A Little Piece of Wine Country — in Detroit

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Detroit Vineyards
Photos by Erica Soroka and courtesy of Detroit Vineyards/Kroo Photography

Detroit Vineyards recently opened its doors in the historic Stroh’s Ice Cream Factory on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit.

The 15,000-square-foot facility features a 175-capacity tasting room, production area and a private tasting room that can be reserved for parties of 20 or more.

Owner and founder Blake Kownacki has been making wine for almost 15 years. A Detroit native who began his journey as an organic farmer in Paso Lobos, Calif., he quickly fell in love with wine and wine culture. After working for many years in California, Kownacki moved to Australia to study under renowned winemaker Philip Shaw.

“I kept having this thought about Detroit and why can I not take this knowledge back to where I’m from,” Kownacki says. “I wanted to bring a little piece of wine country to the city of Detroit.”

Detroit Vineyards
Inside Detroit Vineyards.

In 2014, Detroit Vineyards was formed and Kownacki relocated to Detroit full time. After scouring the city multiple times and striking out when it came to finding the right place for his winery, Kownacki decided to convert an old garage into what he calls a “micro-winery.” Necessary approvals in hand, Kownacki produced Detroit Vineyards’ first vintage in 2016.

Then he discovered the Stroh’s building, where visitors can immerse themselves in wine culture with options such as Riesling, Traminette, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc Rosé and Pinot Noir. Dry and sweet ciders are on tap alongside floral and fruit aromatic meads that are produced with fresh honey from Detroit Vineyards’ beekeeping farm. Charcuterie boards and finger foods are planned, as is entertainment.

Predominantly sourcing grapes from vineyards across the state, Detroit Vineyards has partnered with Michigan State University viticulture to develop a community outreach program for creating small grape-growing plots in the city. Equipment, plants and training are provided at no charge to help participating metro Detroit residents start a vineyard on their property.

The crop should yield a harvest in the third year, when residents growing the crop have the opportunity to sell the grapes to Detroit Vineyards.

“For us, it’s how do we take this business model and spread it out throughout the community,” says Kownacki. “We’re helping to raise property values, teaching people lifelong skill sets, and creating
additional economic opportunities for people who
actually live here in this city.”

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