Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Twenty Years of Chateau Chantal

It all started with cross country skiing and a dream. Bob and Nadine Begin had moved to Old Mission Peninsula with their young daughter Marie-Chantal in 1980. They had lined up some integral people for a project: a winery and Bed and Breakfast.

A few years later, Bob was cross country skiing on the peninsula and came across a 65 acre cherry farm for sale. It was perfect, because it had a fabulous view of both the west and east bays of Lake Michigan that envelops Old Mission.

In 1983, the land was purchased by Begin Orchards; in 1986 some acreage was converted to a vineyard. They started out with Riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot grigio grapes. Throughout the 1990s more grapes were planted. Now, they have a 65 acre estate with 38 planted to vineyard and farm 90 acres total on Old Mission Peninsula.

Chateau Chantal officially opened to the public in 1993 with the winery, tasting room, and three B&B rooms. They expanded ten years later adding eight more B&B rooms. The 2010 expansion added the 10,000 square foot cellar, new tasting room, and the east side outdoor patio. About five years ago the winery was Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) certified, and the B&B was green lodging certified.

I spoke with Marie-Chantal Dalese, Director of Marketing, while visiting the area. She grew up with the business during those years and joined staff in 2009. There have been many long-term employees with two being integral to the founding of Chateau Chantal: Liz Berger, Director of Operations and wine maker Mark Johnson.

When I was there in early September, they were bottling – emptying the wine barrels and stainless steel tanks in preparation for the new harvest. Right now, they have over 25 wines for tasting and for sale in the gift shop. The 2012 Late Harvest Riesling is ready, and the newest release is the 2012 dry rose blend. See their Youtube video to learn about their red wines. They plan to harvest starting around the second week of October for about four weeks. So, if you are in the area it is a fun and popular time to visit.

There are regular events including Jazz at Sunset on summer Thursdays, tapas tours (tour the vineyard and cellar with small bite and wine tastings), multi-course wine dinners with chef Kathleen Carrington, winter cooking classes, and a wine boot camp where you spend the afternoon with the wine makers learning to make wine and enjoy a wine pairing dinner. Check their website for off-season discounts and donation nights this winter.

They also have partnered with Hawthorne Winery – the eighth winery on the peninsula. Brian Hosmer, a vintner at Chateau Chantal, is the Hawthorne vintner.

I asked Marie-Chantal about the future of Chateau Chantal. She told me that they are continuing to focus on Hawthorne Vineyards to make sure that this new winery they manage is performing to the best of its abilities before seeking any new projects. “We are currently working to get the farm at Hawthorne Vineyards MAEAP certified with the state,” said Dalese. They are also thinking of re-vamping the Chateau Chantal Tapas Tours for next summer.

Chateau Chantal is more than wine and events. It’s an experience. The Begins and staff share their property with visitors with a welcoming, caring culture. It’s a unique visit – a place where you can watch the sun rise from your bedroom and then sip wine on the west side patio during the sunset that same evening. I hope you have the experience of Chateau Chantal soon.

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B&B Entrance
A room with a view!
breakfast room
even the exercise area has a view
wine tasting area
one of the eleven beautiful and comfortable rooms
ah, the vines

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