The Best-Laid Plans: Opening a New Winery Amid a Pandemic

Stoney Ridge is 'hanging tight and staying positive'

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Photo by Mary Smearman

Mary Smearman has been ready to open Stoney Ridge Winery’s brand-new Kent City tasting room for a while now. She held a soft opening March 13 — one of several originally planned — and was preparing to host a grand opening later this month, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony involving the chamber of commerce.

But the rapid spread of COVID-19 and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders limiting activity outside the home have effectively quashed those plans and Smearman’s timeline.

“It’s been frustrating because it’s been a long time coming with the opening, and it finally got to a point we can open, and then this hit,” she says. “We’re just hanging tight and staying positive, and this too shall pass.”

Now, Smearman is hoping to host the grand opening sometime in June.

“As soon as we get the OK that we can open, we’re going to open,” she says. “And we’ll abide by whatever (the government says) we have to do and go from there.

“We can easily adjust.”

Stoney Ridge Winery is making wine from grapes grown in its vineyards, which were established in 2012. (Photo by Mary Smearman)

Baby Steps

In the meantime, she’s begun offering curbside pickup at the tasting room and shipping within Michigan. But those two services pose their own challenges for a winery that isn’t well-established yet.

“What I guess has hurt us the most is that we can sell wine, but if people haven’t tasted it — they haven’t had that chance to come in for their tastings — they’re buying it just based on what they like, not necessarily something they’ve tried,” Smearman says.

Staffing has been another hurdle. Smearman had hired two tasting room associates — one full-time employee and one part-time worker — with plans to hire more in preparation for opening. Because of the COVID-19 situation and the resulting delay, however, Smearman hasn’t been able to keep her current staff working, let alone interview anyone else.

“We can’t interview or hire, obviously, because we don’t really know anything,” she says. “Everything’s on hold.”

Raising a glass at Stoney Ridge Winery. (Photo by Madison Schwandt)

While she has been waiting to open, Smearman has been working on final touches, such as bottling wine, touching up paint, outfitting the covered patio with new furniture and updating Stoney Ridge’s website and social media.

“Since we did have the one soft opening, you always find little things you need or you could change, so those are getting done,” she says.

Looking Ahead

Once the tasting room is fully up and running, Smearman plans to be open Thursday through Sunday. Inside the timber-frame, barn-style building, guests can expect a roomy, “classy country” space with a bar and high-top tables.

The tasting room at Stoney Ridge Winery. (Photo by Madison Schwandt)

The menu features four red wines and five whites — both straight varietals and blends — made primarily from estate-grown grapes: Marquette, Petite Pearl, Noiret, Itasca, La Crescent, Chardonnay and Chardonel. Two hard ciders, a sparkling white wine, a charcuterie board, hummus and a cheese-and-cracker plate will also be available.

“We’re excited. We’re anxious. We’re ready,” Smearman says. “And we just are sitting waiting like everybody else is. It’s a strange time.”

To learn more about Stoney Ridge Winery’s shipping, curbside pickup or tasting room, visit stoneyridgevineyards.com or the winery’s Facebook page.

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