He may have moved a few counties away, but Michael Wells is still a Detroiter at heart.
The owner/winemaker at Black Fire Winery in Tecumseh, Wells draws his initial fascination with wine back to his formative years in Detroit. He grew up on the northeast side and graduated from Pershing High School. He recalls making his first bottle of wine in his childhood home there — using pop bottles, since his parents didn’t drink alcohol.
“I love Detroit,” he says. “Detroiters are tough. They always persevere.”
So it’s understandable that Wells is looking forward to “conversing and sharing the fruits of our labor of love” with the city’s residents during the first-ever Michigan Wine and Cider Festival at Eastern Market on Thursday, May 24.
Organized by the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, the 5-8:30 p.m. event will feature more than 40 Michigan wineries and cideries offering samples of their products, along with a number of local food trucks — including Bigalora and Hero or Villain — selling casual fare.
Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door (if still available). The cost includes 15 sampling tickets and a souvenir wine glass. All attendees must be at least 21 years old with valid identification to enter.
The new festival is taking over for the previous Michigan Wines Showcase, traditionally held at The Rattlesnake Club in Detroit. According to Karel Bush, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, Rattlesnake has hosted the showcase for the past six years.
Jenelle Jagmin, promotion specialist for the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, says the council’s Promotion Committee made the decision to “freshen up the event” by shifting to a new venue and introducing a tweaked format.
“Increasing the visibility and awareness of Michigan wines in the Detroit market has long been a priority of the committee,” she says, “and the group felt it was time to broaden our appeal in a new location.”
In searching for a new venue, Eastern Market just felt right, Jagmin says.
“[The council] is housed in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development,” she explains. “We greatly value working with agricultural organizations and businesses and have an existing, great relationship with Eastern Market.
“Wineries, committee members, council members, media, trade, consumers — everyone we’ve alerted to the new location has embraced it with open arms. It is a really natural fit to have more than 40 wineries, agricultural entities, [and] many proprietors who identify first as Michigan farmers housed in the iconic Eastern Market.”
Old Mission Peninsula-based 2 Lads Winery is one of the 40-plus wineries that plans to participate after several years’ hiatus from the Michigan Wines Showcase. Chris Baldyga, 2 Lads’ co-owner, is hoping to connect not only with consumers, but also with restaurateurs and industry folks in the area.
“We haven’t been down to Detroit for a festival in a while,” Baldyga says. “I keep hearing how exciting it is — young chefs, new restaurants in interesting parts of town. All these exciting chefs with cool ideas — I want to see it for myself.”
Baldyga is especially looking forward to getting his 2016 Cabernet Franc and 2016 Pinot Grigio in front of attendees.
“They’re such standout wines right now in our lineup,” he says. “Pinot Grigio is starting to fall into the realm of ‘We already had Pinot Grigio for the last decade — what’s next?’ And yet it has top-notch pedigree and style from Michigan.
“As far as the 2016 Cab Franc goes, it’s 2 Lads’ history, it’s our future, it’s our now. It’s got savory and almond, blackberries and red fruits, vanilla, and a bit of lavender and oak that is dark like clovey-cinnamon. Elegant reds for the table like this don’t come along every day.”
Jagmin hopes the rebooted event sends festival attendees away with “an increase in appreciation and familiarity with Michigan’s wine and cider industry. A desire to plan a wine tour in Michigan. A new favorite wine. A great experience worth telling their friends and family about.
“The industry is growing so quickly, we have many new wineries and cideries that will be on hand with samples — including many from southeastern Michigan,” she says, adding, “There are many whites and rosés from last year’s great harvest that will be available for tasting.”
The festival also offers a great introduction to Michigan wines for those who are unfamiliar with what our state is capable of.
“Michigan wines are delicious, unique, and there’s one for every palate,” Wells says. “If you haven’t tried any, don’t miss out.”
Eastern Market is located at 2934 Russell St. in Detroit. For more information and tickets to the Michigan Wine and Cider Festival, visit michiganwines.com/festival.