Fifteen years ago the Best of Michigan Wine Tasting moved from Kalamazoo to Lawton, and in a way it was coming home.
The site of the annual event is the state’s oldest standing winery building, at 646 N. Nursery St., in Lawton. It is now the Heritage Community Center and houses the Lawton Heritage Museum but was once the home of Houppert Winery Complex, the first winery in Michigan.
This year’s tasting event is set for Sept. 4. The event’s move from Kalamazoo to the small town of Lawton not only bucks the trend of urbanization, but also reinforces the mission of the museum — to connect residents with the culture and history of Lawton and Michigan small towns like it.
Bruce Marks, vice president of the museum’s board of directors, is originally from Decatur, another small town in Van Buren County. “Life in small towns has completely changed,” he says. “Your whole life used to revolve around your community, which is not the case anymore. I’m close to 70 years old, and we hardly ever used to go to Kalamazoo when I was younger, even though it was only 30 miles away, because our small town provided everything we needed. That’s kind of the flavor we’re trying to capture in our museum and the type of connection we’re trying to create.”
The Best of Michigan Wine Tasting is a fundraiser for the nonprofit museum, which is run by volunteers. The event is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the museum and will feature wines from 12 to 15 wineries, including the host winery, St. Julian Wine Co.
This year’s event also offers food from Premier Catering of Paw Paw and music by Hackneyed Quips. At the end of the evening, attendees vote on a People’s Choice Winery award.
The event is sponsored by local businesses, which provide myriad freebies and goodies to be given away throughout the night.
“It’s an event for anyone who loves wine, good food and local history,” Marks says. Proceeds from the fundraiser help cover operating costs for the museum.
“One of the things we use the funds for is to buy new artifacts,” Marks says. “The latest artifact that we bought for our general store was a push bar for the screen door, just like they would have had years ago in general stores. We fund-raise to have the resources to always upgrade the museum and our displays.”
The museum is in the basement of the Heritage Community Center, which is owned by The Lions Club. The Lions Club bought the former Houppert Winery Complex in 1990, rehabilitated the structure, and set it up as a rental hall for weddings and events. The museum rents the basement and provides a connection to local history, displaying artifacts from 1900 to 1940 farming, grape and fruit processing, and daily life in the vineyard industry.
“Museums like ours are important,” Marks says. “It’s important that we remember how things used to be and how people used to live. You don’t want to forget what the past was like.”