Strength In Numbers

Three of Michigan’s largest ‘up north’ wineries open a joint-venture tasting room and retail store in Ann Arbor


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Three of Michigan’s larger and best-known wineries have opened a tasting room and store in Ann Arbor, selling their wines and a little food.

The VinBar, a joint venture of Black Star Farms, Good Harbor Winery, and L. Mawby, is on Liberty Street, just a half block off Main Street in downtown’s “restaurant row,” an area full of shops, restaurants, and pedestrian traffic. 

The tasting room offers 20-plus wines by the half glass, full glass, or by the bottle, if you stay in. They’re also available at retail cost. It also has table service and a light hors d’oeuvres menu and appetizers.

This multipurpose tasting room, shop, and munchies bar concept has been in the works for a while, says Lee Lutes, one of the partners and the winemaker at Black Star Farms. “We’d been looking at areas around the state for almost two years,” he says.

Lutes partnered with Larry Mawby of L. Mawby and Sam Simpson of Good Harbor on the project. 

For anyone with a serious interest in regional American wine, and Michigan in particular, VinBar has one of the biggest — possibly the biggest — selection in one place in Southeast Michigan.

The wine list includes six of Mawby’s champagne-method sparklings, which have gained much popularity in recent years, including high praise from renowned British author and Decanter columnist Tom Stevenson, considered one of the world’s expert on Champagnes and sparkling wines. 

Author Paul Lukacs also selected Mawby’s Talismon Brut sparkling wine as one of only two sparklers in his book The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintage.

Good Harbor, known primarily for its lean, dry whites, is represented by a pinot grigio, its blended Fishtown White, and a Tribute chardonnay, named in memory of its late founder, Bruce Simpson. It also has two reds, including the unusual multivintage red called Collaboration and a cherry wine.

In addition to its sauvignon blanc and a rosé, Black Star’s entries include three marvelous reds — a pinot noir, a merlot, and its luxurious vineyard-designated Leorie Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend. It also has four sweet and dessert wines listed.

Ann Arbor is an interesting choice. It’s in the heart of an area with that elusive target that makes marketing gurus salivate: urban millennials (20- to 30-year-olds) whose tastes in all sorts of things are still impressionable and often unformed.

Reports suggest younger wine drinkers do not follow their parents’ choices (European grapes — chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir) but are more interested in esoteric wines from exotic places. For example, they show interest in malbec from Argentina and the tannat grape grown in the Madiran region of southwestern France and in Bolivia.  

Lutes says the partners picked Ann Arbor because they had “an interest in really trying to get ‘close’ to people. It may sound a little corny, but we all know that our tasting room experiences are what really excite people about our wines. So we wanted to try and provide the same experience, but in a setting that was closer for them.”

“Ann Arbor is also one of the better ‘locavore’ communities around the state, but they have yet to embrace Michigan wine as their local wine,” Lutes adds. “We wanted to help them feel they could.” 

“Hail To The Vineyard,” anyone?

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