Success stories

WaterFire Vineyards

Kewadin, Michigan

“Growing grapes and making wine is in our nature,” explains Chantal, owner of WaterFire Vineyards. “We invest everything we have to make each bottle a unique and exceptional experience.”

In 2007, Chantal, a coastal scientist, and Michael, a lawyer, were married, living in downtown Boston and disenchanted. They yearned for a simpler, more inspired way of life. In 2008, they moved to Traverse City, MI near Chantal’s parents. To explore a shared passion for wine, Chantal began to work at a local winery and study wine with the International Court of Master Sommeliers. She immersed herself in learning everything she could about the craft, gaining experience in different vineyards, wine production facilities, and tasting rooms to understand all facets of the grape growing and winemaking industry.

They purchased a 26 acre property with an outbuilding suitable for pre-production needs. By spring 2013, they were ready to enter the market, but needed financial support for specialized equipment and working capital. They didn’t meet traditional lending criteria, but a friend at Greenstone Farm Credit Union referred them to Northern Initiatives. After reviewing the upside of this business and the hands on, hardworking character of the owners, an SBA micro loan was quickly approved.

WaterFire’s strategy is to grow exceptional fruit using biological farming practices to amend the soil and enhance productivity. Their intention is to use 100% Estate Grown grapes (never purchasing grapes from other vineyards) for each of their varieties. Their winemaker is the talented Bryan Ulbrich of Left Foot Charley in Traverse City, MI. Chantal has taken advantage of technical assistance through Northern Initiative’s Business Services. Recent results from a focus group were leveraged to drive distribution, branding, and positioning strategies.

Mother Nature dealt Michigan vintners a harsh blow in 2013/14 (most lost 70-100% of their crop), and WaterFire suffered corresponding losses. They will bottle 100 cases of Riesling this season versus the anticipated 500 cases total from all three varieties. However, Chantal expects to be back on track in 2015. She’s armed with new experience, technical know-how, and effective approaches for turning grapes into premium wine.

WaterFire Vineyards Impacts

    • Jobs Retained: 1 FTE
    • Boosts To Local Vendors

Includes Wine Bottle Supply Purchases, Label Printing Services, and Leveraging the Talents of a Local Winemaker


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