Craft Beer Conversation Takes A Detour: Detroit Vineyards

“We’re already strange, so we might as well lean into it."

WWJ News
January 23, 2020 - 11:51 pm

WWJ’s Zach Clark is searching metro Detroit for the best of the best when it comes to craft beer. On a quest for the best tastes, funkiest brews and most unique experiences on the craft beer scene, “Craft Beer Conversation” will be a weekly series highlighting the area’s best. Be sure to check it out every Friday.

DETROIT (WWJ) -- Shortly after Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded Detroit in the early 1700s, he started a winery with grapes grown on the banks of the Detroit River.

It’s been roughly six decades since there has been a winery within the city, but Detroit Vineyards has gotten back to the city’s wine roots.

After the idea was born in 2016, the winery opened back in May on the site of the old Stroh’s Ice Cream factory and offers a selection of wines, ciders and meads, all with an experience unique to the city.

"There’s a lot of places in the city where you can go to drink wine, but there is no place in the city where you can go and actually see it being made and meet the people producing it," general manager Chris Southern told WWJ’s Zach Clark. "From the tasting room, wine bar, whatever you want to call it -- you can see the barrel room, you can see the bottling line, you can see the tanks, all that stuff. And a lot of times if there’s people here working in the cellar, you can see it and you can go back and talk to them. That is unlike anything, often times you see, even in California."

Detroit has an ever-expanding craft beer scene, but has been lacking a winery within the city limits for decades. Southern worked in the California wine industry for 10 years and is now trying to carve out a niche wine experience in Detroit.

The tasting room offers not only wine with a unique Michigan twist, but also authentic Detroit nostalgia, inside the old ice cream factory. All the wine made at Detroit Vineyards is created with grapes from all across Michigan, some of which they grow right at the facility on Gratiot near Eastern Market.

“I really want to make wines that are a little bit different than we’re seeing throughout the rest of the state, like Up North. I want to do things that are fun. I tell people I want to make city wines -- which I feel like doesn’t make any sense -- orange wines and chillable reds and things that are more ‘new-agey,’ because I think that kind of suits where we are right now,” Southern said.

But it’s not just wine they’re making at Detroit Vineyards. They’re delving into the quickly expanding mead market. While mead is often associated with craft beer, Southern says it’s actually closer to the wine family.

“Mead is just wine made from honey. Your sugar source in wine is grapes and your sugar source in mead is honey. I think the association to craft beer is because a lot of “renaissance fair looking men” tend to drink mead. I think it’s a growing category. I don’t know where we fit into it as a producer; I think it’s like an extra for us – we offer cider as well. Always, wine will be the focus of our production,” he said.

Meads certainly have a niche audience, but Southern says they want to give Detroit something new and pushing boundaries.

“We’re already strange, so we might as well lean into it,” he said.

While most of their sales are direct to consumer at the tasting room, Southern says they distribute throughout the state and recently applied for a license to distribute in Florida. Detroit Vineyards currently is producing about 4,000 cases a year, but has the capacity to store 26,000 gallons of wine, roughly 11,000 cases. Southern says they go through about 40 to 50 tons of grapes a year.

Detroit Vineyards is 3-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon-midnight on Friday and Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. on Sundays.

Learn more about Detroit’s only winery on their website, and listen to Zach Clark’s full conversation with Chris Southern:

Have a favorite brewery or brewpub you want Zach to highlight in his “Craft Beer Conversation” series? Reach out on Twitter at @ZachEClark or via email at Zach.Clark@entercom.com