From the ground to a wine glass

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — After five years of tedious work and planning, Deborah and Jeffrey Pallas finally get their wish Saturday and Sunday.

The couple is having its grand opening for Vineyard 2121 from noon to 7 p.m., which will include food, catering and live music throughout the weekend.

The 38.5-acre farm is hard to miss at 2121 Kerlikowske Road near Red Arrow Highway and I-94.

The reason why it took so long? The Pallas’ started from the ground up ‒ literally.

“When we purchased it, it was a juice grape vineyard,” Deb said. “Knowing that our eventual goal was to open a winery, we ripped out the existing grape vineyard ourselves and set aside 15 acres. That was a very long process.”

For the last 32 years, Deb’s husband has been doing high-end outdoor living landscaping. Since Jeff is also a residential builder, he didn’t have to hire out for lot of the work done to the vineyard. Jeff said he felt burned out in the landscaping business and wanted to do something different as the wine industry was starting to take off in Southwest Michigan.

A friend of the Pallases, who happens to own a vineyard, knew that Jeff was interested in looking at some farm land and told them of the property in Benton Township they now own. Deb said they have lived in Southwest Michigan their whole lives and couldn’t picture leaving the area.

Upon visiting the land they knew was fertile, they found a way to stay in the area and make another business work.

“We decided to take a chance,” Deb said. “Now look at where we are. Five years later we are opening and only a month behind our projected schedule.”

Growing a business

The Pallases started getting the land ready by planting 2 acres of raspberries to have a good cash crop to get them through the five-year process.

Then came the wine grapes.

Last fall the vineyard got its first full harvest, which usually arrives in the third year planting.

“Of course right after we planted our grapes we had the two worst winters in 30 years,” Deb said. “They’ve maintained quite well, as two of our debuting whites will be from our very first harvest.”

Vineyard 2121 will start with 12 types of wine and two hard ciders. They will be split by taste and color ‒ six whites and six reds that will be sweet or dry.

The vineyard and winery has a kitchen in the tasting room with some light food options. The plan, Deb says, will be to move to a full kitchen and offer dinner entrees.

“Our main objective is the wine,” she said. “We want to be a destination and an experience. It’s in a very beautiful location and only a minute off the highway. You are not traveling a half hour down the back roads trying to figure out where you are.”

The property is equipped with four ponds, allowing Deb and Jeff to rent space for weddings, receptions, festivals and other events. There are three spots for wedding ceremonies with different looks and themes.

The vineyard’s regular hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and an additional hour from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

A starting point

The couple had numerous names in the running and decided to go with something modern. The name stems from the street the original farm resides on.

“I remember I wrote it down on a napkin and slid it across the table to my husband and asked what he thought,” Deb said. “When he said he loved it, we trademarked it fairly quickly.”

With the help of a graphic designer, who made the labels for each wine selection, Deb began crafting her own wine bottles.

The Pallases researched what the daily operations of a vineyard were like by visiting other wineries and vineyards “under the radar.”

“It was a good learning curve for us. We just kind of sat back and watched how people did things,” Deb said. “Jeff and I are very entrepreneurial. We are not afraid of hard work or making it happen.”

While it has taken five years to get the vineyard open, Deb and Jeff are looking forward to the next five years.

“The weddings and the receptions will be big on our end as far as destinations go,” Deb said. “Most of the wedding venues that are similar to ours have been booked out one or two years already. All the other wedding vendors that we are working with are chomping at the bit for us to open.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2015)

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