Exploring Michigan Wineries in Southeast Michigan

Michigan is home to sprawling acres of beautiful wine country. Today’s guest blogger Philip Rudy gives us the inside scoop on a new wine trail coming to Southeast Michigan. 

There is no official date yet, but a new wine trail is coming to Southeast Michigan. There really isn’t an official wine trail in the area as of yet, even though it has been considered a great destination for wine-tasting for quite some time.

Photo courtesy of Charles Ruthruff, Sandy Shores Winery

There are 16 wineries participating in the new wine trail. Among the wineries participating are Westview Orchards and Winery in Washington, Sandy Shores Winery in Jeddo, Blue Water Winery in Lexington, Dizzy Daisy Winery in Bad Axe, S & G Winery in Lapeer, Village Winery in Romeo and coming soon 3 North Vines in Croswell. Also included are Superior Lakes Winery in Harrison Township, Filipo Marc Winery in Clinton Township, Fieldstone Winery in Rochester Hills, Blake’s Cider House and Winery in Armada, Sage Creek Winery in Memphis, The Green Barn Winery in Smith’s Creek and the Washington Street Wine House in New Baltimore.

To learn more about the new wine trail going up in Southeast Michigan, I got a hold of Tom Gray, a businessman and community booster that is helping to organize the new wine trail and asked him a few questions:

What are some of the main attractions of this wine trail?

This depends on whether you “Discover the Green” or “Discover the Blue.”

The attractions are very diverse. If you “Discover the Blue” you will visit tasting rooms near beaches on Lake St. Clair,  St. Clair River, Lake Huron, Clinton River and the Black River. Some of the main attractions are the drawbridge in Port Huron or several lighthouses on Lake Huron.

If you “Discover the Green” you will enjoy tasting rooms at orchards, vineyards, and downtowns (both large and small). We even have a tasting room at a horse ranch that offers a saddle for a stool at the bar. You will find a tasting room in the loft of a barn at a 200 year old farm. This loop also features a new winery at an orchard that is nothing short of spectacular complete with a Fieldstone fireplace and incredible woodwork.

Where do these wineries get their grapes/wine from?

About 40% of the wineries use Michigan based fruits and juices. The balance comes from California and some other regions for now. One tasting room makes award winning wine from a Honey base.

What makes this wine trail different than other wine trails?

While still too early to tell, I anticipate the primary difference of this trail compared to others could end up being our visitors from Canada. The trail is nestled between 4 current border crossing and 3 international airports. Train transportation is also available from Chicago to Toronto. The trail is also home to the second and third largest counties in the state – Oakland and Macomb. For those wine enthusiasts that can’t make the 3 to 5 hour drive to other established trails in MI, this maybe a convenient alternative.

When will the season be open?

From chatting with most of the winery owners the goal is be a year round destination.

How many miles does it stretch from point to point?

At present the trail stretches 83 miles point to point. The perimeter is 216 miles. For the best experience on the trail you should consider spending the night at one of our affiliated Hotels or B&B. We will have 5 or 6 suggested loops available to choose from along with dining, lodging and recommended points of interest. We plan to make this easy safe and fun.

One fun fact about the wine trail?

Watching people tell their friends where exactly in Michigan it is located -Just open your hand and point to the Thumb!

Have you visited any of the great Michigan wineries along the new wine trail? Tell us about your experience! 

 Philip Rudy is an “all-things Michigan enthusiast” and owner of Michigan Wine Trail as well as part-time webmaster and blogger at Spartan Hall of Fame.

Explore Pure Michigan’s Wineries this Season

Michigan Wine Month might be coming to an end, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to get out and experience Michigan’s wineries this year. And with more than 100 wineries nestled among 15,000 acres of scenic vineyards, Michigan truly is wine country.

With wineries being one of the features in the Pure Michigan summer video series, we spoke with Linda Jones of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council to get the inside information on what visitors to Michigan’s wineries can expect this spring and summer.

Learn more in the video below and in the questions from Linda that follow. For more information on wineries in Michigan or to plan your summer vacation, visit michigan.org.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

A: I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to support the growth of the Michigan wine industry through my job as the Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council.  I came to Michigan from Ontario in 1997 to accompany my husband Mike who came here to take a job in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Michigan State University.  We LOVE Michigan! The state has so much to enjoy – wonderful people, the fabulous natural resources connected with the Great Lakes, great locally produced foods and beverages, including wine, of course! 

