2 other brothers
Like the Gallo siblings, Matt and Chris Moersch seek wine empire
Brothers Matt (left) and Chris Moersch, along with their father, Rick, run Round Barn Winery in Baroda, Mich. Rick started the business in the early '80s. It has grown to include a brewery and distillery and three tasting rooms scattered around Southwest Michigan. Chris and Matt also started their own winery nearby, called Free Run Cellars. (Charles Osgood/Tribune photo / January 12, 2010)
Another set of brothers, Matt and Chris Moersch, have been busy for some time with their wine making operation in the lovely, rolling land of southwestern Michigan. Their family's Round Barn Winery in Baroda is now one more than a dozen wineries and tasting rooms — along with such places as Tabor Hill, St. Julian and Fenn Valley — that comprise the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country (lakemichiganshorewinetrail.com), which is tantalizingly close to the Chicago area.
The vineyard was started by their father, Rick. He was a high school biology teacher when he went to work at Tabor Hill. In 1981, he purchased some adjoining land intending to merely grow grapes. But he eventually left Tabor Hill and opened Heart of the Vineyard Winery in 1992.
He and his wife Sherrie still live in a house on the property and it was in that house that their two boys were raised and, early on, learned the particulars of tending the land and making the wine.
In 1997, the family discovered a turn-of-the century barn in rural northern Indiana. They bought it, dismantled it and transported it 90 miles to the winery where it was rebuilt by Amish craftsmen. Seven years later, the family changed the name of their operation to the Round Barn Winery.
It was not a hard decision. "Most people couldn't remember Heart of the Vineyard and just said 'the round barn place' so why fight it?" says Matt.
The barn is a beauty and it is the centerpiece of the winery and distillery. They not only make wine here, but also beer (with its own handsome tasting room, in a former barn in which the boys once played basketball), vodka, bourbon, rum and grappa.
"You have to let the grapes speak for themselves and not screw it up," says Matt.
Some of you might have experienced Michigan wines by visiting the small tasting rooms that sit prominentlyalong Interstate Highway 94. As convenient as these might be, it is in visiting the vineyards that one can experience the full taste, so to speak, of the area's winemaking vitality. Each of the vineyards on the trail are distinctive physically and in their vinification, or winemaking as they say in the biz. The difference between the I-94 tasting rooms and the vineyards is the difference between watching a Cubs game on TV or at Wrigley. Many, like the Round Barn, have concerts, classes and other events and activities. (roundbarnwinery.com)
The Gallo brothers made very good, becoming the largest exporter of California wines and helping make Sonoma County one of the premier wine-growing regions in the world.
The Moersch brothers are still in their 30s, so there is no telling how far their ambitions and talent will take them. In 2006, they opened Free Run Cellars a few miles away. It specializes in producing "single vineyard designate wines." Osgood and I are not quite sure what that means but the wines were very tasty.
Not quite yet. "We sometimes in private refer to ourselves as the Booze Brothers," says Chris. "And we sometimes refer to what we've done as a 20-year overnight success."