Youngblood Vineyard’s new expansion raises spirits year round

“I’ll be honest with you,” Gary Gargleard says, “I’m in Spain right now, and nothing here compares to what Dave and Jess have back home.”
Gargleard, a long-time patron, is talking about Macomb County’s own Youngblood Vineyard. Owned by David and Jessica Youngblood, the vineyard is located in Ray, Michigan, and hosts 25 acres of estate-grown wine grapes. Known for their award-winning Marquette Red, the vineyard has seen two expansions since 2016. 

The latest expansion, completed on May 31, provides the vineyard with an indoor tasting room and event space year-round. 

“My wife and I come here just about every week. Usually things stop in the winter, so we’re really excited this year,” Gargleard says. 

The new space is 4,000 square feet, heated and air-conditioned, ADA compliant and can house up to 199 people. It features a 23-foot ceiling, smooth concrete flooring and hand-blown glass lighting fixtures. The event space is covered in 10,000 square feet of wood, most of which is from Ponderosa pines. 

“With this new space we can do a lot of amazing things,” Jessica Youngblood says, “it opens up all kinds of possibilities. We started basically on our own, so it’s amazing that they’ve grown so much in less than 10 years.” 

Established in 1945, the farm has been family-owned for five generations. Originally known for its soy, corn, and Christmas trees, David and Jessica Youngblood decided to expand the farm into a vineyard in 2016. 

The transition was an organic decision for both of them. It was important to them to bring something unique to the area and that was sustainable. Jessica sought every opportunity she could to volunteer and learn about wine.

Jessica Youngblood

“I started researching and grapes seemed like the right fit,” says Jessica Youngblood, “It was a big risk. It takes about two to three years before you can harvest the grapes. Since we were doing this by ourselves we weren’t really sure how it would all turn out,” says Youngblood.

Youngblood reached out to researchers at the University of Minnesota to find the perfect grape for the right flavors and Michigan’s winters. 

The vineyard’s rural location and vistas of grapevines has been a local hotspot since it opened to the public. 

“I started from the beginning. First, it was just for fun but my wife and I later got involved with all their classes and programs, like how to prune. The whole experience with [Youngblood] has been fantastic,” says Todd Smith.

Smith credits the Youngblood’s support and well of knowledge as a key factor in Smith opening his own vineyard with family and friends.

“Dave and Jess always have the best ideas, so we’re constantly reaching out,” Smith says. 

The new expansion has attracted couples looking to host their wedding there. Youngblood estimates they have already had over 50 weddings in the last two years. 

The vineyard is close to providing a full catering menu. "Our kitchen is nearly done. We’re really excited because we can provide farm-to-table options for our guests," says Youngblood. Until then the vineyard will continue to offer its wood fire pizza to guests. 

The event space isn’t the only new thing at Youngblood. The vineyard recently purchased a Gregoire harvester for their grapes.

“The harvester is able to pick over four acres of grapes in a few hours using only two people. It used to take us several days, with 500 volunteers, to just harvest. It frees us up to do so much more now.”

One of those new things is expanding into brewing and distribution to grocery stores and other venues.

The vineyard had a difficult start. It takes a couple of years for the grapes to ripen after planting. In 2019, the crop was finally ready just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. Years of hard work were at risk. The Youngbloods turned to their state, county, and community for help.

“[David] is a veteran so we were able to get some assistance, but the community really stepped up. Their help is one of the reasons we’re here today.”

As the pandemic lockdown continued, Youngblood had to get creative to bring people to the vineyard. The result was Goat Yoga. The vineyard had enough outdoor space to host classes and it was a way to bring people together.

“People cried. It was amazing. I had no idea that it would have such an impact. For a lot of people, it was the first time for them to have physical contact and socialize since the pandemic,” says Youngblood.

The vineyard now has 11 goats, two pigs, four white Great Pyrenees dogs and 10 chickens.

In 2022, Jessica Youngblood was appointed to serve on the Michigan Craft Beverage Council. She is also the board chair of the National Grape Research Alliance

With the recent completion of the expansion, she says the vineyard has no plans to slow down. 

“This whole experience has taught us a lot. There is a lot of work that goes into running a local business. That’s why we try to go out of our way to buy local. It’s so important to support the people in your community.”

“We’ve made a lot of friends here. [Youngbloods] is an important part of our community and lives,” Gareglard says, “when you’re there, it feels like family.”

All photos by Marwan Prince.
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Read more articles by Blake Woodruff.

Blake Woodruff is a feature writer based in Southeast Michigan. He believes the best way to impact is to inform.