What do Deborah and Dave Burgdorf have in common with Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin? They’ve all launched successful businesses from their garage. In the wine industry, the Garagiste refers to a European concept of making wine out of a garage. Garagistes produce limited production wines called “Vin de Garage” or “Garage Wines.” The term initially had a negative connotation used to refer to small-lot rogue wineries that refused to follow the rules. Today this is a full-blown movement, making award-winning wine.
From Hobby to Business
For the Burgdorfs, it all started 30-some years ago as home winemakers, in the Haslett, Michigan countryside east of Lansing, with a bumper crop of wild black raspberries. Dave laughed, “You can only make so many jellies, cobblers, and pies. We quit eating them and decided to try making some wine. The rest is history.” They perfected that wine over time and named it Perfection. The black raspberry wine was an initial product in their 2005 opening. At that time, Travelocity named Burgdorf’s winery as their “Local Secret Big Find,” and things began to take off. They moved from producing as a boutique winery into a 2,400 square-foot barn located behind the tasting room. A large patio and deck attached to the country tasting room provide a serene setting to sip a glass of wine.
Vintners Deb and Dave Burgdorf have been making wine for over 30 years. In 2005, they decided to turn their hobby into a business. Deborah Burgdorf has an M.S. degree in Microbiology and almost 20 years of fermentation experience. Dave Burgdorf has a B.S. degree in Agriculture and worked as a conservation planner and Plant Materials specialist for 40 years. Today, Deb is the vintner and handles the accounting, while Dave does the marketing and public relations.
Dave is an accomplished carpenter who turned that three-car garage into a charming countryside tasting room. He believes, “If you don’t know you can’t, you just do it.” Dave cut all of the oak for the bar and then handcrafted it himself. He even made the rustic-country light fixtures.
After all these years, the overhead garage door remains in place. Dave revealed, “I thought it would be easier to leave it than to remove it, just in case the wine-making didn’t work out.”
The five-acre family-owned estate, winery, tasting room, and boutique gift shop sits at the northernmost point of southeast Michigan’s Pioneer Wine Trail. It’s also part of the Greater Lansing Makers and Shakers Trail.
The Burgdorf’s initially offered people the opportunity to come and participate in making and labeling their own wines. The juice came from wine kits. The two lent their wine-making experience to enhance these wines and earn enough money to buy more wine tanks and equipment. Eventually, this activity faded as the Burgdorf’s continued to expand their winery.
The artisan vintners set themselves apart from other wineries through the Truly Michigan™ Seal. Dave trademarked the “Truly Michigan™,” which businesses can use if their product is 100 percent grown and produced in Michigan.
Specific criteria required for products to use the seal include, the winery must have its own head winemaker. Deb Burgdorf is the head winemaker at Burgdorf’s Winery. Other criteria include investing in the infrastructure (the equipment used to make the wine, like the tanks and press) along with signing and displaying the Truly Michigan™ Pledge.
A Truly Michigan™ winery produces 80 percent of its wines from Michigan grown fruit. The Truly Michigan™ Seal on a bottle indicates the winery produces the wine on-site from 100% Michigan grown fruit. The concept assists consumers in identifying products that are 100 percent Michigan. For example, Bergdorf’s pineapple wine can transport you to a tropical paradise; but, it will never carry the Truly Michigan™ Seal because pineapple doesn’t grow in Michigan.
The seal requires only the consumable product to be 100 percent Truly Michigan™. Farmers can also be part of “Truly Michigan™,” for example, Michigan beet sugar, popcorn, and spirits could qualify.
Collaborating with Michigan State University
While the Burgdorf’s grow some of their fruit, 100 percent of their grapes are from Michigan. Michigan State University (MSU) Horticultural Farm grows some teaching and research grapes nearby. MSU approached the Burgdorf’s early on about purchasing these grapes. The Burgdorf’s agreed, and Deb uses these grapes in making their Spartan wine: Spartan White, Spartan Red, Spartan Blush, and Spartan Reserve. MSU, formerly Michigan Agricultural College (MAC), was the first agricultural college applicant in the United States and a future land-grant college model.
A Moment in Wine
Today the Burgdorf’s produce over 20 styles of wine. Each month they have two wines of the month. When I visited, they served a Pinot Gris and Golden Temptation. “Everyone knows what Pinot Gris is,” mentioned the server. The 2013 Pinot Gris is full-bodied, crisp, and fruit-forward, containing hints of pear, apple, and almond, with a refreshing floral nose. This wine is a Silver and Bronze Medal Winner.
Golden Temptation is in memory of the first wine dog, named Buddy, a golden retriever. Like Buddy, a sweet dog, this wine is also sweet. The golden wine, a sweet Vidal Blanc infused with apple and aged in French Oak, has a honey flavor with slight aromas of sage and mint.
Deb’s 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine won a Double Gold Medal and Best of Class at an International Show in Sonoma, California. Ice wine is a delicacy made from grapes left on the vines through full maturation and picked while frozen. The process concentrates the natural flavors and sugars to produce a rich juice of the ripe fruit with beautiful peach, pear, and nectar notes on the palate. Deb says her secret to the award-winning wine was babysitting it and bottling it at just the right time.
Dave says his favorite wine “is the one that is in my glass.” He will enthusiastically teach you to experience the wine through sniffing, sipping, and enjoying; however, he won’t tell you what to expect. He says, “Each wine is unique, and you have to allow yourself to enjoy and taste that wine.”
“Hey, Dave,” I said on my way out, “It’s safe to remove the garage door.”
To find out more about the Greater Lansing area, check out Lansing, Michigan: 12 Fun Facts.
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