Q: Wine Month in Michigan might be coming to an end, but the remainder of the spring and summer months have plenty to offer visitors to our state’s wineries. Do you there’s a best time of year for wine tasting in Michigan?

A: We’ve had a fabulous time during April Wine Month this year, with so many exciting events to celebrate the contributions that the industry is making to our state’s economy and quality of life – festivals, winemaker dinners, new releases, media tours, etc.  It’s been a tremendous kick-off to the wine touring season.  But the fun never stops with Michigan wine!

Spring really is the ideal time to visit Michigan winery tasting rooms.  The wineries are not as crowded as in the summer and fall months, so visitors can have a more leisurely experience when they visit before mid-June. Michigan wineries welcome more than two million visitors to their tasting rooms each year.

Also in spring and early summer, the wineries are releasing their newly produced (mostly white) wines from the previous fall harvest. Red wines are usually left to age at least 6 months longer than whites.   Most winery tasting rooms are open year round, but some have limited hours in the winter months, so it’s a good idea to check hours before heading out to a winery destination.  

Q: If someone had never been wine tasting in Michigan before, where would you recommend they go first?

A: Comparing and contrasting a few small samples of different wines at any winery tasting room is the best way to start to learn about wine.

Wine appreciation can sometimes overwhelm the novice with jargon and descriptions that aren’t always readily obvious to those with limited tasting experience.  Winery staff know that many of the people visiting have never visited a tasting room before.  A skilled staff person will ask the guest questions about their likes and dislikes about wine as they guide the guest through a series of small samples designed to highlight the different characteristics of the wines produced by that winery.  You should let the tasting room staff know that it’s your first tasting experience and that you would appreciate lots of guidance. Don’t be afraid that the staff or other guests will embarrass you because you don’t know much about time. The staff are trained to ask you a series of questions that will help you learn more about your tastes in wine, so that you can more easily find wines you are likely to enjoy when you select wine at a restaurant or at a retailer, when you don’t always have the benefit of being able to “try before you buy”.   

Q: What makes Michigan wines unique?

A: Every wine producing region of the world produces wines that taste a little different from the wines of other regions because of the varieties of grapes grown there, the climate and soil of the region and the styles of wines that winemakers in that region enjoy producing.  It’s really the diversity of wines produced in Michigan that make the industry so interesting to experience. Over 50 varieties of grapes are grown in Michigan for wine production. The top eight grape varieties grown in Michigan for wine are Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc and Merlot.  

Because Michigan is located along the 45th parallel, the same latitude of many of the fine wine regions of Europe, Michigan wines are considered to be “cool-climate” wines.  These tend to be crisp, elegant wines that go better with foods than some of the heavier full-bodied, oak aged wines from warmer climates like California.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about Michigan wine or wineries?

A: I think people would be surprised about the many different styles of Riesling (Michigan’s most widely planted wine grape variety) wines produced in Michigan from very dry, to semi-dry, late harvest and dessert wines like Icewine.  Some wineries produce a sparkling wine (champagne) from Riesling.   

Q: What’s your favorite Michigan wine?

A: I enjoy many Michigan wines – there are so many now, I can’t possibly keep track of all of them!  And they change from year to year. I particularly enjoy the world class quality dry white wines that are produced by several wineries. For a special occasion, my “go-to” wine is usually a dry sparkling wine from Michigan. I find it fascinating to explore the year to year variation in the grapes used to produce the wine that comes through in the finished product. A Dry Riesling from one vineyard might taste quite different from a 2011 year to a 2012. The opportunity to learn more and develop a deeper understanding of wine never ends!  That’s one of the things that makes is so interesting to follow the Michigan wine industry.  The other aspect of the industry that I really enjoy is getting to know the people who own and operate the wineries and vineyards.  They are hardworking entrepreneurs with a passion for their craft and a long term vision for their business with a solid future here in Michigan.  The diversity of personalities in the industry is as diverse as the wines themselves. 

Q: Where can people go to learn more?

A: Visit our newly re-launched website at www.michiganwines.com for lots of great information and links to Michigan’s 100+ winery websites.  Attending the many festivals around the state is another great way to learn about wines and have an enjoyable time with friends and family. Michigan’s wine industry is contributing significantly to Michigan’s agricultural and tourism economies, with over $300 million annually in estimated economic impact.

Linda Jones is the Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council.  The Council is a program housed within the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.  She has a diverse background in Food Science, Marketing and Tourism, gained from experience in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada before moving to the great state of Michigan in 1997.

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?