Good news for Michigan wine fans who live in Illinois and have to travel a long way to get to their favorite Traverse City–area wineries: You can now sip northern Michigan wines at a new tasting room in Geneva.
Family-owned Up North Wine Tasting Room, which had its grand opening earlier this month, serves a variety of wines sourced exclusively from northern Michigan wineries.
Behind the family-owned business is a powerhouse trio: Mary Humphreys, a former ICU nurse, and businesswomen Cathy Humphreys and Amy Goedken, Mary’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law, respectively.
“All three of us knew we needed and wanted a change, so the decision to go into the service industry with a business model featuring northern Michigan wines and products was a no-brainer,” Mary says via email.
We connected with the owners of Up North Wine Tasting Room to learn why they wanted to bring Michigan wines to Illinois, what it’s like running a family business, and what vino they’re currently pouring.
Q: Why did you decide to open a tasting room, specifically one devoted to Michigan wines?
A: Cathy always wanted to work for a tasting room when she retired. Instead of retiring to work for someone else’s tasting room, she just opened one! Cathy and her husband, Rob, vacationed in northern Michigan when their children were young. They loved northern Michigan so much, they decided to buy a plot of land and build a beautiful log cabin in the woods off of Torch Lake, which led them to discover and fall in love with northern Michigan wineries, especially on Old Mission and Leelanau [peninsulas]. Cathy proposed the idea of opening a northern Michigan–themed wine tasting room to her daughter, Amy, and to her daughter-in-law, Mary, at the beginning of November 2021. We had a signed lease by the end of December 2021, began our build-out Feb. 15, 2022, and opened our doors to our guests May 5, 2022.
Q: What’s it like running a tasting room with your family?
A: We are three very strong women who know how to get the job done and have the work ethic to be successful. We get to spend time with our loved ones, and doing a passion of ours makes it that much better.
Q: What are some of the wines you have on your menu right now?
A: Right now, we’re featuring the beautiful wines of Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, bigLITTLE, and MAWBY. Our top sellers have been Brys’ Pinot Blanc, bigLITTLE’s Mixtape white blend, and MAWBY’s Us.
Q: What do you hope your local customers learn about Michigan wine when they visit your tasting room?
A: It is our goal not just to pour wine but to educate our guests about northern Michigan and all it has to offer. We created discount cards featuring promotions from each winery we feature in order to promote travel to northern Michigan and have our guests experience the laid-back, calm, and relaxed environment northern Michigan offers — a feel we emulate in our very tasting room.
Q: How would you describe the style and setting of your tasting room?
A: All of our decor is inspired by Rob and Cathy Humphreys’ cabin. It starts with handcrafted tables and bars made from wood from northern Michigan (by craftsman Rob Humphreys himself!), to the walls that feel like lake-effect mist, … to even the lights that hang above our bar [like] the cabin’s west deck hanging lights on a beautiful Michigan night.
Q: What has it been like to work with the Michigan wineries that supply your wine?
A: The wineries, their staff, and [their] winemakers are so supportive and onboarded without question. They have made this transition into opening a new business so much easier by setting us up for success.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Do you have any events coming up?
A: We’re hosting Tom Knighton with Blustone Vineyards on Friday, June 17, from 2 to 4 p.m. for an on-site tasting of his wines.