Todd and Kellie Fox of the Fox Barn Market & Winery in west Michigan display their wines, including their unique asparagus wine in front. Their farm is in the middle of the state’s asparagus belt. / Fox Barn
Michigan grows asparagus. Michigan makes wine.
Now comes a twist in agritourism ingenuity — asparagus wine.
“It has a mild asparagus aroma and flavor with a little hint of sweetness,” says Kellie Fox of the Fox Barn Market & Winery in Shelby, near Pentwater. “And it is really clear.”
Admitting that asparagus wine sounds, well, pretty awful, Fox says it all started when her husband, Todd Fox, gave her a challenge.
“He twisted my arm. He brought home a tub of mashed asparagus and said, ‘Do something with this.’ So I added water and sugar and yeast, and it started fermenting.
“It did not smell great.”
The next new thing
The Foxes own a 1,700-acre orchard and farm near the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, and Todd Fox is the fourth-generation owner. They grow sweet and tart cherries, peaches, pears, apples, plums, blueberries and grapes. But their farm also is smack in the middle of Michigan’s asparagus belt, Oceana County, so they grow that, too.
Like many Michigan farms, the Foxes’ property has evolved from a purely commercial operation to include a farm market, and in the last eight years, a winery. They make mostly fruit wines from their cherries, peaches and pears but always are looking for new agritourism products.
Michigan has at least 645 agritourism businesses contributing $23 million each year to the economy.
The state has 71 wineries.
Fox Barn is definitely not one of the largest.
“I will make 600 cases a year, so we’re pretty small,” says Kellie Fox, 39.
It is possible someone has thought of asparagus wine before, but asparagus expert John Bakker has never heard of it.
“I’d like to get a bottle — at least to keep on my counter,” says Bakker, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board. “I love asparagus, but I don’t know if I’d drink — well, I might try it.”
If it took off, Michigan could benefit. The state is the nation’s third-largest asparagus producer. The season runs late April through June.
As the smelly asparagus wine fermented in her winery, Fox persisted, clarifying the vegetable concoction until it improved and improved.
It turns out that asparagus wine, unlike Bordeaux, doesn’t take years to age. It takes about 24 weeks.
“You can have something in the bottle in six months,” she says.
Last year, she informally tried to sell a few bottles of asparagus wine in her store. And to Fox’s amazement, people bought them. This year will see the formal launch of her unusual product.
She has 70 to 90 half bottles of asparagus wine in her stockroom awaiting the National Asparagus Festival, which runs June 10-12 in Hart.
“I will have a float in the parade announcing the asparagus wine, and it will be for sale at the barn for $16,” she says.
The bottles even have apt labels — Odd Fox Wine.
“This year I will be brave and market it more,” says Fox, who coincidentally was wearing a bright green sweater the color of, well, a certain vegetable.
“In this market, you need to find what is different about you.”