Dean Bender has been a life-long resident of Southwest Michigan and came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University, graduating in the classes of 1971 and 1975. After graduation, he set up his chiropractic practice in Kalamazoo, which continues today. He met Lew Carlson at a party, where Lew had brought some of his homemade wine, and the conversation started from there. Dean subscribes to the winemaker saying that ‘75% of wine making is cleaning’, so if you stop by the production facility/tasting room you are likely to find him cleaning or in the lab.
Crick Haltom moved to Kalamazoo in 1985 from Boston, having also spent a good deal of his early life in the South. His background is in food: he attended a culinary school, grew vegetables on a farm and worked as a chef with brief stint at a small restaurant on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Just before going into the winery business, he owned a wood-fired bakery that supplied sourdough bread to Kalamazoo-area stores. Crick can often be found behind the bar in the tasting room pouring wine and visiting with the guests.
Dean and Crick began working together in 1995 when Dean was looking for help in making wine from Lawton Ridge grapes in his garage. While working together, they found they have a shared enthusiasm for winemaking with similar preferences in wine styles. When they passed the 10-year mark as garagists, they decided the time was right to open a winery and make wine commercially. They wanted to make good wines from Lawton Ridge Vineyard grapes which reflect the climate and site and which pair well with food.