Like a metaphorical grapevine snaking through the trellis of our culture, a new level of wine knowledge is creeping into our everyday lives. Where wine tasting used to be reserved for the snobbiest segments of society, the popularity of the Food Network and easy access to food and wine blogs has turned everyone into an expert. Suddenly, your Uncle Ted, after perhaps a glass too many at Easter dinner, is spouting off about the “apricot notes” in his riesling and swirling his glass vigorously to “see if it has legs.” This new appreciation for wine has taken root in Lansing, and entrepreneur Curt Kosal has taken note.
“There’s a growing interest in fine wine,” said Kosal, who co-owns Okemos’ Vine & Brew with his wife, Leslie. “We’ve seen continued growth since we’ve been open.”
Kosal believes Lansing’s growing restaurant scene is a big contributor to the area’s blossoming interest in wine. Fine food and wine are a natural pairing, and he finds that many people come into his shop looking for a wine they tried at restaurants like Red Haven, Tannin or Soup Spoon Caf.
“It’s a natural progression,” said Kosal, whose interest in wine grew in tandem with his interest in cooking. “That’s what got me into this.”
And while the success of Michigan’s exploding craft beer scene has benefitted Kosal’s beer sales, he finds its success has spilled over into the wine scene as well.
“People who are into craft beer are experimenting with wine,” he said, noting that many of his wine customers are either burned out on beer or are trying to find something they can drink with a significant other who is not into beer.
And as interest in fine wine and craft beer has grown, Kosal has grown his store to meet the demand. In November, Vine & Brew expanded into an adjacent storefront, nearly doubling its retail space. The 2,300-square-foot space showcases the store’s impressive drink offerings (over 2,000 varieties of beer and wine), of course, but the increased area has also allowed it to offer a variety of condiments, drink mixes and ready-made party snacks. The shop features several made-in-Michigan items, including pickles and bloody mary mix from Detroit-based McClure’s Pickles and coffee from Lansing’s own Rust Belt Roastery.
“We try to do as much with local products as we can,” Kosal said.
Kosal’s career in wine began at East Lansing’s Goodrich’s Shop-Rite, working with Steve Scheffel. A co-owner of the store, Scheffel oversaw Goodrich’s legendary wine department.
“That’s where I really learned the business,” said Kosal, who spent 13 years at Goodrich’s. He left the store for a brief stint at Warren-based Veritas Distributors before deciding to open his own wine shop.
The growing number of hip restaurants and breweries, as well as Greater Lansing’s budding craft distillery scene, all contribute to what Kosal sees as a transformation of Lansing culture. Long known for its blue-collar roots, the city is becoming more sophisticated as large employers like MSU Federal Credit Union, Jackson National Life and Auto-Owners Insurance draw in young professionals with a taste for big-city life.
“As we get better restaurants and businesses in town, that’s synergy for all of us,” Kosal said. “It gives people confidence. We’re not going to be seen as a city that can’t support a good restaurant or wine shop.”
Vine & Brew
2311 Jolly Road, Okemos