April 26, 2002
A Grape Idea Pays Off
by Catherine O'Donnell
Lake vineyard comes to fruition with Lone Oak wines
and Dennise Barber's dreams are growing on a hillside in Grass
proprietors of Lone Oak Vineyard Estate opened their new winery
March 1, but they've been growing grapes since 1997.
started because 49-year-old Kip Barber liked wine, began growing
grapes in his Ferndale back yard, and after 24 years as a woodworker
decided it was time to become a wine maker. He'd experimented
with wine making and was surprised by several successful batches.
"I hadn't expected them to turn out as well as they did," he
also been dating Dennise Densmore, who introduced him to good
wine. Many glasses and much dreaming later, they married.
was 1995. Two years later - after much research, several trips
to Napa Valley vineyards and a leap of faith - the couple took
out a bank loan, spending $500,000 on 25 rolling acres and 20,000
the grapes wouldn't yield a full crop for five years.
attendant for Northwest Airlines accustomed to a regular paycheck,
Dennise was anxious. "It's hard to give up something you've
known a long time and delve into something new," she says. She
continued flying 12 or 14 days a month, helping Kip on her days
for Kip, he knew about risk. He'd started his own woodworking
business at 21. "I don't look at roadblocks as vision stifled,"
he says. "They're problems to be overcome."
couple cleared the land and planted the vines, but one oak tree
in the middle of the parcel was simply too precious to give
trunk is so big Kip and I together couldn't get our arms around
it," says Dennise. So it stayed, and Lone Oak Vineyard got its
result of research, Kip knew southeastern Michigan and France's
Bordeaux region - home of much French wine - share similar soil:
sandy, gravelly loam. The two areas also share the same latitude.
The difference is weather. Bordeaux's winters are milder, tempered
by the Atlantic Ocean.
protect his vines, Barber grows them close to the ground, covering
rows with straw in the winter. A south-facing slope also gets
more sun than flat ground surrounding it.
Barbers grow seven varieties of grapes, including merlot, chardonnay,
pinot noir and zinfandel.
like many other start-ups, vineyards have to wait to see a profit.
The Barbers skipped harvesting for three years to strengthen
their vines. At the same time, they bought strawberries, blueberries
and red raspberries, crushing them for fruit wines.
spends much time outdoors, watering, spraying, trimming and
trellising his vines. Indoors, he makes wine in a big room adjacent
to the wine shop, pouring it into oak barrels lining the walls
and eventually into bottles. Work weeks often stretch to 60
or 80 hours.
year will bring Lone Oak's first full grape crop. It's also
brought 2,200 estate-grown bottles ready for sale, the product
of smaller crops, all aged two to three years. They include
a chancellor, a merlot, a seyval blanc, a festiva red and a
cabernet sauvignon. Prices range from $6.95 for a vineyard rose
(similar to a white zinfandel) to $18.95 for a red raspberry
8400 Ann Arbor Road, Grass Lake, MI
Hours: Noon-7 p.m. daily
Phone: (517) 522-8167