It all started with a bottle of wine — a really, really nice bottle of wine, back in 2001.
Aimee Mali — now 44 — was on the hunt to buy a special wine she could give as a wedding gift. The internet was new then, so she took herself to a store where she could talk to “the wine guy.”
“I had researched, but the buyer made me feel like I didn’t,” she recalls. “I decided I would learn as much as I could and never make someone feel like that.”
Mali began working toward becoming a certified sommelier, and did; she is also a certified specialist of wine. Also taking some courses from her alma mater, Michigan State University, she launched a business that included conducting wine tastings.
“I kept reading and going to seminars, and with my wine tastings, eventually got snapped up by a wine distributor,” she says. “I worked my way up.”
She spent 15 years as a wine buyer and brand manager working throughout the state. Meanwhile, she had discovered she was especially passionate about the science of wine — as she says it, “the idea that you can have one vineyard next to another and the wines can taste totally different.”
And so Mali enrolled in winemaking classes at the University of California, Davis.
“Concurrently, I said that I really would like to start a vineyard and do my own path,” she says, “and share with people the story of what it takes to get there.”
That’s exactly what she did. With her husband, Roger, she spent a few years searching for property and, in 2009, they bought a 16-acre parcel on the Old Mission Peninsula near Traverse City.
She spent about six years getting 5 acres ready to plant, putting in cover crops to build the health into soil that had been fallow for years. Her goal was to plant grapes that would be likely to thrive in that climate even in bad-weather seasons. In 2015, she planted 5 acres — two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Pinot Gris.
When her first vintage came in 2017, she sold all of her grapes to 2 Lads Winery. In 2018, she became a small winemaker herself, producing about 80 cases and selling out the entire lot via her own website and through selected retailers throughout the state.
She named her brand “Achrimère,” an amalgam of letters that represent family, farm and everything she nurtures in life and the French word for mother (mère).
“My plan going into it was always to start very small and sell the balance of my grapes,” she says.
A small number of retailers across the state continue to carry her wines: a Chardonnay she calls CM10 in honor of son Christopher and the year he was born, and the Pinot Gris named EM12 for son Emerson, born in 2012. She added a new SKU to her offerings for 2019 — a sparkling blanc de blancs she hopes to release in June.
“It is a dry sparkling utilizing only Chardonnay grapes and it produced using a traditional method of secondary fermentation in bottle,” Mali says.
She also hopes to have a rosé debut this year or next, and wants to plant more acreage.
This year, she will produce 120 cases of Achrimère wines. She processes the wines off-site at Bonobo Winery, where the balance of her harvested grapes go as well.
“The process has been amazing because of all the ups and downs you go through, the successes and failures, which is really what learning is all about — the failures,” she says. “It’s been an amazing process … It’s what I consider a dream realized.
“I can’t tell you what it felt like putting labels on the bottles by hand. I had a dream, then I got there, then I began selling it, learning every step of the way.”
She’s loved seeing her two little boys working in the vineyard.
“I can’t tell you what it’s like to put a pair of shears in their hands,” she says.
And she’s proud that they have been able to watch her work hard to accomplish a goal.
“The top overall feeling is being able to say (that) I’ve gotten here to what I dreamed of,” she says. “And a new dream goes from there.”
That would include an eventual tasting room — another dream. But Mali is taking it one step at a time.
“I just really wanted to make a wine I felt could be compared to world-class wines,” she says. “That’s important, because Michigan produces world-class wines.
“There’s amazing stuff out there and I wanted to be part of that community.”