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Founders Winery

. . . a true passion for wine making

Left to right:
Gunnar Olson, Leonard Olson and Ken Schiffer enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Wine Master Leonard Olson planted his first grapes in Berrien County in 1968. Today, his Founders Winery has built a tidy reputation for its quality products, from the Founders Chardonnay and Founders Riesling to his Lake Michigan Shore Cabernet Savignon and Lake Michigan Shore Vidal Blanc Ice-Wine.

In all, Founders Winery produces 25 wines.

“I do take pride in establishing the first commercial European grape variety vineyard in Michigan and the Midwest,” says Olson on his web site.

Olson, a Chicagoan who attended the University of Illinois on a football scholarship in the mid-1960s, originally worked in the steel business as a sales representative.

After a few years, though, Olson left the Chicago area and moved to southwest Michigan. It was a place where he could pursue his passion for wine-making. Olson makes it clear that to be involved in the wine business requires passion.

“We like to have fun with our customers, too. We’re confident that when they visit us they will find a wine that suits their palate.”

Along with Ken Schiffer and numerous other investors, Olson located Founders Winery in the old mill building near the water tower in downtown Baroda. It’s a place where customers can go to relax at a 40-foot bar and enjoy the locally produced wine. And while visitors are enjoying the wine, they have the opportunity to see the entire operation at the winery.

“I live by a rule that it’s only work if you want to be someplace else,” says Olson. “I don’t work. I want to be here.”
Founders Winery operates from a 10,000-square-foot facility and produces about 9,000 cases of wine a year.

“I see a lot of opportunity for growth,” says Olson. “Distribution is the next big challenge for us. I really hope people come and take a look at us. We have customers from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. Many of them are regulars who come back time and again.”

Olson says wine production has become a growing business in southwestern Michigan (there are at least 16 wineries in the region) because of geography. “Every great wine area is near a large body of water, which helps temper the climate.”

In Germany, it’s the Rhine River, and in France, says Olson, it’s the Atlantic Ocean. Napa Valley in California has the San Francisco Bay, and in New York, it’s the Finger Lakes.

“Here, it’s Lake Michigan. In 1985 when I was at the Chicago Bears Super Bowl parade, it was 27 below in Chicago. Here, it was 13 above. That difference allows us to produce tender varieties of grapes.”

Founders Winery is at:

8963 Hills Road
Baroda, MI  49101

Hours are:

Weekdays :    12 to 5 p.m
Weekends:    12 to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit www.founderswinecellar.com