Village Barrel Room Honors Past, Present

Oak barreled wines aging in the lower level of The Barrel Room, which opened in May 2017 at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

Note: Please see the “Inside the Village” insert in the June TCBN for more updates on The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Women of the Village profiles. an events calendar, Mercato map and more. 

The Village at Grand Traverse Commons has many stories of creative re-use as new endeavors honor the past with modern implementation. The Barrel Room at Left Foot Charley is one.

Tucked into the hillside along Yellow Drive next to the winery and tasting room, the Barrel Room offers private tastings and event space while housing barrels of fermenting wines. The facility was redeveloped from one of the Traverse City State Hospital’s old root cellars, originally built in 1893 and known as Building 63.

“It’s been so interesting watching the village grow …. and watching these buildings come to life,” said Operations Manager Meridith Lauzon. “Left Foot Charley opened in the old laundry and now the Barrel Room builds on history as well.”

Lauzon joined Left Foot Charley 10 years ago just before its second anniversary. She notes the winery has grown alongside the village. “It used to be much slower and more seasonal,” she said. “But now there is so much more foot traffic and interest. We are very busy all year long.”

A longtime Village anchor, Left Foot Charley opened in 2007 as the region’s only urban winery. Winemaker Bryan Ulbrich works with 18 local vineyards to supply the grapes for Left Foot Charley’s signature wines and ciders. According to Lauzon, Ulbrich originally hoped to open the winery in Building 63, now home of the Barrel Room. Space, production needs and structural restrictions influenced the decision to use Building 53, the former State Hospital laundry building, as Left Foot Charley’s new home.

Ten years later, Ulbrich got his wish. Success at Left Foot Charley brought greater need for space for fermenting wine as well as expanded options for tastings and events. The Barrel Room opened in May 2017.

The two-story facility is built directly into the hillside which causes temperature and humidity naturally moderated by the earth. Field stone and beams line the walls. Reminiscent of the vegetables stored a century ago, the lower level creates a perfect space to quietly age the locally grown blaufränkisch, cabernet franc, chardonnay, merlot and bottle fermented sparkling wines in oak barrels for 10-36 months before release. Up to 120 barrels can be fermenting at any given time.

Lauzon says the solitude is ideal for the oak barreled wines to sit, ferment and quietly age. She also noted that wines aged in oak only represent about a quarter of the winery’s full menu of 18 wines. The others are aged in stainless steel in the main facility.

“We use barrels like our spice cabinet,” she said. “Oak adds to mouth feel and makes a wine that has bolder flavors.”

A highlight of The Barrel Room is its open plan second floor which was renovated into an intimate event space where private tastings, meetings and private gatherings are held. Left Foot Charley conducts two wine experiences: the 60-minute Private Barrel Room Tasting, including cheese platters and a selection of several wine samplings for groups up to 20 people; as well as the 90-minute Private Reserve Tour and Tasting which includes a tour of Left Foot Charley’s winemaking facilities followed by a private tasting with cheese platters.

The event space is also available to rent for business meetings, family celebrations, bachelorette parties and other small private gatherings. The Barrel Room is often used as a popular stop for wine tour buses as well as the Village’s Historic Taste and Tour which include stops in the vintage tunnels, Left Foot Charley and nearby Earthen Ales.

According to Lauzon, approximately 75-100 guests participate in tastings on most Saturdays while business on other days is very steady, especially during fall and summer.

“After two years, things are going great,” she said. “It’s been a great space to explore for enhanced tastings … and a great addition to the winemaking palette.”