Michigan’s Irish Hills Welcomes New Winery

Photographer ‘retires’ to new career in winemaking

The Winery North of 12 is located in a pastoral setting in Michigan’s Irish Hills. (Courtesy photo)

The picturesque Irish Hills region of southeastern Michigan is home to a new winery.

The Winery North of 12 in Brooklyn is the brainchild of Sylvania, Ohio, resident Corey Gray, a hobbyist winemaker for more than two decades. Gray, who is 61, recently decided it was time for a change of pace after 40 years working for himself as a commercial photographer.

“I was a very severe hobbyist,” he says. “My wife was tired of the refrigerated truck with 3,000 pounds of grapes showing up at the house every fall.

“So I had been making wine for almost 20 years, and once we started discovering small wineries, I thought to myself, ‘You know, this is what I want to do because people seem to enjoy themselves.’ There’s a great sense of fellowship that happens at wineries.”

Of course, 2020 didn’t prove to be the best of times to open a winery. But after spending more than two years conducting research, canvassing the area for the perfect property, and obtaining financing and licensing, Gray was poised to move ahead.

“The process takes quite a bit of time, and that’s just how things went. I certainly didn’t want to stop the process,” he says. “I have a bank involved, and I had to keep moving because I had to pay the bank.”

What’s more, Gray’s wife, Terri, is a full-time schoolteacher in Toledo. Though she is an important assistant and critic on weekends and during the summer, he’s primarily responsible for day-to-day operations.

Outdoor patios expand seating for guests at The Winery North of 12. (Courtesy photo)

And he remains optimistic. At 1,750 square feet, the tasting room boasts a full capacity of just over 100 people — the winery is currently operating at 50 percent capacity due to COVID — in addition to its two 800-square-feet outdoor patios that overlook the landscape to the east and west.

Although visitors can’t venture past the patios, the winery nonetheless owns a slice of the nearby lake and offers tranquil views. Live music is a staple Saturday and Sunday evenings, local food trucks are on-site on Sundays, and plans for growing vineyards on the property are underway.

“We try really hard to please a wide range of palates,” Gray says, adding that one blend with currant juice, called Currant Locale, is by far their most popular. Tastings of any five wines are available for $7, while a single glass runs $7-$8 and a full bottle is $14-$28.

One of the greatest advantages Gray has, he says, is being located in proximity to two other wineries, helping to reinforce the idea of Irish Hills being a destination for wine aficionados. The other wineries are also supportive, he notes.

“Everyone tends to share knowledge and experience, which it makes things so much nicer to know that you’re not completely alone out here,” he says. “Everybody has their different visions of the way they want to do things … but I think overall, we’re pretty much here to support each other.”

Gray recommends consumers check out the winery’s Facebook page for updates about wines on tap and events.

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