No Winery Before Its Time

Drew Ryan Wines partners want to perfect products before moving to next level

From left, Drew Ryan Wines partners Matthew Jones, Merrick Steele and Peter King. (Photo courtesy of Drew Ryan Wines)

When Peter King was growing up in metro Detroit, his dad used to make wine every autumn.

“We had a small grapevine in the backyard — one grapevine — and he would make a small batch every year,” recalls King, 37, who works as an accountant. “He’d hand it out at Thanksgiving. I don’t think it lasted too much further past that.”

When King grew up, he asked his dad to show him how to make wine. Upon learning, King himself began making and experimenting with wine.

One of his friends from high school and college, Matthew Jones, who’s a professional musician, took notice and shared a vision of eventually making and selling wine. A third former Southfield High School classmate, Merrick Steele, who works as an engineer, joined in the endeavor, which they’ve named Drew Ryan Wines.

The company is still in its infancy. They have an idea of where they want to take it, but in the meantime are focused on continuing to make wine and try it out on focus groups — er, that is, friends and family.

“We’re just kind of giving it away,” King says. “Before COVID, we had a few informal events people could come by and taste the wine.

“We haven’t gone through the licensing process at this point, so we haven’t started selling anything.”

The self-taught winemakers have been sampling their wines in small batches since around 2012. In 2018, they started using Michigan grapes — mostly out of Southwest Michigan — with the long-term intent of drawing on only state-grown fruit. This year, they hired a professional winemaker to help. They also have a wine mentor in Chuck Jackson of Detroit’s House of Pure Vin.

But they’re dreaming big. King says they want to open a venue in Detroit where they can make wine and create a combined tasting room and music club. They hope to purchase a location and apply for a license by 2022, with a 2023 opening if all goes well.

“The idea of us being an entertainment venue combined with a place for tastings is more us,” Jones says. “We like nightlife, socializing, great friends, atmosphere — just having a good time.

“That would be the most lucrative way to bring the people to us — make it not only a tasting room/winery, but make it an entertainment venue as well.”

With so much vacant land in Detroit, they also hope to plant some urban vineyards in the city.

The partners favor red wines, though King’s partial to sparkling wine.

“Our goal is to make the best wine our climate gives us,” King says. “Right now our sentiment is we can make some really good Rosés and some good sparkling wines.”

They’ve been liking the Rosé that they’ve crafted out of Cab Franc. They also have a lot of anticipation for the potential of Chardonel grapes.

“It (Chardonel) drinks just like a crisp Chardonnay, or like a Chablis maybe or Sancerre,” King says. “Another way to describe it is that it also drinks like a stainless steel-aged Chardonnay. It’s light. Crisp. Good floor notes. And we’re really excited about that.”

In fact, they’re quite excited about the whole project and its potential.

“I think we’re at the forefront,” Jones says. “We’re from Detroit, Black young men, familiar backgrounds, trying to expose some people to different things.”

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