A New Boutique Wine Importer Brings World Taste to Detroit

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - 05:35 PM

WDET Detroit Public Radio

According to a 2010 study by Global Detroit, an economic development initiative, immigrants in southeastern Michigan are starting businesses at almost three times the rate of non-immigrants. Recent immigrant business ventures range from high-tech and manufacturing firms to restaurants and boutique import companies.  

Nurria Garrote never planned on coming to Detroit. Educated as a mechanical engineer and the only daughter of a Catalonian family in Spain, Garrote had her pick of international cities to go to. The engineering firm Garrote used to work with had offices in Brazil, Morocco, and Detroit, and in 2004, she decided to go to the United States.

Garrote initially thought that she would only be in Detroit for two years, but after falling in love with the lifestyle and the people, she decided to stay. However, after years away from home, Garrote longed for Spain and began to devise a way to stay deeply connected with her Spanish culture while living in Detroit. Her solution: wine.

“Wine has always been an interest because of my background and being from Spain. We drink wine almost every day and we celebrate life with wine,” says Garrote, who considers wine a liquid geography and art form that encourages socializing and cultural conversations.  As she began frequenting the wine regions of Spain, Garrote started to develop relationships with the vineyard owners. 

Meeting families who owned Spanish vineyards solidified Garrote’s mission to avoid importing mass-produced wines. Inspired, Garrote created Vino Vi Wines, a boutique wine company which brings independently produced wine to Detroit. “I believe that our company will be successful by providing information [and] telling the stories of the people who are behind the wine,” says Garrote.

Garrote sees herself as a purveyor of culture. The Vino Vi company and label were designed to tell a story, which she hopes will engage wine drinkers in conversation. “We have put together a label that tells you what the wine is, what type of grape, who makes it, how many bottles a year they make and how many bottles there are in the United States,” said Garrote.

Wine sales in the United States have risen significantly in recent years. According to Whole World Wines, the total retail value of wine sales in the U.S. has risen from $19.2 billion in 2000 to $37 billion in 2010.  But is there a market for more expensive, boutique wines in metro Detroit? Madeline Triffon, the first female master sommelier in the U.S., thinks there is. “I travel enough that I feel that I can say this with confidence. Can we sell neat boutique wines in Michigan? Sure. Are they an easy sell? If the quality is there, yes.”

Boutique businesses are important to the metro Detroit region. According to Steve Tobocman, the Director of Global Detroit, an economic development initiative designed to grow South East Michigan’s economy, unique businesses will attract professionals to metro Detroit. “Having things like an international wine importer that can specialize in all kinds of wines and can tell a story about vineyards and their history … is a unique service that you can’t find in every corner of the Midwest,’ says Tobocman, who believes businesses like Vino Vi  will help Detroit attract engineers, physicists, lawyers, and doctors.

When asked if she was nervous about selling more expensive, boutique wines in metro Detroit, Garrote said she understands the risk of opening a business in an unstable economy.

Although Garrote is aware of the risks of opening a business in an unstable economy, she feels optimistic about Vino Vi’s future. “I think there is no win without risk. This is an opportunity for me and I feel very fortunate to sell wine in the United States,” says Garrote. 

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