Success stories

Fox and Hen Vineyards

Grand Haven, Michigan

Wil Malski was pretty excited when he planted his first grapes in 2014. The heartbreak was equally strong when he had to rip them out five years later. It turned out to be one of those door-closes/window-opens moments.

Fox and Hen Vineyards in Grand Haven has a small business loan from Northern Initiatives“We had five varieties in one block to see what would stick,” he said. Turns out, the lovely European grapes just couldn’t cut the Michigan climate, so he found an Upper Great Lakes hybrid that was just what he needed.

A decade after that first planting, and three years after starting the process to open a winery, Fox and Hen Vineyards in rural Grand Haven is now serving wine made from the grapes grown on the 6.5-acre farm with wonderfully sandy soil nestled between Lake Michigan and the Grand River.

And, it turns out, ripping out grapevines isn’t as tough as the paperwork, applications, permits, and inspections needed to open a micro craft winery.

“I’m counting 20 different inspections, but I am likely forgetting some,” Wil smiled. He dealt with people at every level of government, he says, from township to county to state to federal.

Happily, the loan process was much easier. Karen Benson, Business Development Officer at GROW in Grand Rapids, where Malski had an earlier loan, referred Malski to Northern Initiatives, where he worked with Commercial Lender Norma Jazwinski.

“Fox and Hen Winery is so peaceful and happy, it was a joy to work there,” she said. “But I agree, there were a lot of inspections!”

He says his entire life led up to opening the Fox and Hen Winery.

“My first job was picking cherries at my grandparents’ orchard and learning the ins and outs of running the farm stand.” He got a BBA in Business Management and shortly thereafter developed a passion for making wine. “I loved trying new recipes and making each wine better than the last.”

That business degree is coming in handy, but he’s still doing a lot of learning about the day-to-day running of a small business. “Oof, Quickbooks,” he laughs. He’s still working his day job, too, and running the winery and tasting room on weekends. Wife Caitlin and daughter Pearl, 7, are integral to the farm, as are the neighbors, friends and complete strangers who have helped harvest grapes the last few seasons. “We had 13 to 14 people, a handful that we knew, and that was just right,” he said of this year’s penultimate harvest. “I give everyone a free tasting coupon so they can enjoy their work.” They picked 4,000 pounds of grapes this year, that will result in about 100 cases of wine. “We’ll also purchase grapes from two other Ottawa County vineyards to supplement that,” Wil said.

Fox and Hen Vineyards in Grand Haven has a small business loan from Northern InitiativesThe grand opening on a warm early fall weekend exceeded the Malskis’ wildest expectations, but also cemented their conviction that West Michigan loves wine. Customers on horseback appreciated the farm’s hitching post, as well.

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