TORCH LAKE — Charlie Sheneman’s friends laughed when he told them he was leaving California to make wine in northern Michigan.
But he can laugh now that he’s just weeks away from opening a new family winery, Torch Lake Cellars.
“I’m not making any money yet, but it’s sweat equity," Charlie Sheneman said. "I enjoy it, to look back and see what we’ve done. It looks great. It’s ours.”
Torch Lake Cellars has 4.5 acres of Riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir and Cayuga white. The Shenemans yielded 3.5 tons of pinot gris last year, the first grapes planted and only ones mature enough to produce. That’s enough for more than 100 cases of wine.
The Sheneman family launched Torch Lake Cellars in 2010 with an acre of pinot gris planted on a south-facing hill on family property first purchased by Charlie Sheneman's grandfather, Charles Sheneman,in the 1960s as grazing land for his dairy cows.
It started with Charlie’s parents Michael and Jamie Sheneman driving past wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula and dreaming of a retirement project for the family land. They decided to plant grapes and open a winery and brought their son back home to help.
Turns out the wine life suits him well.
“I don’t like working for anybody else; I like working for myself,” he said. “I set my own hours. I like working a lot, I’d work seven days a week if I could.”
Charlie Sheneman attended the viticulture program at Northwestern Michigan College, which partners with Michigan State University to offer plant science courses in Traverse City. He learned how to grow grapes that make good wine and met the people who still mentor him in his ripening career. He credits the school with all his vineyard success.