Many Michigan wineries opt for original art pieces that reflect the tone of their establishment. For some, the medium of choice is cork — as in a wine cork.
That’s the case at Mari Vineyards. The Old Mission Peninsula winery boasts a huge cork art conversation behind its expansive tasting bar. Created by Grand Rapids-based high school art teacher and artist Scott Gundersen, the piece was commissioned after the owners saw one of Gundersen’s works in 2009.
The Mari piece takes inspiration from the view that can be seen from the winery’s patio, which was designed specifically to face the sunrise.
“That iconic moment was what they wanted to recreate with the cork artwork,” says Mari Marketing and Events Manager Jenna Veiga.
It took Gundersen about 150 hours to make the 4-by-18-foot mural. He drew and painted the image on three plywood panels. Then, using photos of the view as a guide, he hung the approximately 13,700 corks one by one on 15,000 nails he had shot through the back of the plywood.
The corks were sorted by color, each representing a wine shade. The darkest corks are the only ones altered from their original hue, but even those were dyed only with a red wine reduction.
Customers are “in total awe of it,” Veiga says.
“Often it takes them a few seconds until they get closer, and then they’re like, ‘Wait, are those corks?’”
Veiga says that when people come in for tastings, one of their favorite things to do is try to guess exactly how many corks are in the piece.
Michigan By The Bottle has also experimented in the world of personalized artwork. Its Shelby Township and Royal Oak tasting rooms are decorated with cork pieces created by Gary Dueweke, father of co-owner Cortney Casey.
The Shelby Township design features a map of Michigan including both the Lower and Upper peninsulas. Royal Oak’s depicts an abbreviated version of the tasting room’s logo.
Both the logo and its abbreviated variant were designed by graphic designer David Jakubowski. While Dueweke had painted wooden versions of the logo for Michigan By The Bottle’s Shelby Township and Auburn Hills locations, he decided he wanted to try his hand at corks for the other works.
“I wanted to represent the logo dimensionally,” Dueweke explains.
He worked by laying the background corks flat and cutting the front corks so they’d be the same height. He used the natural pigment of the corks for the light pink and dark purple, hand-painting the black parts of the logo.
“It’s really just like a natural creative release for me,” says Dueweke, who holds an associate degree in graphic commercial art and worked in the sales promotion department at AT&T.
His passion has taken a variety of forms throughout the years. For example, he and his wife create hundreds of cork reindeer every year as ornaments or bottle toppers. He is also planning a cork piece for Michigan By The Bottle’s Auburn Hills tasting room.
And that’s good for business, Casey says.
“Guests love to take their pictures in front of them,” Casey says, “and they look fantastic in our space.”