The Wine Guys of West Michigan

    Part one of three: Renowned vintners rooted in Grand Rapids
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    Now…let’s get one thing straight: Don’t shoot the messenger! Without meaning to denigrate the denizens of Michigan wine country, a significant portion of the region’s wines, especially the reds, would not hold up to scrutiny to the oenophiles of the world. 

    We have, however, found a few winemakers from West Michiganders who can compete with the best of them. There are even dry reds from a terraced vineyard in hilly Baroda, just east of St. Joseph, that would undoubtedly win favor from even the most discerning connoisseur. Wines made by William Schopf, and winemaker Rudy Shafer of Dablon Vineyards and Winery, 111 W Shawnee Rd., in Baroda, Michigan.

    Named for one of the first Europeans to arrive in Michigan, Claude Dablon, the winery recently came in number eight on the USA Today list of the country’s top ten tasting rooms. Its owner is William Schopf. With a resume about a mile long, it came as a surprise that he hails from Southeast Grand Rapids. Schopf told Grand Rapids Magazine in an interview in June of 2023 that he grew up in the vicinity of Martin Luther King Jr. Park and that he used to walk to the Wealthy Theatre to see movies– a fact that’s notable because he’s now the proud owner of the iconic Music Box Theatre in Chicago. He runs a film distribution company there, too: Music Box Films, known for distributing internatinoal art films.

    Schopf holds degrees from Princeton and Cornell. In addition to winemaking, he practices law and dabbles in real estate. Schopf seems the sort of man who will never retire. 

    He’s put a lot of effort into spacing his vines just so, and creating the step-terraces on which his 17 varietals not only grow but thrive. A 2016 map on the wall of his impeccably decorated tasting room spells it all out. There’s Cabernet Sauvignon to the west of the vineyard’s outdoor seating area; a pandemic era add-on where live music is enjoyed by visitors while taking in a bottle, a flight, or a light snack. To the south are rows of Cab Franc, Syrah, Merlot and more. In the distance, to the east are Pinot Noir, a small plot of Riesling and a large plot of Chardonnay. There are patches of other varietals among the acreage– a stunning vista from a hilltop behind the tasting room. Five stars.

    Schopf puts a lot of personal care into each plant, too, and it shows. On a visit to the pictorial vineyard last spring, I had the pleasure of being shown around by Schopf. Later that night, my daughter, who had also come along for the tour joked that Schopf probably kisses each grape goodnight.

    It wouldn’t surprise me. 

    Dablon wines can be found at multiple retail locations in Grand Rapids, including Horrocks, D&W, Martha’s Vineyard, and at restaurants Grove, Bistro Bella Vita, Apperitivo & Forty Pearl. For more information, visit dablon.com.

    Supplemental media: Our Blood is Wine (film, 2018)

     

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