978 Sweet Sharon Chardonnay, a popular release named after Eddie’s mother, and a 280-bottle release of the late-harvest Riesling with a commemorative 50th anniversary label.

“We are preparing celebrations with industry folks and consumers,” says Gabe Marzonie, marketing director at Chateau Grand Traverse. “We’re inviting wine stores and chains to come and tour our facilities so that they can get a better feel for the product that they’re selling.”

The winery’s barrel room has 600-plus barrels.

Chateau Grand Traverse will also offer educational one-on-one tasting experiences. “Visitors can explore our private barrel room with over 600 barrels … as well as our production facility,” Eddie says. “It gives them a chance to see how everything gets made.”

Various social gatherings, live music, educational seminars, and other celebratory events will be announced throughout the year.

In the coming years, the Chateau Grand Traverse team has no plans of slowing down. “Innovation is a key word for us, taking what we do and talking about it in a different way,” Marzonie says. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘How do millennials and Gen Z clients consume wine?’ Whether it’s exploring lower alcohol contents, nonalcoholic beverages, or sustainability, we’re looking to continue growing and innovating.”

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