Marsha Chartrand

Cherry Creek winemakers have Manchester roots

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New winemaker and owner Patrick Spensley, who grew up in Manchester, is making some subtle changes but looks forward to keeping the best of the past at Cherry Creek.

Looking across the snowy hills at one of the vineyards and the winery.

It’s quiet these days at Cherry Creek Winery, located in an 1870s one-room school house on US-12 near Cement City. The rolling Irish Hills nearby are covered with snow, and the vines look barren at this time of year.

But earlier this month, without a lot of fanfare, the winery changed hands to a family with a Manchester connection.

Patrick and Hadley Spensley recently purchased the winery after Patrick has spent the last six years working there and honing his winemaking skills.

“Back in 2011, I went to New Zealand for 10 months and while I was there, I basically fell in love with the wine industry,” he explains. “I went there looking for something different; I knew I’d be able to find a job in the wine industry and I found out that I was really well suited for it. I liked the energy of the work, and the great people that I met there.”

Vats for Cherry Creek Cider are a recent addition to the winery.

He returned to his hometown of Manchester, married Hadley–who grew up in Saline–and they purchased a home in Chelsea, as he started learning the ropes of Michigan wine about six years ago from fourth-generation winemakers John & Denise Burtka, who started the winery in 2002.

He enjoys the cyclical and seasonal nature of the work–there are the quiet months now, in February, but he knows there will also be the incredibly busy and work-intensive months surrounding the harvest. In between, there is pruning, bottling, and other tasks to keep the vintner moderately occupied. And yet, even now in the winter, the winery is open four days per week with a cafe, wine and retail sales, and live acoustic music two weekends per month, all of which helps pay the bills year around.

Great Lakes oak barrels are used to age the wines.

Summer weekends are an especially busy time, because the winery hosts a twice-weekly concert series (Thursday and Friday evenings) from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Through October, the concerts continue on Saturday afternoons, attracting mostly local bands with a following from nearby towns–including Manchester.

Though he holds a degree in business, Spensley has also continued his education specifically in winemaking through an online curriculum known as VESTA (Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance), a national grape and wine education program. The online consortium of colleges includes not only schools in California and other well-known winemaking states, but also Michigan State University and Jackson College. It also combines guided hands-on experience with skilled mentors in the industry.

The cozy cafe at Cherry Creek Winery is just one of its many attractions.

“I have had a luxury of being able to buy into a well-established business,” Spensley says of Cherry Creek. “We will be making some subtle changes as we go forward; we are excited about where we’re headed but we have a great foundation here and people will not see any immediate sweeping changes in how we operate.”

He does look forward to expanding the winery’s repertoire of classic premium quality wines, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, made with Michigan hybrid fruits as well as some grapes grown on site. He is seeing an up-tick in sales of dry red wines over the past four or five years, although the winery–and Michigan–originally built its reputation on sweeter wines. In 2017, Cherry Creek Winery received two gold and two double gold medals from the Taster’s Guild International Wine Competition.

Another recent addition to the Cherry Creek cellars is their hard cider. Spensley believes that winemakers have an edge when making hard ciders, because the process is more similar to winemaking than to brewing beers or making traditional cider.

Cherry Creek Winery is located at the intersection of US-12 and Silver Lake Hwy near Cement City

“We have about 20 different wines,” he explains. “And about six hard ciders currently. Three years ago, we purchased some cider-specific tanks; we can get Michigan apples and juice year around, to make our ciders. It’s a nice secondary market for us, and helps keep everyone happy. Not everyone likes to drink wine!

“Wine will always be our backbone, but we are pleased to have a great line of ciders for our customers to try.”

The pergola is the site of concerts and other events, including weddings, in the summertime.

In addition to wine tastings year-around, Cherry Creek often sponsors special events, including yoga events, an annual grape stomp, and painting classes, and is expanding its reputation as a wedding venue. Contact them at (517) 592-4663 or via email at events@cherrycreekwine.com for more information. You can follow the winery on Facebook, too!

“It’s a promising time for wineries in Michigan,” Spensley concludes. “It is a growing industry and the economic impact on the state has been significant.”

The lush vineyards of summer welcome visitors to the Irish Hills area. Photo courtesy Cherry Creek Winery.

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