A Viniferous Vision: Chateau Chantal goes public to finance major expansion

TRAVERSE CITY – “Partake” is the catch phrase in Chateau Chantal’s newest business venture. The word is defined as, “to take part, to take a portion, to eat or drink in the company of others.” And it is an apt description of their decision to go public and offer common stock–as well as the chance to partake in a hands-on dream.

“The word ‘partake’ is almost communal,” said the winery’s proprietor Robert Begin. “What people are buying into isn’t smoke and mirrors, it’s vines–something productive and profitable and buildings that are here. The collateral isn’t an idea, it’s actual real estate.”The winery, founded in 1983 on Old Mission Peninsula, is operated by Begin and his wife, Nadine. The move to go public is the second phase in their plan to create the equity needed to expand their business.

They hope to raise $1.75 million to $3.5 million to finance the expansion that will include: adding a room to their winery for educational seminars, increasing their cellar capacity to 80,000 gallons, turning their small bed and breakfast into a 12-room inn overlooking Grand Traverse Bay and purchasing new winery equipment. They will also build a warehouse on site, designed to be built partially underground with a low profile to maintain the natural landscape.

“We’re not wealthy enough to pull this off ourselves,” Begin said. “It’s a dream, a plan, a vision. We want Chateau Chantal to be a must-visit destination in northern Michigan.”

The vineyard consists of 40 acres planted with European vinifera grapes. Chateau Chantal produces seven varieties of wine, including red, white, sparkling and specialty wines that have won several state and regional medals in the last three years. The wines sell for $7 to $14 a bottle.

Up to 56 percent of the company’s stock will be sold in the offering. The cost is $20 per share, with a minimum investment of 100 shares.

Begin noted that since the public offering began in late April, they have already had 1,200 requests for offering circulars. And the number keeps jumping, due in part to the idea of owning a piece of paradise.

Father James L. Meyer has invested in Chateau Chantal from the beginning.

“It’s a chance to be a part of something special, to take part in something tangible,” he said. “It’s a modest part of it, but it’s not about the number of stocks or making money.”

In fact, Meyer, who is the campus minister at Wayne State University School of Medicine and adjunct faculty in biomedical ethics, notes that his investment is an ingredient to a simpler life.

“It’s the best of both worlds. I love the city, but I also love up North. It’s more than romance. Something like this gives you a sense of well being. Even if it never turned a dollar, its innate value is still profitable.”

While wine sales jumped from $270,000 in 1994 to $847,000 last year, and overall revenue grew from $316,000 to $1.16 million in the same time period, the perks of owning a part of a winery are not, like Meyer noted, just about money. The dividends are also found in the “Members Club” and the “Founders Club.”

Depending on the size of their investment, shareholders receive 20 to 30 percent off their purchases, as well as complimentary nights at the bed and breakfast. There is also the annual shareholders harvest festival that will bring new meaning to “share.”

“Wine, from our perspective, is a food,” Begin said. “It’s grown and processed and is shared with food. You can go and buy a hamburg to eat or you can develop a social atmosphere with wine and actually dine.”

The ambience surrounding wine is what Chateau Chantal’s manager, Liz Berger, loves about her job.

“Wine can be a fulfilling part of life, a whole lifestyle,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter how rushed you are. If you don’t have the time to cook, you can have a glass of wine with mac and cheese and it slows you down enough to enjoy your meal.”

Berger added that she poured the first glass of wine for some folks who happened by when the winery opened in 1993. And she is just as excited about the newest change at Chateau Chantal.

“Much of what we’ve done has been in anticipation of this,” she said. “It’s been amazing to watch Mr. Begin’s entrepreneurial spirit. He’s always thinking five or 10 years ahead.” BIZNEWS