Passing on the Baton

The oldest family-owned winery in Michigan looks to retain the title. Photography by Michael Buck
Winemakers Doug and Gwen Welsch
Winemakers Doug and Gwen Welsch

The words “lake effect” are not always welcome news. But in the rolling hills of Fenn Valley, lake effect is partly responsible for the flavorful bounty that Doug Welsch, winemaker and second-generational head of Fenn Valley Vineyards, turns into wine.

Fenn Valley is best known for its award-winning fruit wines. Unlike traditional wines fruit wines are seductive elixirs crafted from classic Michigan treasures: cherries, blueberries and raspberries. Using all locally-grown fruit, Fenn Valley’s wines are akin to capturing the spirit of Michigan in a bottle.

The oldest family-owned winery in Michigan looks to retain its title as Welsch passes the business baton to his daughter, Gwen, later this year. A generational love affair, inspired by the bounty of west Michigan’s fruit belt, first put Fenn Valley Vineyards on the wine trail map over 22 years ago. Doug and Gwen shared some insights.

How did you first get into the fruit wine business?

Doug: It was a hobby that got out of hand. My Dad wanted to get into agriculture and back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, the wine industry was just beginning and showed a lot of promise.

What do you most enjoy about the wine business?

Gwen: I really enjoy being around people and figuring out what wines would suit their tastes, personalities, and lifestyles.

What’s the best way to show off fruit wines in the summertime?

Doug: We like to show them either with a fruit desert, poured over ice cream, or mixed with a bit of sparkling wine.

Red WineAny recommendations for food and wine pairings?

Gwen: Chocolate and red wine, particularly a Cabernet Franc. Or, apricot/almond biscotti and a Late Harvest Vignoles.

What is your favorite Michigan beach?

Doug: Christmas Beach.

What is your favorite place on earth?

Gwen: My dad and I both love Grand Turk, British West Indies. Scuba diving is a shared interest.

Any special summertime entertaining ideas?

Gwen: A great barbeque is perfect summertime entertainment. Keep it simple with some grilled meats (or veggie kabobs) and a few sides. I like to serve homemade Sangria, local beers, fruit wines and lemonade.

What quality do you most admire in a person?

Doug: We both agree that it is honesty. Without it, there is no room for trust.

What’s the best wine to take to a beach picnic?

Gwen: A dry rose, such as our Cabaret Rose. Our boxed wines are perfect to take along for a picnic.

What’s next on your horizon?

Gwen: Continuing along the path of taking over a winery. Paralleled with that is the birth of my daughter in June.

Doug: Retirement. It is time to pass the reins to the next generation — I’ve had my moment in the sun!

Visit to learn more. Freelance writer Caroline J. Beck lives in California’s wine country and Lexington, Mich.

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