Thursday, December 28, 2006

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup" or "Will work for cheese"

Sometimes it can be difficult working with a star. But after "signing" almost 30 books, Rosie is still pretty down-to-earth.

If you don't know, Rosie is featured in the new book, "Wine Dogs: USA Edition." It's a wonderful book filled with great photos of winery dogs across the United States, including Rosie and several other Michigan wine dogs.

She held an official "booksigning" in October, shortly after the book's release. We bought a washable stamp pad, and Rosie "signed" with her paw mark. After each book-signing she was rewarded with a cube of cheese (her favorite food -- as is says in the book).

Since then, she's signed books upon request.

But so far, she hasn't let show business go to her head.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sugar Snow

Coming up with interesting wines is one of Holly's passions. She especially loves playing with the French Hybrids because they blend so beautifully.

Today she's in the cellar working on a strange and interesting dessert wine. Last winter we were given maple sap by some friends, the Moores. It wasn't a lot -- just enough to experiment. Holly made wine out of the sap and it's been aging since then. Now she's experimenting with it -- sweetening it with maple syrup (rather than sugar).

It's interesting (and very different) stuff -- light and somewhat sweet. I'd pair it with a light, creamy dessert or even with a pungent cheese (the way you'd pair Sauternes with Roquefort).

I think we'll call it "Sugar Snow" -- a name that suggests the old-fashioned candy made during sugaring, or even the weather conditions that start the maple sap flowing -- and serve it chilled.

It still needs to age, so we're not sure when we'll introduce it. Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Getting Our Wine Out Into the World

We get lots of requests from our customers for a place to purchase our wine closer to home. It's something we'd like to do -- have at least one wine shop in each city within a few hours radius of the winery. That way customers can pick up a bottle for everyday occasions, rather than having to wait until their next visit to the winery. And it'll help get our name out to those who haven't yet visited the winery.

Of course, with our size, selling wine to shops creates a few problems. As most of our customers know, we have a hard enough time keeping our wine in stock at the winery, much less other locations. And because we're so small, it doesn't make sense to go through a distributor. So we're distributing it ourselves.... well I am.

I've had varied experiences in dealing with wine shops. Some come to us and make the process wonderfully smooth and easy. But for most, it's more work dealing with individual small winery owners rather than a distributor. I can understand that -- I deal with the same thing purchasing items from individual artists for the winery's gift shop.

A few have been incredibly difficult to get to. I'll get a request from a customer for us to contact their favorite wine shop. I call and call and call, drop off wine for them to taste, and they never bother to answer calls or respond. I set up appointments and the buyer is not there when I arrive. And I never know how much to push. Do I need to call them again? Or do they just not want to bother dealing with an individual winery?

Yesterday, we added Dusty's Cellar in Okemos to our list of retailers carrying our wine. They were lovely to deal with. We had a customer in common who wanted some of our wine for Christmas. Within a few days, we had several wines in their shop, including the Staccato she wanted. I left more wine for them to taste, and hope to expand their selection soon.

So our wine is now available in Jackson, Clarklake, Flint, Grand Rapids, Okemos (Lansing), and Suttons Bay. It's my first New Year's resolution of 2007 to expand to Ann Arbor, Detroit, Toledo, Kalamazoo, and anywhere else our customers request.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Too Busy to Blog?

I'd like to apologize for my laxness in blogging lately. When I started working at the winery full time, I thought I'd have more time for things like this. Instead I seem to have less time!

I'm sure it has to do with the fact that I keep adding more events, programs, retail outlets, etc. (you've noticed, eh?). I've been keeping myself (and everyone around me) VERY busy!

Blogging always seems to end up at the bottom of the list of things to do -- it isn't time-sensitive as most things are. But I'd like to make more of an effort to chronicle our everyday events this way. So keep an eye on this blog and I'll try to post on a much more frequent basis!

Friday, June 16, 2006

On the Eve of Another Event

Every time we hold an event, I think I'll post about it on the blog. Then the event comes and goes, and I get caught up in whatever's coming next. So this time I thought I'd post before the fact.

Our newest event takes place tomorrow, **Father's Day Saturday.** When we started the winery it didn't occur to us that we'd be hosting events almost constantly (or so it feels...). But once we started, we were hooked! Events allow us to do some of those things we would like to do on a regular basis (live music, food, all that fun stuff) but can't. It's great to have an excuse to party.

In some ways I could have guessed that this would be how we'd evolve. B. W. (Before Winery) the family took every opportunity to have a party. We celebrated our dog's birthday. We had theme parties (a memorable one was the **Airplane** party for one of my birthdays) with costumes and themed foods. Looking back... it was a natural progression.

