Building A Winery
It was March 2001 when, after two years of fruitless searching for a vineyard site, we found the
building that was to become Pentamere Winery. Built in the late 1800s, it had housed successful
businesses, from Anderson's Grocery to Larry's Diner. In its latest incarnation as the Chilean
House Mexican restaurant, it offered the best tacos for miles around and had a devoted local clientele
for over 25 years. But the restaurant had been sold off and foundered under new ownership. And now the
only remainder of its proud heritage was the red chili pepper wallpaper.
Yes, the décor was 1960's functional and the place smelled like tacos. The solution was
simple: gut it. A return to the original brick walls and hardwood floors would allow the natural beauty
of the building to show through. That would look a bit more like a winery! Simple? Only if we had used
a Molotov cocktail…
Renovations started in May after architect Dave Mueller had been hired and approval from the Historical
Preservation Society sought. Dan expected to open in time for Appleumpkin, Tecumseh's fall
festival. He came to regret that prediction—especially when his friends reminded him of it.
Repeatedly. For the next twelve months.
Destruction now began in earnest. Get rid of all the old restaurant fixtures and kitchen equipment
(wine is not prepared over a hot stove, nor would the old bread oven prove useful). Tear up the tile
floor—ah, but first test for asbestos. Chisel the plaster off the walls (and the pepper paper
covering it, thank God), and, stroke by arm-numbing stroke, expose the brick. Give the brick wall an
acid bath to enhance its appearance and, while you're at it, sandblast the whitewash off the
fieldstone walls of the basement to show off the stone and 100+ year old construction. Pull out 324,623
(we counted) nails from the molding and framing. Away with it all!
After a couple of months, the place still looked as though it had been hit by a small but enthusiastic
tornado, but progress had definitely been made. It was summer, and time for Dan's introduction to
the world of general contracting. Dan's brother and father are professional finish carpenters, so
he's familiar with “the trades”. Unfortunately, there were neither Measel nor Sparks
relatives who were plumbers, electricians or HVAC contractors, so those jobs had to be hired out.
Sounds easy! Call the contractors, set up the appointments, and make sure that the building is ready
for whatever improvements are scheduled, then sit back and relax. Uh, no. It's not quite like that.
Everything has to be retrofit within the existing structures and all the jobs are interrelated. Our
wiring was vintage 1920's and the plumbing equally decrepit. We needed production facilities in the
basement for our winemaking, which meant the installation of a new drain system in the existing
concrete flooring. The furnace had to be replaced, relocated and walled off (by law, in a manner
suitable to withstand a nuclear blast. Pentamere will never lack for a tornado shelter!), and
ventilation systems installed. Gas meters had to be relocated outdoors and the old coal bin bricked
shut. The hurry up and wait cycle of contract work would drive us to exhaustion and, it seemed at
times, the verge of insanity.
Other challenges provided welcome distraction. For example, what to do about the fermenting tanks?
These are tall and, when full of wine, very heavy. Not necessarily something you would want on your
wooden floor. Since they were likely to end up down there anyway, why not put them in the basement? Why
not? Well, considering that “the boys” had to walk around like hunchbacks, due to the low
clearance in the basement, and also that the biggest tank was twelve feet tall, we saw only one
solution: whack a great big hole in the floor. Not only would this make the basement accessible for the
honking big tanks, it would offer customers a vantage from which to watch the winemaking process.
Furthermore, it would give us the distinction of being the only winery in Michigan that valet parks its
tanks, in order to work on them. Now that little-known fact will go into the annals of history!
It quickly became obvious that there would be no October opening. This was a problem. Grapes have the
annoying habit of maturing in September and October and only in these months. Whether the winery was
ready or not, there were going to be several tons of grapes arriving—you guessed it, in
September. The alternative: no wine to sell until 2003, hara-kiri for Daniel-san.
So amidst the ruins we had created, there came to be fermentation tanks. To get them into the basement,
we simply (!) removed the (large and heavy) front window, built a ramp from the first floor to the
basement (in the aforementioned great big hole, using the very handy 12" joists that had once held
up the ex-floor there), then called out every friend we could get to play a little game of
That dilemma resolved, the next hurdle presented itself. The State wouldn't approve winemaking
until a Permit of Occupancy had been obtained; i.e. construction had been completed and the building
was ready for public access. Of course, it generally takes anywhere from, oh, eight months to a year
before the grapes you've processed have aged into drinkable wines and you have anything you can
invite the public in to taste—but that was our problem, not theirs. Luckily, an angel (in the
form of a higher ranking bureaucrat, who did understand that the egg had to come before the chicken in
this case) saved our bacon. Again, the alternative would have been a wakizashi.
At Christmas, one of our friends suggested that the winery needed its own song:
O Pentamere, O Pentamere
We won't be open 'till next year…
Dan was spared this bit of doggerel, which probably explains why composer Bryan Alexander is still with
us today. Thanks in large part to Dan's brother Kevin, and father Wesley, the winery took final
shape in the winter and spring of 2002. Their exceptional handiwork can be seen in the counter,
railings, trim work and the stairway to the basement.
Opening day had been tentatively set for May 18th, Promenade Weekend. There were just two unsettled
matters to be taken care of: the Permit of Occupancy and the Winery License (dramatic music score
here—think Jaws…). You could say that there are government licensing requirements
to sell wine. You could also say that San Francisco to Tokyo is a long swim. The State of Michigan and
the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau seem to be in competition to see how deep they can
bury you in paperwork. In the end, after you've paid your filing fees, spent days of your life
filling out forms and waited months for them to be processed, it all comes down to one agent. They come
out to the winery, inspect it and give you the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Yea, and you're ready
to open. Nay, and it's back to the drawing board. Of course, fourteen months into the project and
out of money, back to the drawing board is not an option. More like, back to the nut house!
The inspectors came and went. Luckily, there was wine enough for all. On May 16th (talk about cutting
it close!) final approval was given. It was a flat out sprint until the wee hours of the morning, but
on Saturday, May 18th, 2002, we greeted the day, as
Pentamere Winery. And there was great rejoicing.
Continue to the Grand Opening Page >>