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'On The Map' visits Thunderbay Winery in Alpena


Alpena may not be the first place you think of when you hear Michigan wineries, but Thunderbay Winery may change your mind.


Janice and Jeremey Sahr began the vineyard in 2005.




Jeremy said it was a bit of fate that brought them to the land.


“I had come across some pretty nice vineyard land in my opinion, south of Alpena, nice rolling hills, the geology seemed to fit the general scheme of what would work well for a vineyard. Years later when we were looking to move here, I went right back to that same farming community and we ended up buying an old strawberry farm that had a lot of fruit trees it just worked out really well for us.”


Almost a decade later, the grapes were ready to be made into wine.


The Winery itself launched in 2012, but not on the vineyard land like most do.   


“It’s hard to beat the increased tourist traffic downtown; I think we were originally going to stick with that theme, just the trend to be in the country we were going to open a tasting room on our property by the vineyard. And I guess we all of a sudden wanted to do it, we've been waiting a decade to open and we found this little area downtown,l this beautiful building, we thought it'd be easy and a good fit for us to be downtown.”


Jeremy said keeping the winery local and open to tourists is important to the business. The names of the wines stay true to the area as well.


“We try to have fun with it, we stuck to a theme of a lot of local landmarks, Rockport Red, Rockport is an area just north of town, Sugar Island is an island in the bay. So we try to keep everything to this area.”


The husband and wife team grow 13 varieties of grapes, and sell 22 wines.  


Janice said one stands out from the rest.


“Our bestseller by far is our Devils River, it’s a sweet red, it’s named after a river near our house called Devil's River, and that wine we distribute from Rogers City all the way down to Flint, it’s very popular we make the most of it, most gallons per year.”


Janice said they get a lot of people in who are new to wine tasting, like me.


“A lot of people have no idea where to start. So we coordinated our wine list that starts with whites, then rose, then reds, then fruit wines and our desserts. Each one is categorized from driest at the top to sweetest, so we’ll just kind of ask the customer where would you like to go, do you like sweet, dry, and we’ll start pairing with their pallette,” Janice says it’s all about having fun. “You’re going to get some peach, oh yeah so swirl it, swirl to release the aroma and then smell and then taste, and you’re almost supposed to suck it off the top of your tongue to get air into it to get more flavor.”


If you’re new to wine tasting, here’s a bit of information; it’s up to you if you want to drink the wine, or spit it out.


“The purpose of spitting is so you're not consuming so much alcohol that you can taste a lot more wine, especially if you’re visiting a lot of wineries. Not a bad trick but most people once they taste the wine they don’t mind swallowing the wine once they sample it.”  

Jeremy and Janice say down the road they may expand their 10-acre vineyard. But for now they’re happy running the business themselves and keeping traffic flowing to downtown Alpena.


“You know Thunderbay is just two blocks that way, we like that if you just know Thunderbay Winery, you know it’s in Alpena Michigan.”


Thunderbay Winery is helping put Michigan wineries, and Alpena, on the map.