A Successful Winery in Muskegon, MI

MUSKEGON — Clay Avenue Cellars is a downtown Muskegon microwinery that seems somehow insulated from the pressures of macroeconomics.

The economy as a whole may be teetering, in other words, but vintners Bob Rajewski and Garrett Anguilm Jr. haven’t seen any corresponding downturn in sales of their fruit-based wines.

Indeed, to meet demand they are adding new offerings like “Blushing Pear” and “Sassy Apple.” Both are cranberry blends that will be introduced at a celebration Saturday marking the completion of Clay Avenue Cellars’ second year in the wine business.

The event will be from noon to 6 p.m. and features free wine tastings, giveaways, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

It will be part of a preholiday “Wrap It Up” event Friday and Saturday, centering on a growing number of small shops springing up in and around the downtown area, part of a national “Shop Local” movement. For more information, grab a “Wrap It Up!” Holiday Shopping Guide or visit www.downtownmuskegon.org.

Among them is The Cheese Lady on Terrace Street, which has started carrying wines from Clay Avenue Cellars, along with Ghezzi’s Market in Lakeside.

A growing customer base and steadily rising sales have prompted a nearly 1,200-square-foot expansion to the rear of the former Freres filling station to provide much-needed storage space for products and supplies, and to free up more cellar space for winemaking.

“I’ve got 20 full barrels and five casks down there. That’s 1,000 gallons brewing in less than 300 square feet of space,” Rajewski says. Until he gets final state approval, he has had to store some things at his home — most recently a shipment of nearly 5,000 wine bottles.

Its success also allowed Rajewski to quit his job at an auto parts store in late May and devote himself to winemaking full-time. Anguilm still must work around a full-time job with the city of Muskegon.

Rajewski also waits on customers during business hours, which have been expanded as well, to 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

Wines are made from whole fruit grown around West Michigan — no artificial flavors or coloring, watering-down or alcohol-juicing. They range in price from $8.95 to $17.95 per bottle. The store also carries winemaking supplies, along with a variety of retail items like cutting boards, trivets and wine accessories, and plans to branch into beer-making supplies and beer kits.

Clay Avenue Cellars also shares space with an art gallery called Clay Avenue Station in the same building, owned by Brenda Moore. Anguilm’s wife, Lonna, is also involved in the business in various capacities.

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