From recording memories to making them Photographer-turned-vintner opens North of 12 winery

by Sylvania AdVantage Staff

After 40 years full-time in commercial photography a major change of direction was eminent … Corey Gray went North of 12.
However, before the jump to winery owner, he had spent the prior 15 years as a serious hobbyist winemaker. A friend had exposed him to winemaking and he pushed the hobby over the top, producing hundreds of bottles per year in his basement.
With the seed of desire planted to become a full-timer he and his wife, Terri, spent several years regularly visiting small boutique wineries. Before long he became determined to join the fraternity of winery owners.

Jerry Shaver, owner of Leisure Time Winery and also relatively new in the business, was a major source of encouragement for the Grays to take the plunge. The next hurdles to overcome were finances and location. “Terri and I knew we could not just sell everything and open a winery. So the search for a location for the winery within a reasonable commute took us to Michigan’s Irish Hills area. After two years of exploring the area we ended up buying the very first property we had considered. Obtaining financing and licensing presented the most daunting set of challenges after that. Lenawee Now’s Director of Operations Tim Robinson provided immeasurable help creating our pro forma and business plan development,” Gray reported
With budget constraints in mind, the couple designed and built a new, mixed-use facility, housing both the production and a 1,700 square foot tasting room, able to accommodate almost 100 guests. In addition, there are two 800 square feet patios, one on each side, east and west of the tasting room. “The exterior is evocative of a lakehouse with exposed structural beams and plenty of large windows. The view of the lake toward the east may have been the clinching aspect guiding our choice of locations. Personally immersing myself in the design and construction process was extremely rewarding,” Gray offered. “You must see the bar. It’s teak with strips of holly with rusted steel panels on the face which Terri and I made.”
According to Gray, the real focus of this entire venture is the desire to provide a place in the Irish Hills where people can come and relax, even if they don’t have friends with a cottage in the area. “We feature live music on the weekends and we are planning to serve unique small bites and such that will complement our wine offerings,” he said.
“Our initial wines are bottled in partnership with a larger winery in Western Michigan. We presently have wines aging in our facilities which we produced with raw ingredients from the Lake Erie shores of New York state. This fall we will be crushing grapes from various sources in California and Michigan vineyards. Many of the grape varieties I am fond of fermenting and blending, Barbera, Sangiovese etc., do not tolerate our regional climate, necessitating the sourcing from California.”
“All in all, Terri and I are having a great time with this new venture. Now I feel as if I am creating experiences for people at The Winery North of 12, rather than photographing those others have produced.”
The Winery North of 12 is, as the name indicates, located 1/2 mile North of US 12 on Knapp Road, approximately 1 1/2 miles east of the intersection of M50 and US12 in Brooklyn, Mich.
Lenawee Now is a nonprofit dedicated to economic and business expansion throughout Lenawee County. By attracting new businesses, helping to grow established businesses, and supporting entrepreneurial endeavors in the county, Lenawee Now is creating an economically viable and vibrant region. In addition to business attraction, retention and start-up activities, Lenawee Now provides critical services to support business growth including access to funding sources and talent enhancement.

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