In 2015, Macomb residents Jessica and David Youngblood converted their family farm into a vineyard. Now, they balance producing wine while raising a family on a farm.
By Ri’An Jackson
Photography by Morgan Heinzmann
Jessica and David Youngblood have brought Wine Country to Metro Detroit.
In 2015, the couple transformed their 46-acre family farm that grew everything from soybeans, corn and wheat in Ray Township into a gorgeous vineyard where they produce six varieties of estate wine, hold wine-tasting events and raise their family.
After living in some of the most prestigious wine areas in the United States, the two fell in love with the idea of starting their own vineyard.
“We used to spend a lot of time in wine country in Virginia,” says Jessica Youngblood, 43. “We would take our kids to vineyards on weekends…once we realized we were moving back (to Michigan), we thought ‘Well, we should do something like this here.’ ”
It took more than a love of vineyards to accomplish their goal, however. The pair spent two years researching grapes that could withstand Michigan’s frigid climate. They settled on three red and three white varieties of hybrid grapes bred at the University of Minnesota.
“These new grapes are cold tolerant,” says Drew Horton, head enologist at the University of Minnesota, “…and also taste good and have good wine chemistry — they aren’t too tart, (and) they make enough sugar.”
When the couple moved back to their family’s farm in 2015, they cleared over 10 acres of overgrown Christmas trees and planted their vines on top of them. They added more each year for the next three years until the vines produced viable grapes over 25 acres.
Luckily for the Youngbloods, their three-year plan worked. “We knew … basically we were going to kill ourselves for three years knowing that at the end, hopefully we’re selling wine,” Jessica says, “and we’ve reached that goal.”
Today, their wine is available for sale at select Randazzo Fresh Market locations, Harding’s Friendly Market in Kalamazoo and Carter’s Cantina in New Haven.
Most of the work to produce the grapes is done by the family. Jessica posts videos on their website to show what goes into producing their bottled wine.
“The mystery of making wine is just starting with great fruit,” she says. “ In order to do that you have to do all of the hard work and be a farmer first.”
Yet the vineyard requires more than the farm chores. While David is at his day job, Jessica cares for their three children while maintaining the business.
“Every night, when I walk through the vineyard, and I can look out and see all of our hard work and everything that we’ve accomplished, I think that’s that moment where I realize, ‘Oh this is why I do this,’ ” Jessica says.
With the beautiful vineyard also comes an exciting farm life. The Youngblood children have four wheelers, acres of open land to play and many animals.
“We get to have all of our friends over a lot,” says 14-year-old Georgia Youngblood. “They can come and help out (at the vineyard), and after we all get to play.”
Jessica says their goal is to “grow the best grapes” and make the best wine. “And to show people that this is possible,” she says says. “…We hope we are an inspiration to other farmers or other people that want to do something special…to use something they have and turn it into something different because that’s what we did.”
61829 Ray Center Road, Ray