Vineyard prices soar; compare Michigan wines at TC’s Cherry Stop

Conventional wisdom holds that Michigan's real estate market plunged more than a year ago and has done nothing but sink since.

But conventional wisdom ignores the small but significant niche of vineyard property. As the northern Michigan wine industry expands – with four new wineries expecting to open on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas this year – vineyard property prices are up as much as 25 to 30 percent, said Dan Matthies, owner of Peninsula Properties and Chateau Fontaine in Leelanau County.

Prices in Leelanau are up from between $10,000 to $12,000 per acre to $13,000 to $15,000, said Matthies, who specializes in vineyard property. One notable spring sale was a 60-acre Centreville Township parcel that went for $15,000 per acre. On Old Mission, where housing pressure is greater, he's seen prices as high as $20,000 per acre.

In fact, Matthies said, for the first time, he's seeing potential buyers interested in speculating on vineyard property.

"They think because the state is falling apart as far as real estate values, there's an opportunity to grab up some property and resell it and make a buck," he said.

But Matthies cautions against expecting to flip vineyards. For one thing, per-acre costs will double by the time grapes are planted. And as he's found, buyers interested in fronting those costs and working for two to three years before the first crop is crushed are rare commodities.

"It's a hard business," he said. "It's farming, it is expensive, it is labor-intensive.

"What people think is, 'They're all millionaires.'"

A pizza franchise's move this spring opened the door for what's believed to be the only establishment where wines from multiple Michigan wineries can be tasted side-by-side – in downtown Traverse City.

Since Memorial Day, Jamie and Nick Roster, owner of downtown Traverse City's Cherry Stop, have been serving wine from a tasting bar at the back of the store. They did it by buying the Class C liquor license that had belonged to a local Little Caesar's restaurant. When the pizza chain moved from the Pirate's Cove golf course to the Campus Plaza shopping mall near NMC, it sold the license. For Nick Roster, who had wanted to offer wine samples since the couple bought the Cherry Stop in 2005, it was the moment he had been waiting for.

"We had people ask, 'Can we sample it?' and we always had to say no," Roster said.

The result? Wine, which used to be among the store's top 20 products, has now jumped to the top 10. One winery told Roster that its sales to the Cherry Stop were up 400 percent in July.

"I'm surprised every week at the amount of wine we sell," Roster said. "When people try it and they like it, they'll buy."

With 21 wineries represented, tastes are 50 cents each or $2.25 for a flight of five. The store also sells wine by the glass. Mixed drinks with spirits from Grand Traverse Distillery and Black Star Farms are also available.

Charging also creates some confusion. Wineries are not allowed to charge for tastings unless they also serve food and derive at least half their income from the food sales. With the Cherry Stop's license allowing it to serve as if it were a bar, however, that's moot.

Roster said most customers don't mind the charge, and it helps him recoup the liquor license cost. Future plans include special wine events, like meet-the-winemaker evenings, at the store.

"We've got the only place that I know of that you can have the wineries side by side. That's really neat for a lot of people," Roster said.

Cari Noga has covered Michigan's grape and wine industry since 1999. Read her blog at Send news and column ideas to her at