Pure Michigan Wineries Roundtable

On our blog today, we conducted a roundtable with some of Michigan’s wine experts about local wines and wineries, their businesses and more.

For more information on Michigan wines, please visit michiganwines.com.

Let’s meet the participants:

Walter Brys, Owner of Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. Situated on 80 acres on Old Mission Peninsula with breathtaking views of the East Grand Traverse Bay, Brys Estate, a boutique winery began with the planting of 32 acres of European vinifera grapes in 2001. The vineyard consists of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Jeff Lemon, Owner of Lemon Creek Winery. Lemon Creek is a name with over 150 years of grape and fruit growing experience. Exclusively family owned and operated this quaint 300 acre farm is located in the country side of Berrien County. Found just six miles off the lake, this winery, vineyard and fruit farm is a perfect family destination.


Heather Price, Executive Director of Sandhill Crane. Sandhill Crane Vineyards is located east of Jackson, just minutes from Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing. This small family-run vineyard and winery features award-winning estate-grown wines.


Onto the roundtable!

Q: How do the wines in Michigan compare to wines in other parts of the country or the world?

Walter Brys: Northwest Michigan wines have a definite style and distinction of their own.  They tend to be very aromatic (on the nose) with a crisp mouth feel.  A major factor contributing to this profile is the 'maritime climate' created for our vineyards by their close proximity to Lake Michigan.  Overall we grow our fruit in what experts would consider a 'cooler climate' that is very challenging to manage.  Our cooler climate growing conditions, combined with summertime warm days and cool nights, allows us to make wines that retain acidity better than wines made in warmer climates.  The wines from Northwest Michigan typically profile a range of aromatics that include floral, stone fruit and tropical tones.  Finally, we are positioned on the 45th parallel which has been known for great wines around the world.  Internationally our wine styles are very similar to French and German wines and nationally we compare to Oregon and Washington State wines.

Jeff Lemon: Per our customer feed-back and industry recognition, Michigan wines rate very favorably not only on a regional basis but also on a national and international scope.  In each of Michigan’s two distinct grape growing areas, southwest and northwest, the contribution of terroir to the wines distinguishes Michigan from other grape growing regions.  Although Michigan wines have not yet received the recognition afforded other wine regions, in time, the question will be "How do wines in other parts of the country or the world compare to Michigan?"

Heather Price: We love Michigan wines! Our state’s climate allows us to grow grapes and make wines that have a lovely acidity balance.

Q: Why is Michigan a good location to grow wines and do business?

WB: Our 'maritime climate", created by Lake Michigan, is truly unique in the world.  It's tempering effects allows for outstanding vineyard and orchard growing acreages.  The Northwest Michigan vineyards produce a cool climate wine style that showcases a fruit forward and crisp wine.  These wines have flexibility and variety of style.  They are made 'dry' to 'sweet' and everything in between.  This variety of wine style is very appealing to the whole spectrum of wine drinkers, from the beginners to the sophisticated.  Being in the wine business is very exciting due to the uniqueness of the types of wines produced, the variety of wine enthusiast in Michigan and the natural year round beauty of Michigan landscapes that constantly encourage tourism.  Recent recognition given to Michigan's Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, the best and longest freshwater lakeshore, Traverse City being recognized as a top 'foodie city' and the thousands of wine awards given to Michigan wines in wine competitions all combine to a positive business climate.

JL: The elements of terroir, which not only enable Michigan to produce some of the most flavorful peaches, apples, cherries, tomatoes... you name it, but also Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc/Sauvignons.. you name it, to express their varietal character as intensely and notable as anywhere in the world.  The support the State of Michigan has and continues to provide, to the agri-tourism industry is invaluable.  In addition to this partnering, one need just look around to enjoy the beauty and resources Michigan has to offer. 

HP: The people of Michigan are wonderful customers. They go out of their way to support local businesses. We started our winery in the middle of a recession – it was the local customers who really supported us from the beginning.

Q: What types of wine are up-and-coming in Michigan?

WB: Both white and red wines are surfacing as up-and-coming.  The hot white wines are first (definitely) Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  The hot red wines are Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc.

JL: The wines and styles are varied enough to suit any palette.  The quality of Michigan’s semi-sweet grape table wines and abundant fruit wines provide an opportunity for consumers with diverse tastes to have a good wine experience.  Dry and Semi-dry Rose wines are becoming increasingly popular. 

HP: Michigan is very well known for our aromatic whites – Riesling, Gewurztraminer, etc. but our reds are really coming along. We make some amazing reds that pair beautifully with food.

Q: Where are some great wine trails near your winery?

WB: In Northwest Michigan there are two outstanding wine trails;  Old Mission Peninsula wine trail offers an opportunity to visit seven uniquely different wineries and Leelanau Peninsula wine trail offers an opportunity to visit twenty wineries.  Both wine trails have web sites with full information about each winery and upcoming wine related events.

JL: The Lake Michigan Shore wine trail consisting of 13 wineries and their tasting rooms in Michigan’s great southwest is a do-not-miss destination.  The newly formed West Michigan Wine and Beer trail will offer an experience to match everyone’s taste. 

HP: We are a part of the newest wine trail in Michigan, the SE Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail. The trail holds several events throughout the year and offers a great way for visitors to visit several wineries in a day.

Q: What are the best varietals in Michigan?

WB: From our perspective the cold hardy varieties work best and have the best success rate.  Those varieties typically have been Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.  There are many other varieties being grown in Michigan and with great success but unfortunately my exposure is limited primarily to the varieties we grow at Brys Estate. 

JL: Not fair, I wouldn’t ask you which of your children you like best! But here at Lemon Creek we are are partial to Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Vidal Blanc for whites, and Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chambourcin for reds.

HP: That’s kind of like asking me to pick my favorite wine. There are so many terrific grapes currently grown in Michigan and they all have their own uses.

Q: Where can people go for more information about wine and your winery?

WB: There are a number of information sources available to those interested in wine, wineries and trails.  Sources are available starting at the level of the State of Michigan, the local Chamber of Commerce, the local Visitors and Tourism Bureau, the wine trail and at each winery.  At Brys Estate we offer complete information on our website.

JL: Visit a winery for a tasting and ask questions! Visit michiganwines.com, lakemichiganshorewinetrail.com and lemoncreekwinery.com.

Visit michiganwines.com or michigan.org to learn more about Michigan's many wineries. And share with us in the comments section below - what are some of your favorite Michigan wines?