Jan 4, 2021
Founder of Chateau Grand Traverse in Michigan dies at 89

Ed O’Keefe Jr., who founded north central Michigan’s the first winery, Chateau Grand Traverse, died Jan. 1. He was 89.

According to the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Eddie O’Keefe, co-owner of the winery, described his father as aggressive and outspoken with a little Irish charm.

“He was a real force,” Eddie said.

After being told it was impossible, O’Keefe was one of the first to grow grapes commercially in the region, starting a revolution that would bring an entirely new industry to northern Lower Michigan.

Ed O’Keefe Jr.

According to the Record-Eagle, it was during O’Keefe’s time in the Army that he was exposed to high-quality wines made with native European varietals. Many years later he researched grape-growing in the northern Michigan region, and specifically Old Mission Peninsula, where Chateau Grand Traverse is located.

O’Keefe was committed to growing the native European varietals, which everyone said couldn’t be done, that it was too cold.

“He basically said, ‘I don’t believe you,’” Eddie said.

He took a gamble and in 1974 bought his property, which became ground zero for the wine business in this area, Eddie said.

The Record-Eagle also reported:

Larry Mawby, retired founder of Mawby Vineyards, once called O’Keefe the “ayatollah of Riesling.” Mawby, who said his personality didn’t always mesh with O’Keefe’s, respected him nonetheless.

“He was definitely one of the pioneers that made this area’s wine growing possible,” said Mawby, who planted his first grapes in the early 1970s. “He made people realize this was a place where you could grow really good grapes and make really good wine.”

O’Keefe brought a passion and his adamant beliefs to the area.

“It turned out that, yes, they really have thrived in the area,” Mawby said. “He was really, really important to the industry.”

Lewis Cooper III, co-chief executive officer of Great Lakes Wine & Spirits, Detroit, called O’Keefe a trailblazer.

“He was always one to push the envelope when it came to making wine in northern Michigan,” Cooper said. “It was an honor to represent his wines throughout the years and watch them grow in not only volume, but reputation.”

A funeral service for O’Keefe will be live-streamed at 1 p.m. Jan. 9 on the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home website. To watch, visit www.rjfh.tv and click on O’Keefe’s picture.

To view the entire Record-Eagle story, visit here.

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