SUTTONS BAY — There’s never been a better time to be in the up-and-coming wine industry in northwest Lower Michigan.
At least, so said Rick DeBlasio, the new president of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association and general manager at Shady Lane Cellars in Suttons Bay. He will lead the charge with a new branding campaign for the group of wine producers on Michigan’s little finger peninsula, along with increased marketing efforts.
“There’s coastline, there’s town, there’s the beauty of the land and any number of tasting rooms,” DeBlasio said. “On the Leelanau Peninsula, you can really experience more.”
One key message is that the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail is a multi-day experience, a nationally recognized wine region and destination held in the same regard as well-established regions out West, he said.
DeBlasio said the greater Leelanau and Grand Traverse region has a long, rich history of cherry growth. Now the area also is becoming known for its burgeoning wine industry.
“More and more people are associating this region with wine and that’s the point of our mission, embedding wine into the local culture,” DeBlasio said.
Tasting room traffic was even up during early days of this year’s National Cherry Festival, he said.
The new vintner’s association president moved to Traverse City five years ago after a six-year stint in North Carolina as winery guest operations manager at Biltmore Estate, the most visited winery in the United States at more than 1 million annual guests. DeBlasio is a Grand Rapids native.
There are 27 wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula and DeBlasio said it’s his goal to grow tourism for those businesses at a time when the wine-drinking public is the largest and best-educated it has ever been. The area is poised to become a hub for wine aficionados, he said.
“It feels like it’s on the front edge of the second wave ... with significant strides being made in the quality of product,” DeBlasio said.
The local wine industry’s first wave came when growers had the “forethought to plant the first vines here,” he said.
Now it’s time to push marketing efforts about the Leelanau Peninsula wine industry into downstate areas like Detroit and greater southeast Michigan, plus Ohio and Indiana, DeBlasio said.
“We need to bring awareness of and people to the Leelanau Peninsula for the purpose of wine,” he said.
The Leelanau Peninsula Vintners' Association is an organization meant to promote wines of the region and increase tourism traffic.
The association launched Michigan’s first wine trail in the 1980s.
This article was updated at 5:40 p.m. July 9 to make grammatical and spelling corrections.