Even before Barb Murray opened her own tasting room, winemaking was a family business in her house. Her older sister and brother-in-law were the family vintners, making wine as a hobby long before Murray got involved.
For Murray, now owner and winemaker at B&B Wines in Bad Axe, it all started with the fruit. She grew a wide variety in her home garden, and when her older sister needed extra for winemaking, Murray was happy to chip in.
“She contacted me and said, ‘Hey, do you have some extra rhubarb?’ And of course, I did, so I started taking my rhubarb up to her to make wine with,” Murray says. “In time, we actually were taking different kinds of fruit up to her — raspberries and black raspberries and all kinds of fruit that I already was growing for jams, jellies, pie fillings.”
Soon, she was helping throughout the process, and once her sister and brother-in-law retired and moved down south for much of the year, she started making her own fruit wine. One thing led to another, and on Labor Day weekend 2018, she opened B&B Wines with her husband, Bob Babiszewski. The winery focuses on natural fruit wines, offering more than 40 varieties and blends.
Here, Murray tells Michigan Wine Country about her path to creating natural wines, her winery’s unique events, and what advice she gives other winemaking enthusiasts.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How long have you been growing fruit?
A: All of my life. I was raised in a family of eight, and we grew a garden, so we always had fruit and vegetables. In fact, that’s where some of our school money came from for our clothes — there was a pickle plant in Ubly, which was only 3 miles away, and my dad created a space in our yard that was a quarter of an acre, and we grew pickles on it. And we sold them for the money for our school clothes and boots. We always had blackberries and fruit that we helped my mom pick, because my mom always froze it or canned it for our food. My aunt, she always had an orchard that was beside her, and some of our trees that we have in our yard are actually from the fruit that my grandmother had in her orchard. A lot of what we grow has come from either family or friends’ orchards. In fact, this year was our first year that I bought two plum trees … and we put those in, but for the most part, every fruit, bush, or tree or plant that we have came from older, established orchards.
Q: I understand that you exclusively make natural wines. What does that mean to you, and what was the motivation behind that decision?
A: When I was not a business and not making my own wine, I would buy wine, like everybody else. I suffered a lot of migraines, and when I finally got tired of it, [I saw] a specialist. But a lot of this actually goes back to what I was eating and what I was drinking. … I narrowed it down to alcohol in general that was giving me the migraines. … Then I started to research it and found out that there are a lot of chemicals that they can put in drinks. … So it was that that set me off on how we were making it. I started to figure out how can I do this without putting all that stuff in there.
My explanation of natural is being able to grow my fruit organically, which I’ve done all my life. I’ve always had some kind of an animal, whether it was my llamas, my sheep, my chickens; I’ve always had natural fertilizers. We don’t use any pesticides or anything like that. If we have a tree that gets tent worms, we cut it off and burn it immediately. Just simple things like that. And the more you eliminate that kind of stuff, the less it’s going to grow in your yard. And so we feel fortunate to be able to have clean fruit. … We grow all of our fruit and our vegetables organically.
Q: Do you have a favorite wine that you make?
A: I like them all, to tell you the truth, but it just depends on the night or the day. I don’t usually drink a lot, but I do enjoy the black raspberry [and] a lot of the berry ones. In the fall, I really like the apple wine because it’s that time of the year, and sometimes we warm it up and we throw in a cinnamon stick and some spices and have a nice warm drink if it’s getting a little chilly at night; it’s a nice, soothing drink. We make a lot of fruit smoothies, and any of them will make a smoothie, a slushie, a sangria. A lot of people like the sangrias a lot, and I think a lot of it has to do with [the fact that] the base of it is a fruit to begin with. We don’t use a lot of grape in our wine, but we do make a grape wine. I do anything from a dry to a semisweet to a sweet, but we just don’t base everything off of grapes here, because we have so much fruit that we use.
Q: What’s the most unusual fruit wine you make?
