The Lake Michigan College wine program not only taught a skill that is in increasing demand in Michigan and elsewhere, but it also had an unintended consequence of training some people who graduated elsewhere and had well-paid jobs that gave them little happiness or satisfaction. They went back to school, got another diploma and then another job, one they say they love.
Bryanna Cramer is one of those. “I had a midlife crisis when I was 25,” she said.
Cramer graduated in marketing from Central Michigan University and then spent four years in marketing in Chicago. “It was not something I loved,” she said.
On graduation, she was lucky to be able to study abroad, in Italy, “and I fell in love with wines and wineries”.
One day, bored and dissatisfied in Chicago, she was searching Google and found the Lake Michigan College wine program. “I said, ‘Ohmeudeus, I’m stopping work and doing this.’ I quit my job and scared my parents. “
Cramer did the wine program in 2017 and 2018. “There was a lot of practical work with the vineyards and I fell in love with the production side of the business.”
At a Michigan grape growers conference in spring 2018, she said she went to a New York grower and started talking. His name was Fred Merwarth, and he was the vineyard manager and co-owner of the Hermann J. Wiemer vineyard on Lake Seneca, a legendary producer of about 17,000 boxes a year in the Finger Lakes region.
She applied for an internship there after graduation, which took her to several subsequent internships and then to a full-time job. She now has the title of assistant winemaker.
“I venture to say it worked. I left a salaried job in Chicago to be a farmer in New York. It sounds crazy, but I created a life that I love,” she said.
Kristin Kohane tells a similar story. She graduated in mathematics and graduated in science from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, and spent seven years in accounting. “I decided that accounting was not my thing. I would go to work every day. I didn’t need to have fun every day, but I thought I should like what I was doing, ”she said. “I heard about the Lake Michigan program. I was super excited about it. I love wines and going to different wineries.”
She signed up for the program and graduated in December 2019. Before graduating, she got a part-time job at St. Julian’s winery in Paw Paw, the largest and oldest winery in the state, founded by Italian immigrant Mariano Meconi in 1921. Later, she was hired full-time as an oenologist, doing chemical tests on wines, such as the pH levels that measure acidity. “After these tests, we decided whether we need to add sugar or acid,” she said.
St. Julian is undertaking a $ 20 million expansion with the goal of making 500,000 boxes a year.
Kohane says she is thrilled to have exchanged her books for her laboratory tools. “Maybe one day I will have my own winery.”
Adam McBride is an unconventional graduate of the college program. He already owned a winery, Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, when he took his first class. An eight-year veteran in the U.S. military, McBride says he fell in love with wines and vineyards when he was stationed from 2005-2009 in Waldrach, a small village in a wine country in Germany.
“I got the virus and it never came out again,” he said.
When he left the army, he worked for Steelcase and Stryker, and did an executive MBA program in the state of Michigan.
In 2017, McBride attended the Napa Valley Wine Academy, the same year he bought Hickory Creek, a 38-acre boutique winery founded in 2006 that focused on European-style wines such as pinot noir, reisling and pinot gris, making 1,500 -1,700 boxes a year.
McBride said he attended a wine show two months after buying the winery and Lake Michigan College had a booth. He went there, introduced himself and decided to take a wine chemistry course in January 2018. “They were kindred spirits. There was no way I was going to take just one course. I ended up going through the entire program.
“I learned things in the Tuesday morning class I was using at my winery on Tuesday afternoon,” he said.