Home-grown Hospitality

Gilchrist Farm Winery pivots to a full farm-to-table menu and plans to produce its first estate-grown wines this season
Gilchrist Farm Winery
The winery was once a turn-of-the-20th-century home. Guests here can enjoy wine tastings and great food.
Photos courtesy of Gilchrist Farm Winery

Just a block from the popular public beach, marina, and Leelanau Trail in Suttons Bay sits an inviting structure that started off as a cozy yet spacious home around the turn of the 20th century.

Now, with an exterior adorned in a shade of robin’s egg blue and windows surrounded by crisp, white trim, the building is home to Gilchrist Farm Winery, one of the Leelanau Peninsula’s newest tasting rooms.

The business beckons both connoisseurs of fine wine and consumers of farm-to-table goodness with the promise of wine tatings and great food.

Not long after its opening last September, Gilchrist’s business manager, George Brittain, struck up a conversation with a patron who was sampling one of the menu’s signature wines along with pie made from  purple potatoes. “He was complimenting us on everything, including how fresh and good the pie tasted,” Brittain says. “I was like, ‘Well, thank you, we just dug those potatoes out of the ground last week.’ ”

That’s just one example of what those visiting Gilchrist will experience: wine offerings paired with an ever-changing menu of handcrafted dishes created with many ingredients grown on the 86-acre Gilchrist Farm, located roughly six miles to the west.

“Our approach is that we’re simply being hospitable, inviting anyone into our home and offering them a drink, scrumptious fresh food, and a mouth-watering dessert,” Brittain says. “This space was originally a charming home and we wanted to preserve that kind of atmosphere.”

Inside, artwork depicting nature, wildlife, and Great Lakes living hangs on walls that are a mix of white and the same shade of blue found on the outside. There are plenty of windows, and the floor plan includes a series of smaller rooms that open up into one another. Seating consists of stylish wooden chairs and benches, along with wooden tables of varying sizes. Kid-sized furniture is available, as are both outdoor and indoor patio dining, thanks to a greenhouse-like structure.

A room with a fireplace is decorated with nautical charts of the Great Lakes, while a small, semiprivate room off the main seating area offers a cozy nook for dining and sipping. A private room for meetings and celebrations is also available.

The building’s interior décor is the work of Alyssa Brittain, George’s wife, who serves as the designer of all things Gilchrist. “Alyssa’s handiwork is all over everything, from the furnishings to the paint colors, the look of the menu, logos, merchandise, and our social media pages,” George says.

Gilchrist Farm Winery biscotti
Gilchrist’s four chefs creatively pair its biscotti (above), bison gumbo (below), and a variety of other farm-to-table dishes with a signature collection of 12 wines available at the Suttons
Bay location.

Gilchrist Farm Winery bison gumbo

Owners Marc and Elizabeth Huntoon, Alyssa’s parents, founded Gilchrist Farm in 2018 after retiring from their jobs as physicians. The Huntoons’ happy place away from work was tending to their grapes and winemaking, and doing so on a larger scale in retirement is a dream come true for the Michigan natives.

“Marc is our wine guy, working closely with our incredible winemaker, Drew Perry,” Brittain says. “My in-laws have traveled to different wine regions in Europe and Chile, and gained extensive winemaking knowledge. On the farm, Marc is usually working in the (22 acres of) vines or is on a tractor doing something. Elizabeth is the green thumb and can grow pretty much anything we need for our menu.”

Laurel Huntoon, Alyssa’s sister, is the farm’s soil scientist and practices regenerative agriculture. That means no chemical fertilizers or insecticides are used, and organic material like grape pomace, spent grain from brewing operations, wood chips, and chaff from coffee-making help regenerate the soil.

George, with a background in business development and hospitality, was a natural fit for his role. He and Alyssa also own the Anchor Inn, a waterfront lodging establishment about 13 miles south of Gilchrist on Grand Traverse Bay.

Hiring Perry, a decorated winemaker, was huge. In 2021 alone, three of his wines earned top honors at the prestigious Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition. Gilchrist has produced a wine menu that includes four red wines, five whites, a rose, and bubbly chardonnay.

“Four Daughters — named after the Huntoons’ four daughters — has been our best-selling red wine,” Brittain says. “Our top-selling white is the Barrel Chardonnay. It’s not overly oaky tasting and is also great to have in winter. I would also recommend our pinot noir, which is certainly the best I’ve had from the region.”

About 90 percent of all the grapes used to make Gilchrist wines are custom-crushed by local growers. The Red Deer and Highlander red wines feature West Coast grapes. Gilchrist’s vineyard, planted in 2020, will produce its first estate-grown wine this spring.

The farm-to-table food offerings frequently change, depending on the availability of ingredients and the creativity of four chefs — head chef Deanna Mikalauskas, Aaron Davis, Christian Stawiarski, and Alex Koepfer.

“When it comes to food, we’re certainly serving more than a traditional tasting room that offers only snacks like cheese and crackers,” Brittain says. “We’re lucky to have such visionary chefs from diverse culinary backgrounds, and we encourage them to be as creative as possible when coming up with dishes.” There’s the 100-percent-local Shepherd’s pie featuring ingredients sourced from small, local farms. Visitors will enjoy ingredients from Up North Heritage Farm, Leelanau Cheese, and Second Spring Farm, to name a few sources. Recently, Gilchrist tansitioned into a full-service restaurant and now also offers brunch on Sundays. Adds Brittain: “We’ll be making more of our own jams and preserves for sale, and we’re excited about holding more special events.” 

Plan It!

Gilchrist Farm Winery

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