All around Lansing, social and business groups are uncorking after work with wine and wine-centered events. And why not? The Greater Lansing Vintners Club, with some 800 dues-paying members (400 couples), is the largest wine-tasting club in the state and it may be the oldest club in the country. And Ingham County now has its own winery, named by Travelocity.com one of the nation's best local secrets.
Just ask Brian McGrain, a leader of the Grand River Connection networking group for young professionals. He says an alcoholic beverage, often wine, is a central feature of the group's social gatherings.
“We’re not trying to encourage alcoholism, but we have seen studies that show that having a couple of drinks really does facilitate the networking process,” McGrain says.
The group has held events at a new loft development, a park and at locally owned bars and restaurants. Now it’s moving into the wine-tasting experience, holding two upcoming events at the Burgdorf’s Winery in Haslett.
The idea is proving popular. The original wine-tasting quickly sold out, so a second is scheduled.
Most members of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club are of a vintage a few decades older than McGrain’s group, but the club has some younger oenophiles and encourages others to join, says president Michael Brenton, an East Lansing
Plus, if you want to learn about wine, this is the group to join. You’ll be invited to dinners that start with prosecco and appetizers and end with an orange Muscat wine with dessert. (Dues: $20 per person or couple a year.) It has been holding wine tastings and wine-themed dinners for nearly four decades. Brenton says you can learn about culture, geography, and food in addition to viniculture through exploration of the grape.
“From a lifestyle perspective, a lot of people integrate wine not only as a beverage to consume with a meal, but perhaps into vacation plans,’’ he explains. “ With wine you can develop relationships with people who raise the grapes and people who make the wine and sell the wine.”
The group holds blind tastings, wine-themed dinners at area restaurants and prepared by Michigan State University students. Membership gets you discounts at affiliated restaurants, and 10 percent off bottles of wine at Goodrich’s, an East Lansing grocery store that Brenton says rivals the best wine shops anywhere. (Info on the Vintners Club is available at Goodrich’s, 940 Trowbridge Road or send a dues check to the club at P.O. Box 27396, Lansing, MI 48909-7396.)
Steve Scheffel, Goodrich’s owner, has been selling wine from there since 1969. He says wine continues to grow in popularity, and despite the location in a college town, wine outsells beer and other alcohol two to one.
Wine tastings are great theme events for social or business groups. Scheffel says the holidays could bring a sparkling wine tasting, or set one around a region, such as Michigan, California, or the Pacific Northwest. Or pick one type of wine such as a cabernet and explore all the differences.
Go from dry to sweet, lighter to darker in order, he advises.
There are other local draws for those wishing to learn about wine. For one, Burgdorf’s Winery opened in Haslett in May 2005. The mom-and-pop operation, with a tasting room inside the David and Deborah Burgdorf’s home, sits on five acres where the couple grows some of the fruit used in their 16 wines, which range from dry white to a sweet dessert wine called Perfection.
The winery is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. and it costs $5 to taste five wines. Other times the winery can be booked for private wine tastings for up to 20 people, which costs $10 each with a minimum of $100. Guests get cheese and crackers, appetizers and taste 10 to 14 wines.
“Wine is popular because it’s not like you’re going out and getting drunk. It’s paired with food and it’s elegant. It’s a hobby, basically,’’ says Deborah Burgdorf, a wine hobbyist and microbiologist who gave up her job with a Lansing biotech firm to start the winery.
You can also make your own batches of wine (costing about $11.50 a bottle and yielding 24 bottles) and this season, patrons are busy creating their own wines with their own private labels to give away at Christmas.
Travelocity.com, a Web travel site, named Burgdorf’s one of the country’s 15 best “Local Secrets, Big Finds 2007.”
Other major wine events in the area include the Wednesday half-off bottles of wine and appetizer tradition at Beggar’s Banquet in East Lansing. Penny Hawkins, partner and general manager, said the wine night is drawing people who a few years ago may have been too intimidated by the names of wines to even try them.
“They’re not afraid of it anymore. You don’t need to know a lot about wine to sit and enjoy it,’’ Hawkins said.
She advises patrons to avoid any wine rules – the pinot noir instead of merlot dictum in the wine-centered movie “Sideways” for example – and “drink what tastes good.”
Hawkins said business groups, professional groups, groups of girlfriends and book clubs are frequent patrons on wine night.
Dusty’s Cellar in Okemos regularly holds wine tastings that are open to the public.
For $20 patrons get to sip 18 different varieties of wine and nibble cracker and cheese.
Also, says owner Matt Rhodes, wine tastings are growing in popularity as fund raisers.
“Definitely, people are using wine as a hook for that,” he says.
Lisa Gill, account executive with John Bailey & Associates, earlier this month helped coordinate an after-hours wine tasting at her office overlooking the Capitol.
She’s a member of the Mid-Michigan Inforum, the former Women’s Economic Club. Wine tastings are a regular event and “a huge hit,” Gill says.
For Gill’s event, tables were set up after dark at the office with linens, and trays of cheese, crackers, fruit, crudités and sweets were offered. Each guest brought a favorite Michigan wine.
“It’s an excellent opportunity for women to get together and network in a very, relaxed informal setting,’’ Gill says. “It’s a wine tasting, though networking is a huge bonus.”
Judy Putnam is an East Lansing resident who spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. She enjoys wine.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Wine night at Beggar's Banquet
Greater Lansing Vintners Club president Michael Brenton at Goodrich's
Wine bottles at Goodrich's
Beggar's wine night
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie