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Time for wine: #openlocalwine event supports struggling Michigan wineries


Forget about that bottle of mass-produced wine on your supermarket shelves. Choose a local wine instead. A Michigan wine. 

This weekend is especially good. A number of Michigan wineries are participating in #openlocalwine on Saturday, part of a nationwide effort to support local wineries, many of which have struggled during the pandemic. Wineries from across the country, including from Texas, Colorado, New York and Ohio, are also joining the growing effort.

 The promotion is a win-win for wineries and oenophiles. Wineries gain sales and exposure on social media — participants post photos of their wine choices. Customers get special deals from their local wineries and learn something about emerging wine destinations. 

 A new Michigan winery, Twine Urban Winery by the Roché Collection in Kalamazoo, is offering a two-pack of its Sweet Riesling and Classic Chardonnay for $40, plus shipping. Closer to home, Detroit Vineyards is selling a three-pack — a chardonnay, red blend, and white blend — for $80. Some wineries are holding virtual tastings to complement their selections.

“This campaign highlights the fact that wines are produced throughout the U.S., not just from California or the wines that you can find at your local retailer,” says Nancie Oxley, vice president and winemaker at St. Julian Winery & Distillery in Paw Paw, one of the participating wineries. “It’s an opportunity to taste wines from different regions that you may not 100% be familiar with … even if they are in your backyard.” 

St. Julian Winery & Distillery, one of Michigan’s largest wineries, is promoting two different four packs: one with a selection of dry wines, including its 2020 Winemakers Series Blaufränkisch Rosé, for $59.99; the other, with sweet wines, including its 2020 Braganini Reserve Late Harvest Vidal Blanc. That price tag is $49.99.

“We wanted to highlight some of our best tasting premium wines in the dry kits. In the sweet one, we selected new and exciting wines,” Oxley says. “These wines were also selected on price point, so we were able to offer each pack at an attractive price to the consumer. We have sold several of both kit options this year and they have been well-received.”

#openlocalwine was launched last year during the pandemic by the Cork Report, an online publication focused on American wine. The goal was to show support for local wineries that were struggling with closed tasting rooms because of the pandemic.

“Local wineries, unlike factory wineries, sell most of their wines through their tasting rooms and not through distribution. They rely on foot traffic,” says Gina Shay, a regional editor for the publication who co-founded and launched the promotion with Cork Report editor/publisher Lenn Thompson. “During the lockdown, most consumers were grabbing wine off grocery shelves and stocking up … we were looking for a way to drive business to local wineries without foot traffic.” 

Shay, who is also business development manager for Tonnellerie CADUS, a company that produces French-made barrels, says the first #openlocalwine event was held in March of last year and simply involved people posting photos of themselves with local wines. It was such a success a second promotion was added in late May. 

“At that time in March, most wineries were just figuring out how to use ZOOM and doing virtual tastings. A lot of wineries didn’t have shipping licenses,” she recalls. “We thought, ‘Oh, gosh,’ we’ve got to figure out a way to pivot and try to reach consumers outside of people walking into their tasting rooms. It turned out to be a great success.”

The second time around wineries were prompted to offer discounts or deals for consumers. Those participating wineries generated at least $40,000 in sales, according to figures shared with the Cork Report. Not all wineries shared sales figures.

 For Saturday’s #openlocalwine, about 100 U.S. and Canadian wineries are joining the fun, double the number last year. 

 Among the returning Michigan wineries is Left Foot Charley in Traverse City.

“We had a lot of excitement throughout Michigan and beyond,” says Bryan Ulbrich, owner and winemaker at Left Foot Charley. “Many people from out of the area wanted to bring a little flavor of the lakes into their lives when travel was so restricted.”

Left Foot Charley, which makes wines from Leelanau and Old Mission vineyards, is selling a three-pack that contains its 2018 OMP Pinot Blanc, 2019 Rosé and 2019 Le Caban Riesling — for $49.30, plus shipping.

“Michigan Wines are still working to get into the front row when it comes to the regional wine discussion nationwide,” he says. “While we have seen incredible response and growth in the industry, it is important to continue to support these efforts that are geared toward creating more awareness of regional identity.”

Since February, there have been more than 21,000 social media interactions — people liking and sharing on sites like Facebook and Instagram — pertaining to this week’s #openlocalwine. Shay estimates the reach — those looking at likes and shares but not reacting — is about 625,000 people. Combined with last year’s promotions, the campaign has had a social media reach of about 1.7 million people. 

“Our goal is not only to introduce people to the wineries in their own backyards but also the breadth and depth of wine available to them, just a couple hours away or digitally,” says Shay, who is also vice president of the Michigan Wine Collaborative, a nonprofit organization created to sustain and promote the state’s wine industry. “We also want to introduce them to emerging wine regions.”

Michigan is home to more than 150 wineries and five distinct wine-growing areas: Fennville, Lake Michigan Shore, Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula, and Tip of the Mitt. The number of acres devoted to wine grapes has increased in recent years by about 325 acres to 3,375 acres, according to a recently released 2020 survey. Riesling continues to be Michigan’s most planted wine grape, with about 670 acres. Other grapes with notable acreage include chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir and cabernet franc. 

#openlocalwine participants are asked to post photos of their local wines on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with the hashtag #openlocalwine. They are also asked to tag the winery, as well as @lennthompson, @ginashay1 and @corkreportmedia, so the organizers can report and amplify the message. The Cork Report also has #openlocalwine gear available on its website. 



#openlocalwine

Discounts and deals offered by participating Michigan wineries can be found online at thecorkreport.us. Look for #openlocalwine deals. 

In addition, many specialty wines shops offer a selection of Michigan wines. You’ll also find expansive selections of Michigan wines at Michigan By The Bottle, a wine retailer with stores in Royal Oak, Auburn Hills and Shelby Township. Go to: michiganbythebottle.com. Plum Market also stocks an impressive inventory of Michigan wines.

These Michigan wineries are participating in #openlocalwine: 

Amoritas Vineyards, Lake Leelanau, Leelanau Peninsula

Bel Lago Vineyards & Winery, Cedar, Leelanau Peninsula

Black Star Farms, Suttons Bay, Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas 

Bonobo Winery, Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula

Detroit Vineyards, Detroit

Fenn Valley Vineyards, Fennville

Forty-five North Vineyard & Winery, Lake Leelanau, Leelanau Peninsula

French Valley Vineyard, Cedar, Leelanau Peninsula

Lake Michigan Vintners, Benton Harbor, Lake Michigan Shore

Lazy Ballerina Winery,  St. Joseph, Lake Michigan Shore

Left Foot Charley, Traverse City 

Lemon Creek Winery, Berrien Springs, Lake Michigan Shore

Mari Vineyards, Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula

Modales Wines, Fennville

St. Julian Winery & Distillery, Paw Paw, Lake Michigan Shore

Tabone Vineyards, Traverse City, Old Mission Peninsula

Twine Urban Winery by The Roche’ Collection, Kalamazoo

Wyncroft Marland Wine, Fennville