McKenzie Gallagher, proprietor of Rove Estate Vineyard & Winery in Traverse City, fills us in on summer plans, several new wine releases and more.

One long year after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Michigan, some Northern Michigan businesses have closed their doors permanently and others are still struggling. Yet despite the fear and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, or perhaps in defiance of it, there are also stories of success and hope. In the March Craft Food & Drink issue of Traverse Magazine, we talk with a restaurateur, farmer, grocer, winemaker, brewer and others who share some of the challenges of 2020, the triumphs and a few goodies you’re going to want to taste this month. Later this week, watch for an interview with Bear Creek Organic Farm.

Featured in the March 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Check it out!

What are you most proud of this year?

Honestly, I am proud of so many things that came out of 2020. First of all, I would say our team knocked it out of the park, every week we were dealt a new handful of additional restrictions and red tape; not once did we give up and take the easy way out. I know we’re all so sick of the word “pivot,” but it really is the perfect word to describe the nimble and fluid situation small businesses everywhere were forced to master. I am also really proud of our wine club and e-commerce growth. 2020 was our fifth season, and amongst the panic and frustration of the pandemic, magic happened. Our community embraced us, both as a small business but also a small family farm operation. We found creative ways to interact with current customers and also managed to attract new guests that opted for a road trip to Traverse City instead of flying to a different destination. We met so many amazing people this past year. As hard as 2020 was to operate within, it was an incredible year that taught us so much. We are grateful to be here and look forward to what next year brings.

Who is someone that had a positive impact?

I would definitely give a shoutout to my fearless leader Tasting Room Manager Heather Durham-Birley. Due to Covid-19, her plans drastically shifted and as a result, she became an integral part of our operation. With a year like 2020, you really need “YES” people on your team and on your side to actively problem solve. Heather did an incredible job of leading the team and also simultaneously implementing new technologies that helped us keep people safe and socially distanced (digital menus, tasting appointment software, etc.). In a typical year, any one of these integrations would take a lot of thought and planning to properly execute, but last year we had to act fast and didn’t have the luxury of waiting. Heather spearheaded these initiatives effortlessly. She also worked so hard at being there for the team, supporting them so that they could handle the volume of business we experienced. It was an all-hands-on-deck season, and it could have gone very differently without Heather and her can-do attitude and organization/execution skills. We are so grateful for our entire team. We really are a work family. At the end of the day, your business is only as strong as your team.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in 2020?

Initially in the spring, the challenge was planning for a season with so much uncertainty and angst. There were many weeks when we were planning for the worst, and wondered how we would keep the lights on if we didn’t open up for service before our busy summer season. Then after we opened up it was the challenge of constantly chasing a moving target. Keeping people safe, all while being very busy. There was a lot of stress in the air, so to speak. But we continued to adapt and ultimately we leaned hard on our huge outdoor service area and outdoor bar. Having that space was our saving grace.

How do you feel going into 2021?

We feel so excited and optimistic! I think any time a person/business heads into a challenging circumstance and they manage to thrive, it really gets your creativity flowing and builds your confidence. So that has definitely happened with my husband and I. Covid-19 restrictions forced us to think differently, but many of those “adaptions” will stick with how we operate post-pandemic. Life has taught us time after time, that what doesn’t kill you always makes you stronger. We feel stronger than before 2020.

What’s a must-try wine that’ll be on your menu in March?

In March I would definitely say our new red blend called Tri’ (Gaelic for three), which is a beautifully balanced, fruit-forward red blend of pinot noir, cabernet franc and merlot. In April though, we will be releasing 11 new wines! We actually sold out of 14 wines last year, so it’s great to get some of our fan-favorite wines back on the menu.

And what dish from an area restaurant would you pair Tri’ with?

A pizza, pasta from Flying Noodle, a sandwich from Folgarellis, anything! My favorite pairing lately is our 2018 Unoaked Chardonnay with literally everything on Flying Noodle’s menu. My personal favorite is the sausage alfredo. Chef Dallas and Chef John are killing it with that menu! It is a winemaker’s dream.

Read Next: 1 Year Later: The Flying Noodle Talks Italian Food, Covid-19

Is there anything else you want to share?

We are working on breaking ground in 2021 on our production facility. We had hoped to start last year, but due to the pandemic, we had to put those plans on hold. We will also be revealing some fun wine sensory workshops and experience-based wine exploration classes. We have a lot of really fun things we can’t wait to share with our guests. Definitely follow us on social media and join our monthly newsletter to get the latest updates!

Find more food and drink articles in the March 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.

Photo(s) by Taylor Brown

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