An Enduring Toast to a Hero Lost
Brengman Brothers Bottles Up an Annual Tribute to their Big Bro
The worn green and white football jersey might seem out of place hanging on the wall of the clean, airy tasting room of a beautiful Leelanau County winery.
But when you hear the story behind the uniform, it makes sense.
Rob and Ed Brengman, who own and operate Brengman Brothers Crain Hill Vineyards, are paying homage to their football-loving older brother, Bert, by producing an award-winning flavorful white wine in his honor, Block 65 Blend.
Bert, who wore number 65 as an offensive guard for Eastern Michigan University, died in 1998 after a 20-year battle with cancer. It’s his well-worn jersey hanging on the wall
“There were eight boys, and we all played football growing up,” said Rob Brengman. “Bert was the oldest.”
The boys, along with their five sisters, grew up in East Detroit and attended Detroit Servite Catholic High School, which closed in 1986. In high school, Bert was a punishing running back and wore #40 for the Panthers. Over the years, several of the Brengman boys also wore #40 at Servite, carrying on the tradition of their oldest brother.
But when Bert went to EMU in 1971, Huron head coach Dan Boisture gave him #65 and moved the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder to the offensive line. That would make Bert a very small offensive lineman by today’s standards. For example, wearing #65 on the 2018 EMU squad is Lucas Tesznar, a 6-foot-5 freshman who tips the scales at 305.
In ’71, their fifth season under Boisture, the Hurons racked up a 7-1-2 record and outscored opponents 228 to 85.
“The whole family would go to games to see Bert and the Hurons play,” recalled Rob.
The team’s stingy defense allowed only one touchdown in their final five regular season game. EMU was undefeated in the regular season and ranked No. 3 in the NCAA College Division, where they advanced to the first bowl game in the football program’s 79-year existence. In the inaugural Pioneer Bowl in Wichita Falls, Texas, the Hurons fell to Louisiana Tech, 14–3.
“We watched that game on TV and it was pretty exciting,” said Rob, who was nine years younger than Bert. “Back then there wasn’t that much coverage of football on TV, and it was pretty cool to see Eastern play.”
Bert played three more seasons for EMU, but the squad never matched the success of his freshman year. After graduating, he tried out with the World Football League’s Detroit Wheels, coached by Boisture, who left EMU to head up the fledgling pro team.
But that didn’t work out, and Bert went into coaching, eventually working at his alma mater, Servite; Ferris State College; and Grosse Point North high school.
In 2003, five years after they lost their eldest brother, Rob and Ed established Brengman Brothers Crain Hill Vineyards on 45 acres they’d purchased from the Leelanau Land Conservancy. They planted 25 acres, then eventually added another 15 acres of grapes at two other locations.
A few years ago they started producing Block 65 to honor Bert. Each year the winery produces 3,000 to 4,000 cases, and Block 65 accounts for about 300 of them.
For wine lovers, it’s a classic blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris grapes. It features star thistle, honey, chamomile, and apple (on both the nose and palate) with a hint of ginger. Each pour is well-balanced with a pleasing level of sweetness.
The 2017 vintage is 40 percent Viognier, and 30 percent each of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. Those percentages change naturally with each year.
“It’s a nice blend,” said Rob. “We don’t do anything to manipulate the ratios. It changes slightly from year to year. It’s like a football team, it’s different every year.”