By Christina Clark
The rich sound of Wilco on vinyl washes over those entering a shop with carefully displayed wine bottles. The volume of the music is low and adds to the atmosphere without overpowering it, and as one looks around, they will notice other vinyl sleeves displayed among the wine selection. For those seeking the perfect bottle of wine for a special occasion, or maybe just for the evening, Cale Carmichael is on hand as the shop’s owner to help everyone who enters find exactly what they’re looking for.
Cale likes to get things right. Much like the shelves he is continuing to build for his shop, Lighthouse Wine Shop at 4084 Red Arrow Highway in St. Joseph, he has worked to learn about each wine he encounters and fills the shelves with. He has experienced each wine personally, and grown his knowledge base with it from the farming processes to the way it smells and tastes. His enthusiasm is catching, as he moves from one hand-built display to the next, pointing to the origin and types of wines he has in store.
The new shop opened the second week of April, amidst COVID-19 shutdowns, and he has been seeing more and more people through the doors as they discover his curated collections. He has created a space surrounded by things he has grown deeply passionate about through his years of travel.
“I don’t personally like a wine shop where you walk in and there’s bottles everywhere. It’s intimidating,” Cale says. “Nobody wants to feel stupid or sound like they’re stupid. That’s why I really wanted to create a space where you can come in, and if you don’t know anything about wine, I can give you a 10-minute overview of the hows and whys and all of that — and hopefully you like what record I’m playing.”
The shop stocks around 100 wines currently, each one he has personally selected to be on the shelf. As shop founder and owner, Cale enjoys tasting and discussing wines with distributors. It’s through this process that he chooses each bottle carefully and can impart the knowledge and experience he has with the wine to curious customers. Around the corner from the checkout counter is a wall of maps, where he has located each wine’s region. Each selection’s origin helps give him a sense of the grapes’ journey from vine to bottle.
A decade ago, Cale would not have seen himself as a curated wine shop owner.
In 2011, his wife’s company moved their family to Frankfurt, Germany. The country, mainly known for its beer, sits right next to some of the wine epicenters of the world of France, Spain and Italy.
Years into their stay, in 2015, he and his wife took a trip to France. They tasted many wines while they visited, and they found themselves in Beaune, France. Beaune is known as the heart of burgundy grapes. These grapes produce two different kinds of wine, primarily pinot noir and chardonnay, according to Cale.
“They are the best in the world. Some of the most expensive wine in the world comes from this tiny little region in France,” he says. “It’s medieval. It’s kind of amazing. I really didn’t know where we were going. It was a destination my wife picked out.”
When they arrived, he called a French friend to ask what sort of wine he should buy.
“He said, ‘I don’t know what you’re going to buy, but for me you’re going to buy Nuits-Saint-Georges,’” Cale says.
The rabbit hole was apparent from that point. He had to learn more.
“Little did I know, that trip would eventually really change my life,” he says.
As their family moved back to the U.S. in 2016, and to the St. Joseph area, Cale had to make a decision. He decided to quit his corporate job and dive headlong into the wine world.
Even just in the past five months setting up shop, he has grown even deeper in his wine knowledge.
“I drink wine every day,” he says. “There’s the three or four days a week that I have distributors come in and we taste 8 to 10 wines at a time. I am literally tasting dozens of wines every week, so I know what makes a good wine. I know really good price points that provide excellent value in wine. Price and quality doesn’t always equal each other in wines.”
His selection has a wide range of price ranges, starting currently at $11.
“I’m not trying to compete with other liquor stores because they’re not doing what I’m doing,” he says. “They have wine, and you can go in and buy it, but there’s nobody there to really talk to you about it or tell you what they have.”
With Lake Michigan less than a mile down the street, Cale hopes to connect guests with wines that will elevate their meals and explore flavor profiles.
Photography by Emily Sobecki