Doug Welsch immediately seems like the kind of guy who would never call himself an icon or pioneer but there are few who would argue he has been a key force in Michigan wines.

Welsch’s Fenn Valley Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in Michigan. The winery sits just southeast of Grand Rapids near Fennville (pop. 1500).

Doug started the winery with his father and has watched the operation grow until today. He produces about 40,000 case of wine annually, half of which is done for other growers and labels. Of his 20,000 Fenn Valley cases , about 95 percent is sold from the spacious tasting room.

Welsch is a self-taught winemaker and leader in southwest Michigan’s circle of wineries. He talked comfortably about how he and the other winemakers get together to taste each other’s wines several times a year. Sometimes other topics, like marketing, come up but its mostly about the wine.

Doug has strong opinions about the industry and how agriculture is the basis for all they do. He admits he could sell even more wine if he had the right grapes to do it.

Indeed, on a Tuesday morning before noon there were about a dozen people in the tasting room already.

The wine list is extensive and you can go to the Fenn Valley website for lots of detail. The biggest sellers are the Riesling, Traminette, a white blend called Lakeshore Demi-Sec, and Select Harvest Vignoles.

He also makes a tasty dry Riesling that sells for just $12. The biggest selling red is a Chambourcin blend called Capriccio, also $12.

The knock-it-out of the park wine for me was a 2008 Cabernet Franc ($22). A very nicely balanced Cab Franc with a fantastic finish with just enough tannins for some ‘wow’ factor.

One of the unique things about Fenn Valley Vineyards is that it’s probably the largest tasting room in the world! Doug had his entire property designated as a tasting room. That allows him to take guests out among the grapes to talk about the vineyards and simultaneously taste his wines. What a great idea.

Take a look at this video and he’ll explain why he uses his vineyards as part tasting room:

I’m visiting several winemakers and wineries this week for a feature on Palate Press and a newspaper column or two. I hope to be posting tomorrow night on three more wine visits.

In photos: Top right, the entrance to the winery and tasting room. At center left, Doug talks about his years in the wine industry. Lower right, the big tasting room was starting to fill up early.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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