J. Trees Cellars puts down new roots in Tecumseh

With every notable nuance in the newly opened J. Trees Cellars tasting room in Tecumseh, there’s a common theme: Owner and winemaker Jon Treloar did it himself.


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Cortney Casey

With every notable nuance in the newly opened J. Trees Cellars tasting room in Tecumseh, there’s a common theme: Owner and winemaker Jon Treloar did it himself.

From the industrial-looking bar to the rustic community table that seats 20, Treloar devoted years of planning and months of physical labor to putting his own stamp on the space. And that’s not even taking into account the wines and ciders served there, for which he can also take credit.

After four years in a small storefront in downtown Blissfield, J. Trees relocated this spring to the historic Hayden-Ford Mill Building on East Chicago Boulevard and officially opened in late April.

Nearly every detail in what has been, over the years, a gristmill, a textile mill, a plant for manufacturing auto parts and wartime aircraft components, and a municipal community center, comes from nearby. The corrugated metal, timbers, and recycled rafters incorporated into the L-shaped bar came from old barns in Tecumseh and Saline. The bar’s white marble top once formed the walls at a bank in downtown Toledo. Sandblasted pulleys that suspend pendant lighting were plucked from an old factory in Grand Rapids.

“Everything with this building, realistically, has been repurposed,” says Treloar. “Not only the whole building itself, obviously, but most everything in the bar has seen another life before here.”

The room, which has a comfortable, relaxed ambience, contains an array of metal chairs, tables, and stools with wooden accents, including a warmly hued wooden plank floor. Wine barrels form the “legs” of the community table, which Treloar finished building at 2 a.m. on opening day with help from friend Jay Briggs, winemaker at Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery in Lake Leelanau. Barrels are also staggered throughout, occasionally serving as shelves for displaying black-and-white historical photos. Black library-style shelving units, complete with ladder, showcase Treloar’s wines and ciders.

The affable Treloar is modest but clearly — and justifiably — proud of how the space has turned out. The goal, he explained, was to honor the building’s history by retaining the industrial feel and tying into its original agricultural purpose.

The Tecumseh tasting room also represents a rebirth of sorts for J. Trees as a company. Once squeezed into the space in Blissfield — which, at 1,200 square feet, was “cozy” but limiting, Treloar says — the operation now occupies about 4,000 square feet at the Hayden-Ford Mill Building.

And though J. Trees has been technically part of the Southeastern Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail since 2010, the Blissfield site made it a bit of an outlier from the trail’s core, concentrated in the Jackson/Ann Arbor area. The new location places J. Trees much closer to fellow Pioneer wineries, as well as to an even tighter cluster of wineries emerging around Tecumseh, including Black Fire, anticipated to open this summer, and Jackson-based Chateau Aeronautique’s pending new tasting room, Treloar says.

 

From Botany to Bubbly

Plants have always been Treloar’s “thing,” and the name of the winery is a play off his nickname, “Jonny Trees.” It’s a moniker his friends bestowed as a nod to his plant science background. But winemaking wasn’t part of the original plan.

Seeing few other options after finishing a bachelor’s degree in botany and plant pathology at Michigan State University, he began pursuing master’s programs in horticulture. Under the guidance of longtime MSU viticulturist Stan Howell, Ph.D., he quickly became entranced by the craft and eventually segued into a position as winemaker and research enologist at the university. He honed his blending skills there, participated in countless wine trials studying the viability of various grapes amid Michigan’s climate.

It was on a trip to Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula with Howell in 2001 that Treloar met Michigan bubbly guru Larry Mawby, owner and winemaker at L. Mawby Winery. The visit sparked Treloar's interest in focusing on sparkling wine and “sealed my fate in continuing Michigan wine production,” he says.

As bubblies require grapes with high acidity — not necessarily the ripeness levels that most still wines demand — it’s a “very sustainable product to be making in our state,” Treloar says. “Every year, you can make that perfect. It’s top-notch in Michigan.”

After nearly eight years, Treloar left MSU to “go commercial.” He planted his first vineyard acres in Petersburg in 2007. While waiting for them to produce wine-suitable fruit, he sourced grapes from other growers in 2008 to produce his inaugural vintage. In 2010, he opened the Blissfield tasting room, but it wasn’t long before plans for the Tecumseh site began materializing.

Impressed by the history and character of the Hayden-Ford Mill, Treloar began discussing tasting room possibilities with the city at the same time he and now-wife Tracy started planning their wedding reception at the facility. In spring 2011, they toasted to tying the knot in the same room where J. Trees guests now sip Treloar's wines and ciders.

As of April, Treloar’s menu boasted a handful of still wines, sparkling wines, and ciders. The lineup included rieslings of various sweetness levels, a dry rosé, a house red blend, and the delicately fizzy Sparkling Riesling Frizzante, among others, as well as several styles of cider.

In the near future, Treloar will release nearly a dozen more offerings, including a Blanc de Blancs sparkler, sangria-like and muscat-based frizzantes, a Norton, and possibly a Marquette, along with a cider produced from more than 100 varieties of apples acquired from Eastman’s Orchards.

Treloar says his menu will become increasingly weighted toward bubbly, especially since the new site has a stone-walled, partially underground lower level ideal for accommodating a traditional method sparkling wine program.

At the moment, all J. Trees sparkling wines are made in the Charmat, or close cuve, method, in which the secondary fermentation required to produce bubbles occurs in tanks. In traditional method, or methode champenoise, secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle, which demands a large amount of space and certain conditions J. Trees previously lacked.

All of the grapes Treloar uses come from three vineyards: a 4.5-acre estate vineyard he planted in Petersburg, where his winemaking facility remains; a 3-acre parcel he planted and manages for a friend in Saline; and 4 acres of riesling grown by another friend in northern Michigan’s Benzie County. The cider apples are primarily sourced from Monroe and Lenawee counties.

“Anybody can buy concentrate or order grapes from other states, and we’re really pretty proud to be able to say we’re growing what Michigan does best,” Treloar says. “We’re producing from Michigan-grown fruit.”

Treloar has big dreams for the Hayden-Ford Mill location. He plans to hold special events; expand his food options (he currently offers panini) to include barbecue, smoked meats, and other small plates; and open a 1,500-square-foot outdoor area overlooking Globe Mill Pond, where guests can enjoy live entertainment as they eat and drink.

But for the moment, he’s just “ecstatic” to have the tasting room up and running with such potential ahead.

“It took a while to get to this point, but the space has turned out exactly as planned,” Treloar says. “We couldn't be happier.”

J. Trees Cellars Tasting Room is at 703 E. Chicago Blvd. in Tecumseh. For more information, visit www.treeswines.com, call (877) 304-3254, or email info@treeswines.com.

Cortney Casey is co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the Michigan wine industry. She's also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, a joint offsite tasting room in partnership with six Michigan wineries in Shelby Township. Contact her at cort@michiganbythebottle.com.

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