GTPulse: From Farming to Winemaking

The Gallagher family has been farming for six generations in the Grand Traverse area. McKenzie and Creighton Gallagher have carried on the tradition in a way that’s both old and new.

Grandpa Jack Gallagher broke away from the family tradition of dairy farming in favor of cherry farming instead.  Like his grandfather, Creighton has gone his own way in farming. When he and McKenzie started out, no one in the family would have guessed that they would turn their farming skills into a thriving vineyard and winery. Rove Estate, while loved for its views and selection of wine, had humble beginnings in the Gallagher family as a cherry farm.

Cherry orchards have a shelf-life. I didn’t know it, but McKenize explained that they grow old and stop producing fruit around 30 to 40 years old. When she and Creighton took over a farm that had been in the family for generations, the first thing they had to do was uproot all of the cherry orchards. 

“They were actually old orchards that his grandpa had planted back in the ‘70s. They were still growing but they had to come out. We had just gotten married and was just starting our life and we had an opportunity with this farm,” she said.

At the time, Creighton was working at a winery on Old Mission Penisula. He was mesmerized by the process of harvesting grapes and winemaking. After harvesting cherries, they were sold to a processor, never to be seen again. With grapes, there’s a tangible product at the end. 

“Cherry farming is not necessarily hard farming, but when the market’s really low it’s a lot of work for not a lot of return. Creighton wanted to do something where he could still farm but where he could create the end product. That was the biggest motivator for him. We pour our heart and soul into every season and at the end we have wine.”

They started their vineyard almost 10 years ago and opened up their tasting room in May of 2016. Having a tasting room was always a part of the plan once they made the decision to go into winemaking. They wanted a place for people to explore wine and ask questions, as well as a way to connect to their own customers. 

Though they’re a Traverse City winery, the location is in Leelanau County. While exploring Google Earth one night, Mckenzie and Creighton were looking at the county from above and realized that Rove Estate had the highest point on the Leelanau peninsula. 

“We had no idea. There was a windbreaker row so you couldn’t see this view. We didn’t even know how beautiful this view was at the time. This place took on a life of its own.”

The high point provides a lovely lookout that’s showcased by a walkable trail on the estate. Last year I went for my first snowshoe hike through the Rove trail and arriving at the high point was a reward well worth it. There is a picture-perfect clearing and a small bench to stop and take a rest at before continuing the rest of the loop. It’s a great place to get a picture or have a romantic moment.

“We just renewed our vows up there during the shutdown. We had our 10 year anniversary and renewed our vows right where that bench is. It was just a priest, us, and our kids. It was perfect.”

Their children are involved with the business too and when asked what the greater Gallagher family thinks of what she and Creighton have done with the farm they couldn’t be happier for them.

“At first it was shocking. We were going into grapes and no one in this family had ever done that before. But Creighton is a pioneer like his grandfather. Now we’re 10 years in, open for five years and they’re happy for us.”

They grow nine different varietals – chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, pinot noir, cab franc and merlot. Their location is uniquely great for farming. It’s southern exposed with a lot of clay, rock and sand that shows up differently in the wine. They’ll continue to plant vineyards as the business grows.

“There are still some cherries here, and we have some at our house. We have a fruit stand with apples and peaches too. We still farm cherries. I think we’ll always farm some cherries.”

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Categories: GTPulse