A: My chokecherry might be the most unusual right now. I do have dandelion wine, which I said a million times over I would never do, but I made dandelion jelly and I started learning about all the benefits of the dandelion plant, and if you can get benefits, like your vitamins, out of something, I really feel that you should probably put that in anything that you consume. … I got excited last night because I was cleaning out my little nursery bed where I start plants, and I have jostaberries starting. That is like in between a currant and a gooseberry. … Like my chokecherry, it’ll be another one that you don’t normally see.
Q: I saw on your Facebook page that you recently had a car show. How did that come about?
A: We have some friends that asked me if I would ever be interested in doing a car show. And so I’m like, “Well, let me check it out.” So me and my daughter — my daughter helps me tremendously — started looking into what we’d have to do to do a car show. We went out to different businesses and told them what we were doing, and they were generous with donating things for us. We said we would just do a People’s Choice Award so that we didn’t have to worry about judging these cars. Our first car show, we had close to 40 cars here. And we were overwhelmed with the success. We were delighted in the response, [with] the car people coming in and asking us to do it again, [saying] that they would sign up for next year. … It went over really well, and I think next year we’ll probably double our number, I wouldn’t doubt.
Q: What other events have you had at your winery?
A: There are two events that we do that are on our normal schedule right now. Best of the Backyard is in June. What we do is we pick vendors so that we have a good assortment of vendors. It’s like a makers market. … We try to put in entrepreneurs and small businesses — and art people. And then in October, we do another one that’s called Wine, Wool, and More. … I created [a] wool show, but I also added other vendors, whether we wanted to have the rug-makers, pottery, candle making, basket making. Again, it’s a makers market.
In between our two June and October events, we’ve had glass painting classes where I teach. … We’ve had an art teacher from Pigeon, which is about 30 miles away, come in and do canvas painting. Next week, we start basket weaving classes here, which I teach. We’ve got a girl from Ubly that comes out and does sound baths, which is meditating with sound. … Saturday, this week, we’re doing our first self-defense class, and we’ll be offering more of those. Every Sunday morning, we do an open stitching session, [where] we open two hours early at 10 o’clock, and we have knitting, crocheting, leather sewing, sewing, cross-stitch, you name it — anything. … And anybody can come. …
People are just too busy to enjoy things themselves, and so that’s where I came in with, “Well, let’s do some painting classes,” or “Let’s do some basket classes.” I see my space not only as a winery; I see it as a place for people to gather for any occasion. If anybody approaches me, I’m usually pretty open to doing just about anything — that’s legal, anyways.
Q: Do you have any plans for expansion?
A: I think this is as big as we are going to go because I’m very, very comfortable with it. I have a nice-size tasting room that I can fit ample people in, and I also have a patio that works out very well for us. It’s been a great experience, and I’m very comfortable with each step that I’ve made. If you would have asked me seven years ago if I’d ever have a winery, [I] would have said, “Absolutely not.” I had no dreams [or] desires of ever doing this, but I went with my gut and I went with what people were telling me — one of the other winemakers said, “Would you ever consider making a business out of what you’re doing?” … I could have just shut that right off and said, “No way.” But for some reason, it was meant to be.
It was a scary move — I won’t tell you it ain’t scary. But when people come in here and they enjoy making wine and they start talking to me about it, you know what I tell them? “Have you ever considered making a business out of it?” Because I truly believe that if their heart is in it, then they should go with their passion and they should share that with other people.
Q: Where would be the best place for someone to learn more about your winery and your upcoming events?
A: We advertise a lot of stuff [on] Facebook and on Instagram. I don’t have a website because I don’t sell online. … I don’t know what the future holds, but I can see where [the wine is] going to be only available here [in the tasting room]. It’s a wonderful place to visit, is what I tell people. It’s absolutely beautiful here. If you take a visit to the Thumb area, there is so much to offer here. There’s a beautiful bed-and-breakfast up in Port Austin; there’s one in Harbor Beach. There are lighthouses, … [and] we have beach all the way around us. I just really feel that I’m in a very nice spot.