Lazy Ballerina Winery sits on State St. in downtown St. Joseph. The huge windows in the front give a clear view to a pink bar with tutu barstools, a leather couch and sleek chairs. It’s pretty, but packs a punch with their wine, food, and extremely popular events. In March, I spent the afternoon with Melanie and Lauren, the co-owners of and the creative genius behind Lazy Ballerina Winery. On June 25th, they celebrated their first anniversary in downtown St. Joseph!
The winery opened in late June of 2015; this is a picture from their ribbon cutting. It's hard to believe it's been one year!
Melanie and Lauren are cousins, and grew up in Southwest Michigan. As owners of the only female-owned winery on the Michigan Wine Trail, they are the new girls on the block, but have the story and salt to make it here.
Lauren and Melanie grew up watching their grandma make wine; in fact, Sweet Nita’s Red is a tribute to her recipe. Other members of the family own vineyards, and wine was very much a part of their growing up. Melanie and Lauren both worked at Contessa Winery (Lauren starting at just 16 years old), giving them a significant taste of the wine industry in Southwest Michigan. They explored other career paths and left the area, but it kept them coming back. After stints in multiple industries, including time as flight attendant for Melanie, the cousins were ready to branch into full-time wine. In a short time, Lazy Ballerina Winery was born.
Growing up in Coloma, Lauren and Melanie were familiar with downtown St. Joseph. When the property at 315 State St. became available, they had to move quickly. The lease was signed without Lauren even seeing the space. The storefront had previously been used as a takeout joint, serving up greasy fare to beachgoers. Melanie describes scraping grease off the walls, and Lauren finding a fossilized French fry. The target was opening in July 2015.
Determined to catch the summer crowd, Melanie and Lauren jumped in headfirst. Both women were hands-on from the beginning, working on the renovations themselves to save time and money. Painting the outside of the building served a practical as well as publicity purpose- everyone wanted to know what was happening, and who these two women were. Beyond their newfound contracting skills, there were the legal logistics behind opening a winery. The dedicated cousins were constantly chasing one license or another, and all on a deadline. They actually drove to Lansing to pick up a long-awaited permit rather than wait for the post, and got to serving their Michigan-made wines as quickly as they could.
The chalkboard inside displays the wine names; the dance references are awesome!
This is a true partnership; both women are behind the bar, working at festivals, hosting events, and more. When you speak to Lauren or Melanie behind the counter, their passion for wine comes through. Their favorite is the limited-release Cab; I did a wine tasting, and really liked the Cavalier. As a former dance student I had to ask about the name “Lazy Ballerina” and the references; I was curious what the ballet connection and dance background was.
Turns out, a “lazy ballerina” is a trellis system used in viticulture. Melanie and Lauren have taken the name to a whole new level, naming many of their wines with dance references. You can dance your way through a White or Black Swan, or even Pirouette. They have included “Tiny Dancer”, a non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice, in their offerings too.
They are gaining a following in the area and beyond, participating in events downtown like “Live Mannequins” and coming in a strong second in the Chili Tour. In March, they hosted a Wine and Girl Scout cookie paring that was standing room only, and their Wine & Craft Nights are selling out on a regular basis.
At their anniversary party on Saturday, the winery was filled with people tasting peach and cranberry wine, and live music. It was a wonderfully festive atmosphere, and Lauren and Melanie moved seamlessly behind the bar. It was wonderful to see a packed house...and even better to try the peach and cranberry wines!
Sweet Nita's White is my family's favorite; Clementine came with me to grab a bottle on Saturday while we waited for takeout from Chan's. This is her spinning in the tutu chair...and then me telling her to stop...