Red hot wine-and-craft trend warms southwest Michigan

Published 3:54 pm Thursday, January 14, 2016

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. — Drinking and making stuff is nothing new. Artists, and their friends, have long sought Bacchanalian inspiration.

Rather than ragtag Bohemians assembling in cafes around absinthe, these days it’s becoming increasingly common for wineries to organize events to attract oenophiles with a casual interest in art.

Workshops often focus on crafts like painting or ceramics — and, of course, wine is a staple accompaniment to the medium of choice.

“They are growing in popularity like crazy,” said Melanie Owen who along with her cousin Lauren Kniebes own Lazy Ballerina Winery in St. Joseph, Michigan.

Lazy Ballerina, which opened last spring, is a new kid on the block in the bevy of wineries in southwestern Michigan, and perhaps due to this newness regularly houses wine-and-craft events open to the public and private events for team building.

At any given moment Julie Nitz is traveling with up to 50 easels in the back of her vehicle. Nitz who now teaches wine-and-craft classes in addition to running her own graphic design and marketing firm, JLN Studio, agrees that the trend is spreading like wildfire, particularly in the colder Midwest months where there is less to do.

Originally Nitz started teaching classes for her friends, but the savvy business owner couldn’t ignore the demand. Her next three classes are sold out.

“I don’t expect everyone in there to be a Picasso,” Nitz said while later admitting that she has had students who’ve never painted that she’s confused her own work with.

“What I tell people is we all paint differently… I encourage them to try what feels fun and enjoy themselves. I think the reason these have taken off so well is that people want to get out and be with friends.”

Nitz observed that it’s also great for wineries. “No one really needs an excuse to drink wine,” she quipped.

Nitz estimates that she’s led 75 classes in the past year. Despite the combination of drinking and painting, she said that there’ve only been a few instances where she’s had to get on her hands and knees to scrub out acrylic paint, but she does encourage attendees to dress for the occasion. “You will be painting,” she often admonishes.

Nitz’s classes, which are structured yet laid back and typically last a few hours, are so popular that she even has some “art groupies” that follow her from class to class.

Like any creative effort perhaps an evolution of winter activities are in store for Southwest Michigan wine lovers.

Dablon Winery in Baroda, Michigan, has been looking at hosting craft-and-wine events, as well, in addition to offering other activities that pair well with dropping temperatures.

“It’s important to us to get people to the winery and tasting wine, whether there’s snow on the ground or it’s 80 degrees outside,” said Laura Gelder, tasting room and wine club manager. “We try to appeal to as many types of people as possible.”

Dablon currently offers a book club night, a yoga brunch and is preparing snow-shoe events, as well as movie nights.

The area abounds with something for everyone, and the first glass of wine just may be the tip of the iceberg.