New Lake Michigan Vintners tasting room staffed by students
Photos provided by Lake Michigan College
Students from the Lake Michigan College (LMC) wine and viticulture program have been toiling away for the past two years learning how to make wine—from growing grapes to harvesting to performing chemical tests. Now, they have the opportunity to share the results with the community and explore the business side of winemaking at the Lake Michigan Vintners tasting room, which opened this summer in downtown Baroda.
Graduating student Tana Cole, of Niles, has helped out several times at the tasting room, and she says she has spent much of her time talking with customers and teaching them about wine. The tasting room “is about education, and about educating the consumer about what a Michigan wine is,” Cole says. “Our climate is different, and it makes our wine different, and that’s good!”
The tasting room is managed by Laura Morris, but it is staffed mostly by students. Michael Moyer, the program director for LMC’s wine and viticulture program, says the tasting room offers students the opportunity to put their education into practice and learn how to be part of a wine community.
“We’re trying to give the students experience with direct-to-consumer sales, which is an important part of Michigan’s wine economy,” he says. “But the other thing we’re trying to do is promote Michigan wines in general. Especially the ones in the southwest.”
Moyer says that an important part of LMC’s program and the tasting room is teaching the students how to be stewards of Michigan’s wine future.
“We [LMC and local wineries] all realized that we’re in this together,” he says. “Southwest Michigan is a special place in the Midwest and in the U.S. to grow grapes. Your average person may not realize that.”
Moyer and LMC have been working with industry leaders from local wineries, including St. Julian, Round Barn, Karma Vista and Domaine Berrien, to create the curriculum for the program, offer scholarships for students and sit on the program’s advisory committee. Working alongside Moyer as an educator is southwest Michigan wine industry veteran Mike DeSchaaf, who brings 20 years of winemaking experience with him.
“When Lake Michigan College started floating the idea of having a wine and viticulture program, they [local vintners] thought it was a great idea,” says Moyer. “We had tremendous support from local wineries. It’s been a good relationship, and having their support has been critical.”
As part of that input, the team that built the program knew that hands-on experience with winemaking would be a necessity, which naturally led to the tasting room.
Moyer says everyone involved “wanted a hands-on program, not just what a student would read in a book. So, we built a program that was able to deliver that.” Because students made so much wine, he says, Lake Michigan Vintners decided to open the tasting room as an extension of the program.
The tasting room offers dry red blends, a Pinot Noir, an apple cider, a Seyval blanc, a dry Riesling, a semi-dry Riesling, a 2016 sweet white blend and a 2016 Grüner Veltliner. Small food plates, including a meat and cheese board and artichoke Parmesan dip, are also on the menu.
Cole is headed to Napa Valley for an internship as part of the wine and viticulture program, but her experience at LMC and in the tasting room has sparked her interest to stay in the area.
“If I could find a job here, I’d love to stay here,” she says. “There’s a lot of potential here and a lot of room for growth.”
Lake Michigan Vintners
8972 First St.