Growing up on grapes

Published 12:56 pm Monday, April 26, 2010

Contessa Wine Cellars co-owner Tony Peterson pours wine for Victoria Hesslink and Jeff Neurauter, of Palatine, Ill. Photo by Katie Johnson


Tony Peterson has got wine in his veins.

Growing up in the Kalamazoo area, the third-generation winemaker learned the art side-by-side with his father, Duane Peterson, at the family business, Peterson and Sons Winery, for 17 years.

Peterson said the winery was one of the first in Michigan, started before the booming industry took root.

“When my father started the winery, there were only 12 wineries open in the whole state,” Peterson said.

While attending a St. Julian Winery dinner, Peterson met winemakers from Coloma’s Karma Vista Vineyards, where the owner was a lifelong area farmer. He encouraged Peterson to look at some property in the fertile Coloma hills. The rest is history.

“Contessa” comes from Peterson’s mother-in-law’s maiden name. The woman sketched on the wine bottles is his wife, Liz.

“There was no intention to use the name or the picture, but that’s just how it worked out,” he said.

Peterson and his wife erected the building first, which contains a large winetasting and showroom with picturesque windows, a fireplace and terrace facing the vineyards as well as offices and production facilities.

They first planted the Pinot Grigio and Merlot on four acres, and plan to expand on their acreage. He explained that vines take about five years to produce.

“Everything we grow is here, but we also contract with area growers,” said Peterson, who makes sure to promote other local businesses, like The Chocolate Garden, Grandpa’s Cider Mill, Vineyard’s Gourmet and the many antique stores in the Coloma area, to his visitors.
Peterson believes the view of the landscape and personal service set Contessa apart from the growing number of wineries.

“The wines themselves are different, but everyone’s tastes are different,” he said.

“I’m proud of the drys,” he said, referring to the 2008 Chardonnay and Merlot. Although he boasts those varieties as his favorites, the Lago Rosso (Red Rake) semi-dry wine and Bianco Bello (Lovely White) French-American blend are his most popular. Contessa wines range in price from $9.99 to $29.99.

Contessa Wine Cellars offers tastings seven days a week from noon to 5 p.m. It is located at 3235 Friday Rd., Coloma. From Interstate 94, take Exit 39 and go south one-half mile.

For more information, call (269) 468-5535 or visit www.contessawine