Julie Lambert: ‘We Are Family at Leigh’s’

New owner talks about the future of Escanaba winery
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Connie and Leigh Schmidt (left), former owners of Leigh’s Garden Winery in Escanaba, hand the tasting room keys to Julie and Tony Lambert. Photo courtesy of Leigh’s Garden Winery

Leigh’s Garden Winery, a longtime small-business staple in the city of Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.), is under new management.

Married couple Julie and Tony Lambert took over the winery, whose building dates back to the late 1800s and is part of Escanaba’s historical district, in 2021. There, they serve a variety of wines made from cold-hardy grapes and other fruits.

Michigan Wine Country caught up with Julie Lambert via email to see how her first few months of running Leigh’s have been going and what she has planned for the winery down the road.

Q: Can you tell me about your background and your path to becoming the owner of Leigh’s Garden Winery?
A: I have been working at Leigh’s for about five years, with three of those being the manager. When Leigh [Schmidt] decided to sell in January [2021], we knew we were interested and after a long process closed on Aug. 21.

Q: What got you interested in winemaking and owning your own winery?
A: I honestly had no interest in winemaking until this [past] year! I just knew I loved this place and didn’t want what it brings to the community, and us, gone. We are family at Leigh’s. Now that I am making the wine and learning under Leigh’s guidance, I am realizing how fun it is! An eye-opening amount of work but so enjoyable.

Q: How have the first few months been going? Is there anything in particular you enjoy or that you’ve found challenging?
A: The first few months have been great! Of course, we’ve had challenges and even some tears during production time, but overall, things were very smooth through the transition and grape harvest season.

Q: What can guests expect — in terms of wine, atmosphere, etc. — when they walk into your winery? Have you been making any changes since becoming the owner?
A: When people walk into the tasting room, we want them to feel like they are part of our winery family. The quaint atmosphere we have just relaxes and puts people at ease. [It’s] not a typical “bar.” Since we have taken over ownership, we have made some changes with equipment and things like that and plan to do more live music events and at some point adding in tapas/charcuterie trays for everyone to enjoy.

Q: What are some of your favorite wines on the menu and why?
A: I am a sweeter-white-wine drinker, so one of my favorites is our Rocco’s Brianna. It’s a semisweet white made with Brianna grapes we get right here in the U.P. All of our wines are made right downstairs in the cellar with cold-climate grapes sourced in the U.P., Wisconsin, and Lower Michigan.

Q: Is there anything else our readers should know about any upcoming events or plans you have in the works?
A: We plan to do live music once a month or as often as we can. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for info to come!

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