Coming into a new event there's always lots of unknowns. Will people attend? Will the weather hold? Will we have enough food? Do we have enough staff? However, it always seems to work out. Lots of old friends (and some new ones) visit. The music is great. There's enough food.

Let's hope tomorrow works out as well as the events have in the past. Maybe you should show up, grab some wine and cheese, and find a soft spot on the grass to enjoy the jazz...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Chancellor, Traminette, and Vignoles

At this time of the year, our tasting list begins to change dramatically -- and seemingly from one moment to the next. As we say good-bye to one vintage after another, new wines quickly become ready to introduce.

And in the meantime, the tasting list can get quite skewed in one direction or another.

We try to maintain a list of 12-15 wines at all times, but May's tasting list can look quite funky! Right now we have quite a few dry white wines, but only one semi-sweet (the category that's often the backbone of our tasting list). And currently the list looks quite heavily weighted in the fruit wine category.

We recently read a nice article on the Pioneer Wine trail that described our wines as "easy-drinking wines that combine fruit flavors and wine grapes." Yes, our April tasting list did include some of those wines. And our tasting list always includes a few. But that's only a part of our repetoire. We also do terrific, multi-layered reds and crisp, fruity whites.

So, what's coming soon to the Sandhill Crane tasting list? In the next 4-6 weeks look for a lovely, rich Proprietor's Reserve Chancellor that will cellar very well, a return of our popular Blushing Crane (with a fun new label), both a dry and a semi-sweet Traminette (one of our favorites), and shortly after that a return of our long-lost "Serenade" (a sweet Vignoles) and possibly a dry Vignoles, as well.

It'll be a very interesting few months to watch as our tasting list continues to evolve!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Shifting Weather

From the beginning I've been amazed at the number of hats a winery owner wears: winemaker, farmer, business owner, marketing expert.... The variety of expertise required is amazing! Around our place, we're lucky in that we can spread the workload around, but in other ways, we all share the various responsibilities.

Although none of us started out as farmers, that is certainly part of the core of a winery/vineyard. So much of our success each year depends on our crop. Yes -- we purchase large quantities of wine grapes from other Michigan growers. But our own crop will always be important.

As it can be in Michigan, this spring's weather has been crazy. Every year there's a different variation. This year started out very warm and stayed that way for quite a while. That's always scary -- blossoms come out too quickly and are susceptible to cold spikes. Which, of course, is what happened next.

About 10 days ago we heard that grape growers in the Allegan area experienced a freeze, with temperatures down to 23 F. Of course, the grapes were just budding out and at their most tender. Now it's just a matter of waiting to find out how much permanent damage was done.

Up until about 24 hours ago, we'd been experiencing a very dry spring. Since then it's been raining amost constantly. The word is that it will continue raining for another 4 days straight.

What next?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dogs and cats - Oh, my!

While visiting the wineries up north a few weeks ago, we loved meeting the big, gentle Bernese Mountain Dog, Cooper, at Bowers Harbor Winery. We're an animal-friendly winery, too, as most of you know.

Rosie (Rosé), our Airedale terrier, is the most visible. Other than during larger events, she's around to greet visitors most of the time. She's a lovely hostess, although occasionally forgets that she isn't employed to be a watch dog too.

Oliver (pictured) is a big, pushy, Maine Coon-style kitty. He visits on a regular basis, leaping on bar stools and sashaying back and forth across laps.

Scooter also visits on occasion, although his favorite places are the kitty beds in the back room.

We hope you enjoy the pets as part of your visit. We think they make the experience more memorable. If any of them make you at all uncomfortable please tell us. We want your visit with us to be comfortable!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Mardi Gras

Ok, I know it's late to talk about Mardi Gras but I just got some photos and wanted to share one.

It's the first time we've celebrated Mardi Gras with a festival at the winery and we all had a great time. My only problem was time -- I worked Saturday and had to stay up late cooking gumbo and muffaletta and the like. However, several winery friends offered to help cook next time to lighten the load. I need to take them up on their offer in the future...

When we first decided to do the festival, one of the main elements was to be a donation to Katrina relief. Because of all our winery animals, we decided to donate it to helping with the efforts to save pets and reuniting them with their owners. We raised about $400 for Noah's Wish -- a nonprofit organization that helps animals during emergencies.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Spring Cleanin'

Yesterday, while Anna manned the tasting room, Holly, Tommy, and I spent the day spring cleaning. The little room upstairs houses our office and storage. We don't have much room up there but need to store all the backstock -- tasting room giftware, decorations for events and holidays, all the other supplies we need for events (paper plates, silverware, etc.), materials for gift baskets, janitorial supplies, mailing supplies, labels, wine filters.... you get the picture.

It felt like one of those organization shows on TV. We pulled everything off the shelves and organized it by use. Then we sorted, threw away the stuff we didn't need, and put it all back on the shelves in zones based on use.

