Lorenzo Lizarralde isn’t just a winemaker; he’s also a pilot.
You may have figured it out from the name of his winery: Chateau Aeronautique, a nod to the French word for “aeronautic.”
If you hadn’t gotten the hint, perhaps the winery’s original location might have tipped you off. Lizarralde’s first tasting room, done up with a classic airplane and flying theme, is on his household property, in a Jackson neighborhood inhabited by pilots — complete with a landing strip. Tours of the facility, which opened in 2009, include an inside peek of the airplane hangar attached to his home.
But if you were still oblivious, Chateau Aeronautique’s newly opened location in the Irish Hills will make no mistake of it.
Situated on 26 acres, the 8,000-square-foot facility is aviation-themed from nose to tail, with an emphasis on vintage. The main tasting bar is fashioned from the wing of a crashed 1974 German glider. An authentic Delta flight attendant’s cart will be used for tableside service. The bathrooms are marked not with “Men” and “Women,” but “Aviator” and “Aviatrix” (a female aviator — a term also used in the names of some of Lizarralde’s wines).
On the day of our visit, one week prior to the Nov. 11 grand opening celebration, a giant Art Deco-esque travel poster advertising flights to Havana hung over the bar area. Over the coming weeks, Lizarralde says he plans to decorate the 16-foot ceiling with about two dozen of the vintage “destination posters,” depicting various locales.
In the near future, Lizarralde intends to replace the current temporary seating with seats from various airliners: Boeing 747s, DC-10s, Concordes and the like.
Lizarralde plays the theme to the hilt, but with an air of whimsy. For instance, in the women’s bathroom, a sultry Maverick and Charlie from Top Gun gaze down on the sinks from a framed poster. The obligatory Health Department signs that admonish employees to wash their hands read: “Crew must wash hands prior to returning to performance.”
Lizarralde has big plans for the location, but intends to roll new amenities and offerings out slowly. Behind the bar, there’s a large stove with a hood vent to accommodate eventual food service. Up a metal, circular staircase is an under-construction suite where brides can prepare before making a grand entrance.
The main space is wired and plumbed to accommodate anticipated beer brewing operations under the moniker Blue Skies Brewery. It’s another nod to aviation: the hope of good weather during a flight.
An outdoor seating area behind the winery — nestled up against the tree-lined cliffs — spans 7,000 square feet and can comfortably accommodate about 200 guests, Lizarralde says.
He hopes to have the microbrewery, kitchen, and outdoor facilities ready to roll by summer 2018.
The aims in opening a second location were threefold.
“Primary was the desire to grow our own grapes, for better control and better quality,” says Lizarralde, who plans to plant a wide variety of red and white grapes. “We are certainly 100 percent Michigan, but we’ve been buying grapes to this point.”
The second goal was reclaiming the hangar attached to his home. “My hangar was so full of wine and winemaking equipment that I had to rent a hangar in Jackson and boot my plane out for about a year,” he says with a laugh. “Love having her back!”
Lastly, the Irish Hills location allows Lizarralde the ability to accommodate more guests. The Airpark location, which only has parking for 20 cars and has a maximum occupancy of 50, “will forever be a boutique venue, offering more personal service, private tastings, and tours of the cellar and hangar,” he explains. “The Irish Hills will host large events.”
The Airpark location has a more elegant feel, with an imported bar, a mural of Tuscany, and chandeliers, compared to the more industrial vibe of the Irish Hills facility — and that’s by design, Lizarralde says.
The two locations are also currently serving different vintages of Aeronautique’s wines, which include, among others, pinot gris; riesling; Aviatrix Passion, a late harvest vidal blanc infused with cranberry; Passito Cabernet Sauvignon, a dessert wine made from dried cabernet sauvignon grapes; and Aviatrix Crimson, a Bordeaux-style dry red blend.
In terms of grape growing, the site selection for the second location was inspired by Lizarralde’s travels to Old World wine countries.
“When we tour vineyards in France, wine grape growers often speak of the benefits of ancient glacier activity — stony soils and hilly terrain in particular,” he explains. “The Irish Hills are a result of the glacial escarpment that pushed through southeast Michigan at the end of the last ice age. Our 20-acre stony vineyard site is on the side of a hill, with a south-facing slope overlooking a lake, giving us increased sun exposure, water drainage, and cold air drainage on winter nights.”
It also was a strategic decision based on tourist traffic.
“The Pioneer Wine Trail consists of a cluster of wineries along U.S. 12 in the Irish Hills and a cluster along I-94,” he says. “These two clusters are half an hour apart, which is unusual for wine trails. From the outset, I have thought it a good idea to have a footprint in each cluster. Our new facility is in the heart of the Irish Hills, with wineries 10 minutes in either direction.”
Maria Measel, president of the Pioneer Wine Trail and owner of Tecumseh-based Pentamere Winery, says the member wineries are excited to welcome the new addition to the trail.
“This facility opens up so many possibilities for Chateau Aeronautique,” she says. “Lorenzo’s always been passionate about winemaking. That passion will find its further expression here in the Irish Hills. We all look forward to the wonderful wines that will soon be coming from this location.”
Chateau Aeronautique’s Irish Hills tasting room is located at 12000 Penecost Highway in Onsted. For more information on Chateau Aeronautique, visit ChateauAeronautiqueWinery.com.