Fenn Valley Vineyards is a family owned and operated vineyard and winery complex established in 1973. Our goal has always been to produce world-class wines from grapes grown along the shore of Lake Michigan.
The Fenn Valley estate is a 240 acre farm located five miles from Lake Michigan just south of Holland, Michigan. The site was chosen after reviewing weather, climate, and soil survey maps. Unlike farmers who already own farm land and then begin to grow grapes, the Welsch family migrated from the Chicago area and were therefore free to select the most desirable site for viticulture based on the available data.
Our vineyards are located on the top of a large sand ridge that extends inland from Lake Michigan between the Black River and the Kalamazoo River valleys. Our proximity to Lake Michigan is a delicate balance of being close enough to provide significant moderation of winter temperatures and far enough away from the lake so that during the summer months we will have a moderate cooling effect. The winter minimum temperatures must be moderated to insure the vine’s survival, and the summer temperatures must be warm enough to allow for a complete ripening without “cooking” the grapes on the hot days during late summer. A look at an atlas of the world will show that the major viticultural areas are almost always located near a large body of water that serves to moderate the climate in some manner. California, Washington, Oregon, Australia, Germany, Italy, France, and Michigan all meet this criteria.
The right soil
Grape vines are deep rooted and vigorous, so the soil must be deep and relatively infertile, our sandy ridge is ideal. Since the best wines are made where the grapes are allowed to ripen throughout a long and cool growing season, the topography of the vineyard must be higher than the surrounding lands and slightly sloped to allow the denser cold air to drain off on frosty nights. By using the natural air drainage of the ridge, the growing season is extended so that the grapes can fully ripen in our cool climate. After fermentation the wine’s temperature must remain constant so our 17,000 square foot winery cellar was built into the side of a hill to take advantage of the natural temperature stability of the earth.
Our land was originally tree fruit farms and all the fruit trees had to be cleared and the soil prepared to receive the vineyards. The first wines that were produced were natural fruit wines. Today we still make Peach, Cherry and Raspberry wines and have received national recognition for these wines. The first grape vines were planted in 1974 and there has been additional plantings set out almost every year since then. When the vineyards were originally started, there was little information available regarding the best varieties and methods of growing the wine grapes. A few people had been experimenting with Vinifera and Hybrid wine grapes, but the bulk of Michigan viticulture was centered around Concord and Niagara which are not suitable for making delicate European style table wines. During the course of time, many varieties were planted and later removed when they could not perform satisfactorily in the vineyard or in the winery. This experimentation process continues to this day as new varieties are tried and evaluated for their potential as suitable wine grapes in our climate.
Broadening our palate
Our initial research lead us in the direction of premium hybrid grape varieties such as Seyval, Vidal, Vignoles, Foch and Chancellor. Today, these varieties still have a prominent position in our overall production, however, in 1976 we began to plant the traditional Vinifera wine varieties, beginning with Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. We soon learned that these cold tender varieties could be successfully grown and had a place in the consumer market. In 1988 we added Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris in 1991, and Cabernet franc in 1995. We have been delighted with the outstanding results and improvement of each subsequent vintage of these varieties. Today we have nearly 55 acres of vineyards that are a mix of Vinifera and premium hybrid wine varieties, all of which have been selected for their ability to consistently produce quality wines.
Exploring new ways to produce quality wines
Fenn Valley has always taken a position of leadership in the industry, constantly looking for better ways to produce quality wines. We were the first in Michigan (and maybe the East) to utilize sterile bottling to avoid the use of pasteurization or preservatives, the first to make fruity German style wines by stopping the fermentation rather than adding sugar. We have explored new ways to make unique grape and fruit wines in the style of an “Eiswein” from juices concentrated using Reverse Osmosis.
In the vineyards, Fenn Valley is continuing to evaluate new varieties from around the world. We were the first winery to produce and release Chardonel, a Chardonnay cross developed at Cornell University. In addition, we have worked closely with the research team of Michigan State University in their efforts to find the most suitable grape varieties and growing method for our climate.
Today Fenn Valley continues to be a progressive estate winery, growing grapes later processed in our cellar. The vineyard is being expanded as new varieties are proven in our climate. Numerous awards, and most importantly customer feedback, serve as continual validation of our efforts.