Patrick Spensley is the new owner of the 16-year-old Cherry Creek Cellars, a winery in the Irish Hills. He assumed ownership last February after being a member of the staff for the past eight years. The former owners, John and Denise Burtka, also have a craft beer brewing company in Jackson, Mich.
“The Burtkas had made the decision to sell the winery so they could focus on their beer operation,” Spensley explained. “This is a well-established smaller craft boutique winery with a strong customer base. We have a knowledgeable, friendly staff who were willing to stay on and work with me. I had been involved with every aspect of the business, and I also am passionate about wine making, so buying this business was a no-brainer decision for me and my wife. I had always envisioned being in business for myself,” Spensley noted. “And to have the opportunity to own a business that you are so passionate about is a real bonus. I get to come here every day and do what I love… make distinctive, quality wines and hard ciders,” he smiled.
The Michigan native grew up near the Irish Hills and graduated from Miami of Ohio with a business degree. After graduation, he traveled to New Zealand where he started working in vineyards and wineries to finance his travels. “However, I fell in love with the industry and knew this was the career path I wanted. When I came back home, I was fortunate to get a job at this winery where I was able to work my way up. This is just a great place for me. I’m always learning, gaining new knowledge, and acquiring new techniques—especially to improve the quality of our harvest,” he explained.
According to Spensley, the winery moved to its present 10-acre location at 1150 Silver Lake Hwy. in Brooklyn, Mich., just north of Michigan International Speedway, about 10 years ago. The interior of the 1870s schoolhouse on the property was renovated to accommodate a tasting room. Four years ago, the former owners added a café offering a limited seasonal menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis and shareables that work well with wine. “Janet Smoyer prepares all of the delicious food from scratch that we offer,” Spensley said. “She also coordinates all of the events we hold here, including bridal showers, weddings, parties and more. She is wonderful and has been an integral part of the staff for some time. Guests can sample up to five different wines at our $5 tasting or buy a glass or a bottle to enjoy with lunch or dinner. We want people to have an enjoyable experience as well as learning about our wines,” he offered. “We use hand-crafted, premium quality local fruit, some of which is grown in the five acre vineyard on the property. We also buy fruit from growers around Michigan to produce the 2,500 cases of our wine that we process here. Producing wine in Michigan is always interesting,” said Spensley. “Our varying weather adds character to our wine. The challenge is to take the fruit you get, work with it and massage it to make it the best it can be. It also makes our wines distinctive.” Cherry Creek wines include a selection of dry whites, dry blush and rosé and dry reds, with new releases planned through the season.
The Tasting Room and Café are open Monday through Wednesday from 11 am to 6 pm, Thursday through Saturday from 11 am to 10 pm, and Sunday from 12 to 6 pm from April through December. From January through March, the winery is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11- 6 pm. Customers can also sign up for the Wine Club. Membership is free with the purchase at least four bottles of wine, three times a year. Three Pick Up parties are held during the year where members can pick up their wine and enjoy free tasting, music and appetizers. Tastings are free to club members throughout the year and they also enjoy a 10 percent discount on wine purchases.
Spensley looks to add to the already established event schedule. Currently music is offered on Thursday and Friday evenings outside under the pergola, drawing hundreds of patrons. The Summer Concert Series kicks-off Memorial Day weekend with Phoenix Theory on Sunday, May 26 from 3 to 6 pm. On May 30, Twilight Thursdays starts with Jason Cross. A full line up of Vineyard Jams is scheduled on Fridays beginning May 31 from 7 to 10 pm with Midnite Stew. Additional shows are scheduled on Sunday afternoons during holiday weekends. A full list of all events can be found on their Facebook page, Cherry Creek Winery.
Spensley also plans to expand the variety of entertainment offered to perhaps include dinner theatre, a date night series, art classes and exhibits, and more. “I want to make full use of this property,” he said. In addition, Spensley looks to expand his distribution network. Currently, Cherry Creek wines can be found in limited locations throughout Michigan and he is looking to widen that network throughout the state, into Ohio and beyond.