Michigan’s northern and western regions are known for leading the state’s wine industry, but people over in the southeast could soon join in on the recognition. Blake Kownacki is a winemaker and vineyard manager at Great Lakes Vineyard, where he helps homeowners in the Detroit area make their own wine.
Kownacki believes southeast Michigan is close to putting Michigan’s wine industry in the spotlight. It’s so close, in fact, that he can literally taste it.
“I’ve tasted some of the potential in the wines here,” Kownacki told Stateside.
Kownacki has spent 15 years in the wine industry, in both California and Australia. His trust in the Detroit area’s potential goes against the idea that Michigan’s climate isn't suitable for grape growth. Kowanacki says grapes can thrive in all sorts of environments, which is why we see so many different types of grapes and wine.
“Here, people have a general stigma saying, ‘Well, you can’t make good wine in Michigan. You can’t get grapes out of cold areas,’” he said. “And that’s not true! That’s being proven very false.”
Kownacki says Michigan’s wet climate means growers don’t have to irrigate wine grapes often, if at all. On top of that, certain varietals are hardier and can survive in cooler temperatures.
Before the Prohibition era, Kownacki said Monroe County was the “grape-growing capital of the state.”
“There’s nothing like it in the United States,” he said. “There’s really only a couple of major cities in the world that have vineyards in them.”
Kownacki knows the demand is there – the state produces 3 million gallons of wine a year – but he believes more can be done to meet that demand.
“I like the juxtaposition of a vineyard, which feels like wine country: It’s romantic and green and beautiful,” Kownacki said. “But then you have the backdrop of the city of Detroit, which is cool and beautiful in its own right. This is a way to show how beautiful southeast Michigan is.”
Kownacki talked with Cynthia Canty on Stateside about his vision for Michigan's wine industry.
Blake Kownacki is a winemaker and vineyard manager for Great Lakes Vineyard. He makes house calls in the Detroit area to help homeowners with tending their own vineyards.