Cadillac Winery lets Kevin Leahy continue longtime family passion

LEROY — Dandelion and rhubarb wines like the ones his dad and grandfather used to make aren’t on the menu at Kevin Leahy’s Cadillac Winery, but those recipes are framed and hanging on the walls for inspiration. After graduating from Ferris State University in 1993, Leahy started dabbling in wine making with his father and grandfather. Twenty years later, he’s opened his own winery. In May, Leahy opened Cadillac Winery, located at 17480 18 Mile Road in Leroy, with his partner, Jean Charbonneau. Leahy first opened a home brew shop in Bay City in 1999. He thought making homemade wine and beer was a lost art and wanted to help people learn how. He soon realized people didn’t have the time or space to make their own and decided to close the shop. “After that, I entered some wine at the state fair and I figured I’d get rid of my equipment if didn’t win anything,” Leahy said. “I ended up winning a plethora of awards. I won three first places, two seconds and a third in six different categories. I thought ‘Maybe there is something to this wine making.’” Leahy said it was fate to establish the winery in LeRoy, with family property in the area already growing an heirloom apple orchard and the building they now occupy coming up for sale. In 2011, Leahy took five acres of the property and planted a vineyard. “I’d been sitting out there for years hunting and had been thinking it would be great for growing grapes,” Leahy said. “Now I’m growing grapes.” Charbonneau estimated they have 2,500 vines growing. This year will be the first that they harvest the grapes. “For the first two years they tell you to take the grapes off so the plant can grow roots and get stronger in the weather,” Charbonneau said. “So this will be the first year that we leave the actual grapes on and pick them in the fall.” They have been making wine with juices and other fruits from different areas until theirs are ready. “We’re looking forward to doing more local fruit,” Leahy said. “We’re always looking for local fruit growers if they want to contact us. Any fruit you can get your hands on, you can make pretty decent wine with.” Charbonneau said they are a bit nervous how sweet their grapes will be and if they will taste right. Right now, Cadillac Winery has nine different varieties of wine. There is a contest between three red wines to determine which one will be known as the signature Rose Lake Red. “Which ever one we sell the most of by Dec. 1 will be our signature Rose Lake Red,” Charbonneau said. “We couldn’t decide which one we liked the best, so we thought we’d let everybody else decide.” Cadillac Winery offers a traditional wine tasting where five wines can be sampled for free or each wine can be sampled for $5 and the glass is kept as a souvenir. With limited space in their current building, Leahy and Charbonneau said they are looking to do a grand opening event in the fall once the patio is finished. They will also begin selling wine by the glass and plan to sell hor dourves. The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Charbonneau said hours may change in the future once they begin selling food. Both Leahy and Charbonneau agree people are the best part of their job. “It’s great seeing people enjoy our products,” Leahy said. “Wine makes people happy. It’s nice when I come here and hear laughter coming from the building. People don’t come to a winery to be ornery.”