Chalet Sturgeon had been working in property management for 10 years when she decided to take the plunge and start a new career in an industry she was more passionate about: wine.
“I always wanted to do something in the wine industry,” she says.
So, in 2020, she started working at two different Michigan wineries, gaining experience while she put together the business plan for her own tasting room. The next year, she opened Local Pour — where she serves exclusively Michigan-made wine, cider, beer, and spirits — in the Southwest Michigan community of Sawyer.
“I didn’t want to make wine,” she says. “I wanted to sell the great product that Michigan has.”
Here, Sturgeon talks about why she focuses on Michigan-made products, common misconceptions about the state’s wine, and how to make the most of a tasting room experience.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you decide to open a tasting room focusing exclusively on Michigan-made wine and other beverages?
A: We very strongly believe that Michigan makes really, really great products. I worked in condo management for 10 years, and I kept hearing, “Michigan doesn’t know how to make a good wine. No Michigan wine is good.” And I’m like, … “You’re not giving it a chance.” Or, “Any bottle of wine under $25 is not worth buying.” There’s some pretty darn good wines that have a lower price point. We wanted to open people’s eyes to what was available here.
Q: What do you like about working in the Michigan wine and beverage industry?
A: Everybody’s very, very friendly, and we are not competitors — we complement. We don’t compete with the local wineries and the local breweries and the local cideries — we complement them. We’re an extension of their tasting room. And … we do wine education classes. The last one, we got five different Pinot Noirs from five different wineries and different areas in Michigan and had people try them. And it’s really interesting to taste Pinot Noir from Traverse City, a Pinot Noir from Pullman, Michigan, or Fennville, and Pinot Noir from Berrien County, and the different nuances and the soil and even the year it was picked or bottled. It’s just been really fun to watch people’s experiences going, “Wow! I never even thought about that.” We got a white Pinot Noir, which was crazy.
Q: Can you tell me more about your Wine Education Wednesday events and the goal of those?
A: The goal is just to give people more information and education about wine [and] winemaking. What are tannins? What does it mean if they leave the leaves on? What’s the residual sugar? What does that mean? Because a lot of people drink wine because they like the taste, but they don’t really understand it. And they like [learning about] the mechanics [of] it. And you go and talk to winemakers — we just did a barrel tasting with Jim Lester up at Wyncroft and Marland, and that was amazing. The wine’s not even ready to bottle yet. It was really good. So you just share the stories with people or talk to them about pairing wines and different things, and people really enjoy that — because they want to learn. They want to understand.
Q: Do you find that there are any common ideas or misconceptions that your patrons have about Michigan wine?
A: The very first one is that Michigan doesn’t know how to make a good wine. Well, there’s different growing regions. California’s hotter than Michigan. [In] Michigan, the climate is very close to what’s over in France and Spain, so we have the growing region that can complement that palate. And people’s palates change, too. It’s so funny when you have somebody who only likes to drink sweet wine. We go, “OK, you only like to drink sweet wine, but try this.” “Wow, I really like that.” “OK, so you tried something different. You might have found your new favorite. So let’s just play with it.” We love to sit and talk to people about wines and have them try things.
Q: Do you have any recommendations or tips for someone who’s new to Michigan wine or to wine tasting in general?
A: Be open, first of all. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into a single varietal or … white, red, or sweet. Be open to try new things because your palates do change. And then try wine with food because that will change your palate and change the complexity of the wine.
Q: What can guests expect when they visit Local Pour?
A: We have a very warm interior. We want people to come and relax. We have really good music every Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. We’ve got Michigan snacks. We’ve got a variety of craft cocktails, beers, [and] ciders that do change. Our wine selection changes; sometimes it’s because we can’t get it, sometimes because we want to try a new winery or a new varietal. … We found that white Pinot Noir that was just a slam dunk, or a white, Burgundy-style Chardonnay from White Pine [Winery] — Dr. Dave Miller — that is phenomenal. Or we just brought four cases of Wyncroft wine back from Jim Lester’s vineyard the other day that we’re dying to have people try: a dry Riesling and a phenomenal Pinot Noir. We get excited about it, so people get excited about it.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share about your tasting room or any events you have coming up?
A: We do have the live music every Saturday. We’ve got Wine Education Wednesday. We’re going to be starting a Sip and Stretch yoga class on Saturday mornings, two Saturdays a month, so watch our Facebook, our Instagram, and our website for that. We’re doing a cider tasting with Carriage House Ciders in Benton Harbor; she does not have a tasting room, so we’re going to do a tasting here with her. That will be fun. Our first birthday is June 4; that’s coming up. We’re going to be doing some fun things with that as well. We’re just excited to meet some new friends and have people find their new favorite.