Taking off

A pilot at 17, Lorenzo Lizarralde learned to make wine like he learned to fly.
Lorenzo tasting room

By Caroline J. Beck

If it’s true you that have to be fearless to fly a plane, Lorenzo Lizarralde has a lot of courage. A self-taught pilot since the age of 17, he’s navigated the world in all sorts of flying machines including DC-8 cargo jets to South America and Europe-bound Boeing 747s. So it’s really no surprise that Lizarralde, at age 47 in 2008, took a flying leap and started a winery in Jackson, Mich.

With no formal training in enology, Lizarralde learned to make wine like he learned to fly — by reading, by studying and by seeking advice from others that blazed similar trails around the globe. Over years of doing his homework, what started as a passion for great wines resulted in a one-of-a-kind winery situated in the middle of an airpark: Here, where Chateau Aeronautique Winery overlooks the runway, Lizarralde’s home and hangar are one in the same.

Chateau Aeronautique
Photography by Mark Bialek

How did you first get into the wine business? My standard answer as to why or how I got into the wine business is…girls. The truth is that wine has always been my passion. It began with my first tastings and expanded as I visited wineries around the world; I loved the ambience and camaderie. When I discovered the benefits of cellaring/aging wines after buying and holding my first case of cabernet, I was hooked. Having the chance to actually create my own line of varietal and blended wines is a dream come true.

Where do you get your inspiration for those new blends? France is one of the best places in the world to learn about wine and I’ve been lucky enough to visit the key winegrowing regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy many times. The growing conditions, soil and climate are surprisingly a lot like Michigan, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Classic red grape varieties like cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, pinot noir, merlot and syrah all do very well here. White grapes like chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling thrive.

What is your favorite food and wine pairing? I like to keep it simple. The best pairings are those that put the food and the wine on an equal playing field. A big Bordeaux blend like our Aviatrix Crimson goes great with a nicely charred filet mignon. It’s all about finding the right balance of fruit, tannins, alcohol and oak that can stand up to a big, juicy steak.

Where do you like to go for a day trip? If I’m traveling by land, Greenfield Village and the Ford Museum are always fun. But once I’m up in the air, the sky’s the limit. Mackinac Island is a favorite and flying to small airports and airparks that dot the state in places like Frankenmuth, Kalamazoo and Grosse Ile are great destinations.

Chateau Aeronautique Exterior
Photography by Mark Bialek

Do you celebrate any special summertime traditions? Every time I release a new wine is cause for celebration, but it’s even better when joining other local wineries to celebrate the season.

What varietals are your customer favorites? It all depends on the season. During warm months, Aviatrix Passion — our cranberry infusion, semi-sweet Riesling — is a go-to wine for a refreshing way to cool off. When the temperature dips, people switch to our big reds and our barrel-aged chardonnay.

What’s next on your high-flyin’ horizon? I’m looking for a vineyard to grow my own grapes, but in the meantime, I hope to just enjoy life — and maybe find a girl to share all this fun with.

To learn more, visit chateauaeronautiquewinery.com. Caroline J. Beck lives in California’s wine country and Lexington, Mich. 

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