Painting for the Palate with Stephanie Schlatter


After a week on the Michigan Wine Trail, local artist Stephanie Schlatter is full of stories about all things wine, including some of her favorite in-state vineyards.

“Black Star Farms, Peninsula Cellars, Chateau de Leelanau … it just doesn’t get any better than what we have right here in Michigan,” she said. “There’s this perception that Michigan wine isn’t up to par with say, Californian or French wines, but most of the people who think that haven’t been tasting here in a while.”

Passionate and tenacious, Schlatter is determined to increase the local demand for “tremendously underrated” Michigan wines and to get them back on the menu in upscale restaurants statewide. Schlatter feels that people not only underestimate the quality of Michigan wines, but the beauty of the state itself. While she’s traveled the world, Schlatter still denotes Northwest Michigan as one of her favorite places on earth.

“Some people feel that they have to leave the state to get a true vacation,” she says. “When in reality, they could just drive a few hours north and find the same beauty that they’d find elsewhere. It saves time, money and helps boost our economy!”

Luckily for Schlatter, her passions haven’t gone unrecognized. The Amway Hotel Corporation sponsored her in the production of four paintings used to adorn the wine bottles of their new private wine label, bin 616.

Schlatter, 40, of Ada, has been painting professionally for almost fifteen years. While she always loved painting, she hadn’t seen it as more than a hobby until she attended photography school at the age of 27. One of her professors encouraged her to take an art class, and since then, she hasn’t looked back.

Although her favorite creations are produced from acrylic paint, she occasionally works in oil and oil pastel. She enjoys painting over photographs in order to combine her passion for both. Regardless of her medium, she prefers bold, expressive work that represents feelings as opposed to visual reality.

Bin 616 boasts bold expression, and was created in an attempt to marry wine with art.

“The name comes from a reference towards a bin of wine,” Schlatter explained with a smile. “And 616 is in proud reference to the Greater Grand Rapids area.”

The Amway Hotel Corporation called her personally to share their vision with her. The mash-up of wine and art was the result of an ambiguous request. Four wines comprise bin 616: a robust cabernet sauvignon, sophisticated pinot noir, airy sauvignon blanc and a buttery chardonnay. Producing two reds and two whites helps appeal to a wide variety of tastes, and the artwork matches the flavor inside each bottle.

“Each painting is representative of what I think each wine would look like if it came to life,” explained Schlatter. “For the cabernet sauvignon painting, I used deeper purples and reds, and made it very celebratory.”

The pinot painting is a landscape piece bursting with deep shades of green, purple and blue, while the sauvignon blanc bottle displays a field of yellows, oranges and light greens.

“The chardonnay is another celebratory figurative piece,” she said. “A woman sits happily on a bed of light green and yellow grapes, while sipping from a glass.”

Being a career painter, Schlatter works mostly with acrylic. Bin 616 is painted entirely in acrylic and mixed media from the comfort of her Ada studio. She was allowed free reign except for the subject matter.

“The hotel wanted to do two figurative pieces and two landscapes,” she explained. Each figurative piece is representative of an important woman in Schlatter’s life, the “women I like to drink wine with,” she said.

As for the landscapes, Schlatter has always believed that good wine isn’t just “about what you’re drinking, but the land it’s grown on and the story behind where it came from.”

The heritage of a wine is indeed important to Schlatter, evident in her work that drew the Amway Hotel Corporation to her in the first place: On the Michigan Wine Trail, a series of videos and photos from her favorite in-state wineries.

“I absolutely love visiting the place where a wine was grown and meeting the people who made it,” she explained. “Knowing the story of a wine’s past helps you really appreciate it while you’re drinking it.”

Schlatter frequently compares artists to wine makers, noting that they both have creative inspirations.

“Wine and art are both all about interpretation. Just as someone who hasn’t met me may look at one of my paintings and make up their own story, people often drink wines without knowing the vision in the head of the wine maker,” she explains. “That’s why I like to visit the vineyards.”

All four bin 616 paintings comprised an ArtPrize entry for Schlatter, prominently displayed at the JW Marriott. The entry was her first submission, noting her participation in 2009 and 2010. Schlatter felt that it would be great for wine-lovers to see her original paintings.

Miniature versions of each painting are printed on purses, place mats, coasters and other display-worthy items available alongside the wines at the JW Marriott and Amway Grand Plaza gift-shops.

“The bottles are beautiful, and hopefully when people open a bottle of beautiful wine, happiness will spread,” she said. “I want to make the entire table more beautiful, not just what goes down your throat.”

As the artist in residence at the Forest Hills Fine Arts center and commissioned artist for the Black Star Farms, Silver Leaf, and L. Mawby vineyards, Schlatter is almost always on the go. She doesn’t let her busy schedule eclipse new ambitions though.

“I now want to work on pushing the celebration of art and wine even further, and discovering new ways to bring joy to people,” she said.

A return trip up north, no doubt, is also on the agenda. Schlatter enjoys exploring the wine trail and painting her encounters, even when it’s just for fun. During this last trip, she painted landscapes at Chateau Fontaine and Blustone Wineries.

“I painted from five to seven and captured the sunset perfectly,” she said. “It was ‘somebody pinch me’ beautiful.”




Anna Wright is a budding writer, yoga and music enthusiast. With a deep interest in culture of all kinds, she loves all things art, nature and travel.