Diverse harvest: Farm changes focus, finds success through award-winning vineyard

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Photo by Linda Gallagher

The fourth generation of the Shooks family is pictured in the new Cellar 1914 tasting room with the vineyard's award-winning wines. Shown (from left) are RJ Shooks, Rob Shooks and Greg Shooks.


CENTRAL LAKE – In 1914, when Sylvester "Vet" Shooks first eyed the land that would become Shooks Farms, he envisioned fields full of corn, hay, cattle, and maybe cherry trees, too, after he discovered a cherry tree on the property bending over with a bounty of red fruit.

For 100 years, cherries, corn, cattle, pigs, peaches, asparagus, and a few soy fields ensured that the family farm was a profitable operation, and a business four generations of Shooks have grown up with.

But these days, you won't see any corn, soy or cattle. And although Shooks Farms still has 300 acres of the family's land planted to sweet and tart cherries, the fruit has been far from profitable over the last several years for the family, which offers the public a popular "u-pick" option for cherries as well as a wholesale market.

It was time to make a change. But although Vet Shooks would probably be surprised to see that the fourth generation of his family now running the farm is now focusing on wine grapes, he'd be the first to acknowledge the need for diversity to keep the farm in business.

So it was that, in 2015, 10 acres of winter-hardy, Minnesota hybrid wine grapes were planted on a former corn field the family owns on M-88 just north of Central Lake.

The vineyard was harvested for commercial wine to be known under the label of "Cellar 1914" in 2018 for the first time. In late May of this year, the family opened a tasting room and invited the public to enjoy the farm’s several varieties of wine in comfort while enjoying picturesque views of Torch Lake and Grand Traverse Bay from the room’s window, a former warehouse.

Almost immediately, the tasting room filled up with people interested in trying out Cellar 1914's wines there at the farm, with many taking a bottle or two with them to enjoy in the comfort of their own home.

The wines produced from that first commercial harvest were good; so good that Cellar 1914's Marechal Foch, a dry red, earned a gold medal in the 2019 Michigan Wine Competition in Lansing this summer. Additionally, the vineyard's Baco Noir, a sweet red, garnered a silver medal, and Snow Daze, a dry white, won a bronze.

"Not bad for our first commercial harvest and our first competition ever," said a proud Rob Shooks, who initially considered the thought of growing wine grapes several years ago.

"Especially when you realize that we were competing against something like 50 other Michigan vineyards, most of whom have been in the wine business a lot longer than we have," he said.

Although the weather has been hard on a vintner's nerves this summer – with a very late spring and a great deal of moisture, traditionally not a plus for wine grapes – the family just finished bringing in what Rob Shooks said he believes is an excellent crop.

"That's what's nice about the varieties of grapes we're growing," he said. "They're very weather tolerant, no matter what."

Read the full story in our regular edition of The Review. To subscribe to the paper for just $34 a year, which includes access to our full online e-edition, please go to the subscription page on this website at: http://www.antrimreview.net/subscribe/




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