DETROIT (WWJ) – Imagine strolling through a vineyard while enjoying views of the sun setting over the Detroit River as you sip on some sweet vino.
Sound nice, doesn’t it? Well, a local businessman has made it his priority to turn that dream into a reality.
John Burtka, president of Detroit City Cellars, told WWJ’s Vickie Thomas he wants to build a winery and restaurant on Belle Isle, along with a 10-acre vineyard on the island’s east end.
“We had a [scientist] come in and analyze the soil and the growing conditions and that’s actually one of the best spots in the entire state to put a vineyard,” he said. “Back when they had the fort downtown and they had the first commercial vineyard in the city down there, some of that actual dirt when they excavated for the Penobscot Building is down at that end of the island and that’s why it’s raised up a little higher.”
Burtka said his vision would create the first urban winery and vineyard in the country.
“Mainly riesling would be what would be grown there, riesling and chardonnay,” he said. “It would be open for people to walk around, you could throw a blanket down and picnic there if you want. It’s just a pretty cool venue.”
Burtka said planting the grapevines would be a relatively easy process. He said they would utilize structures already on the island as to not draw away from its natural beauty.
“We need a dramatic building and that would be the casino building, and that would house the restaurant,” he said.
Ron Olson, Chief of Parks and Recreation for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said it’s a proposal to consider but one that doesn’t exactly fit into the master plan for Belle Isle right now.
A ban is currently in place on drinking and drug use on the 985-acre island park, although police have said there won’t be extreme enforcement of the no-alcohol policy. For example, police said, a couple enjoying some wine with their picnic would likely be left alone.
The state took control of Bell Isle on Feb. 10 under a 30-year lease agreement. The lease allows Detroit to maintain ownership of island while the DNR assumes responsibility for managing the park and MDOT takes responsibility for the roads and bridges. The lease provides for an initial 30-year term with two 15-year renewals.