“Nematoid” Is probably not the word you would ever expect to start a story about a new winery and restaurant near Traverse City. Yet, there it is. Be patient. Stay with us, and you’ll get the connection.
Gilchrist Farm opened Labor Day in downtown Suttons Bay. What started five years earlier with the purchase of 85 acres of nearby land, culminated with the newest wine tasting room and restaurant that is part of the Traverse Wine Coast.
While most new businesses know they must start from the ground up to build their base. Gilchrist Farm needed to start from the ground up. “We were taking over dead soil,” said George Brittain, Business Manager of Gilchrist Farm. “It had been overfarmed. We needed to enhance the soils.”
Here’s where your patience pays off, and where nematoids come in. A nematoid is a microscopic organism that can help revive the soil. Combined with compost, mulch, and sandy soil left from receding glaciers thousands of years ago, the conditions are perfect for creating a nutrient-filled, healthy soil.
Brittain credits his sister-in-law Laurel Huntoon who is a soil scientist and farm manager for reviving the land. “We became a soil factory,” Brittain concludes. “This is a step beyond organic farming.”
2024 will be a banner year for Gilchrist Farm. It will be the first year they will serve wines made from their estate-grown grapes. Since opening the new tasting room, their winemaker has used grapes purchased from other farms in Leelanau County.
The same painstaking passion that went into rebuilding the soil for the wine grapes has gone into crafting a menu for the restaurant. Gilchrist Farm has an acre of land and a hoop house intended to provide as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Four chefs are instructed to use as much from the garden as they can, keep it fresh, and be creative. If they don’t grow it themselves, they find trusted local sources.
With those operating guidelines, the menu changes frequently. When we were there options included bison gumbo, fettuccini, braised short ribs, squash-filled pierogies, and warm chocolate chip cookies. “Everything is made from scratch,” Brittain proudly proclaims.
The Gilchrist Farm restaurant aims to serve food that customers are comfortable ordering. What Brittain calls, “approachable.” And yet the four chefs put their spin on the dishes.
Whether it’s the wine tasting or the restaurant, Gilchrist Farm has a vision to delight people and kindle the warmth and joy between each other and the land. Well said.