It was a long day, had very little to do with winemaking, but incredibly productive. I feel like I know where everything is. At least for the moment.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

On the Road

We've hit the road -- Anne, Holly, and I are off for the Michigan Wine Council annual meeting at Crystal Mountain/Thompsonville. And on the way we're stopping off for a little wine tasting.

It's great to look at the world from the other side of the tasting bar for a change. An educational experience that every winery owner should do on a regular basis.

We visited three wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula yesterday afternoon and will stop at several on the Old Mission Peninsula today. It's great to see what others are doing.

Of course we'll always look at wineries with a different eye than the general public. It's the "busman's holiday" perspective. But that doesn't keep it from being a fun way to spend a day. And I know we'll come back to Jackson at the end of the week with lots of new ideas.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


This morning, as I was coming back in the house after dropping Tommy off at school, I was greeted by a Sandhill Crane. It flew low, right over the house, calling all the way, then landed in the swamp between my house and the winery.

It took a minute to register (it was quite early after all). The first crane of spring!

Y'know it really hadn't felt like spring at all this morning -- at least to me. I had to argue with Tommy to wear a real coat over his light sweatshirt (did he know something I didn't? Nah.). At 25 degrees, with a 1/2 inch layer of frost on my car, it seemed pretty wintery.

But who am I to argue with a Sandhill Crane, freshly arrived from the south? The first glimpse of spring has come to southern Michigan.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Growing pains & pleasures

At this point we all agree that sometime during that first day we opened our doors, we had already outgrown our space.

We built our very charming building (actually Ann Arbor builder and architect, Attila Huth, built it...) with a specific sense of the business in mind. A small winery, closed in the winter. Maybe open during the weekends on shoulder seasons and bit more in the summer and autumn. Enough business (and enough wine) to make that work.

We opened in September 2003 on the first day of our newly formed wine trail's first event. Tickets sold out over a week ahead of the event. And during our first two days of operation we found ourselves serving 250+ new customers.

The back room, which we intended for storage and a work room, suddenly became a special parties room, seating about 25-30 people. And from that day on, that room has served a purpose we never envisioned.

Yesterday we held our 2nd annual Wine Lovers' Open House -- sort of a celebration of Valentine's Day weekend. When you hold an event in February in Michigan, you need to be able to accommodate everyone indoors. For a few hours yesterday it felt like we were splitting at the seams! Our helpers, Chris, Suzanne, and Ken were treasures. We happily made it through the day because of them.

But Holly and I spent the day (independently of each other, but simutaneously) dreaming of an addition that would actually accommodate a large winter event.

Our business started outgrowing itself on the first day we opened. It's been an exciting ride ever since.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Why blog?

Sandhill Crane Vineyards is a new-ish winery in southern Michigan, owned and run by the Moffatt family. Dad (Norman) was a winemaker for decades -- he started out with dandelions, elderberries, that sort of thing. As the years went by he perfected his craft -- purchasing wine grapes at Detroit's Eastern Market and producing some very drinkable amateur wine.

Nobody's quite sure how we made the decision to go commercial. There were a lot of factors: proximity to Lone Oak (new at the time), Holly's strong interest in winemaking, my Dad's need to always be busy and exploring new things... Somehow these factors (and more) came together and we found ourselves with a small commercial winery. And it's been going gang-busters ever since.

One of the things we all love best is how our customers respond to the family aspect of the winery. At one time or another the entire family gets involved. Dad (Norm) watches over everthing. Mom (Alice) works in the tasting room and does the day-to-day bookkeeping. Aunt Anne (Holly and I call her "Anna") also mans the tasting room. She's a perfectionist -- when she's around you won't find a spot on the glasses...

Holly, of course, is our winemaker. She took all the knowledge Dad passed on to her, added lots of technical info from seminars, etc, and brought in her own sense of organization and practicality. She's a stickler for attention to detail and watches over her wines like an ICU nurse in a newborn ward. Add in an exceptional palate (even with the world's worst sinuses!) and she's become a terrific winemaker in just a few short years.

Holly's and my families help out at special events and behind the scenes, as does our brother Tom and his family. Everyone else (Leo, Robin, and all the friends who help out at special events) are adopted family.

I work elsewhere full-time but find myself with lots of winery chores that are becoming more and more full-time themselves. I do the marketing, the buying for the gifts in the tasting room, the website, etc. And here I am adding one more job -- a blog.

My idea behind this blog is to chat in a friendly, informal way about the workings of Sandhill Crane Vineyards. What's going on behind the scenes. The kind of info that you won't find in a press release. Sort of an extension of the family atmosphere surrounding the place. So, from now on, consider yourself one of the family.