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?

Spring in Traverse City: My Secret Season

After 30 years as a resident of Traverse City, writer Mike Norton has come to love all four seasons of the year in his adopted home. He freely admits that it took some time before he could properly appreciate the subtle beauty of a Northern Michigan spring—but now he’s an enthusiastic fan.

I may be one of the few people who arrived in Traverse City without having much of an idea how popular this place was in the summer months. I know better now.

But somehow it’s the other seasons of the year that have become especially precious to me  over the years, precisely because they’re not as well-publicized as summertime. That’s especially true of spring, which may be the loveliest time of year in the Traverse City area. Spring in these latitudes isn’t for sissies — it can be devilishly hard to predict when it will arrive or how long it will last. But I’ve lived through spring in a lot of nice places, and a proper Traverse City springtime is really just as good as it gets.

The summer crowds and heat haven’t arrived yet, and everyone seems to be wearing a mellow glow. I don’t know if it’s friendliness, or just gratitude that winter is finally over, but they seem genuinely glad to see you. People will stand in line for an hour to get a sundae at Bardon’s Wonder Freeze, the town’s iconic ice cream stand, mainly because they’re so busy chatting and getting reacquainted with each other that they don’t realize how long they’re standing there. 

I’m an incurable pedestrian, so most of my favorite experiences involve walking – and spring walks here are a feast, whether I’m ambling down a long deserted stretch of beach searching for Petoskey stones or hunting for morel mushrooms in a sun-dappled forest, listening to sudden bursts of birdsong from the branches overhead. 

Of course, there’s a lot of other stuff to do around here in spring.  It’s just that the season seems to bring a different kind of traveler to this land of dunes, lakes and forests. They’re looking for something special — a quiet retreat from the humdrum, a village shopping adventure, or a tasting tour of the beautiful wine country of the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. (And it doesn’t hurt that in spring the enchantment of Traverse City is available at very reasonable prices.)

Here’s a little tip: between now and May 17, the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau is offering a special “Traverse City Escape” package that combines special rates at participating hotels and resorts with great deals at some of the area’s best restaurants and special discounts on shopping, spa services, movies, wine tastings and other entertainment.

So what would I recommend to my visiting friends? Well, on a single morning, you could enjoy one of the best meals you’ve ever had, amble through the shops and stores of a friendly, tree-shaded lakeport village like Suttons Bay or Elk Rapids, or cast your line into one of America’s most famous trout streams. You could paddle the shores of a forest lake, search for delectable morel mushrooms on the wooded hillsides, or just take a drive through the most gorgeous displays of spring wildflowers you’ll see anywhere.

With more than 150 inland lakes and hundreds of miles of Lake Michigan shoreline — including the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, voted “Most Beautiful Place in America” last fall by viewers of Good Morning America –Traverse City offers almost limitless opportunities for boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. (And although the water’s still a little chilly for swimming, I’m constantly surprised how many good sunbathing days there can be in a Traverse City spring!)

Surrounding Traverse City are deep, fragrant forests crisscrossed with trails for hikers, horseback riders and cyclists, and more than 20 golf courses with some of the most striking configurations ever designed. This is Michigan’s “Golf Coast,” an area Golf Digest named #12 on its list of the World’s Top 50 Golf Destinations.

Even the farms here are surrounded by incredible scenery. Long known as the cherry capital of the world, Traverse City is also an increasingly famous wine-producing region, with over 30 wineries and tasting rooms offering tours and tastings of their award-winning vintages, and its many restaurants are creating a national reputation for their fresh, innovative regional cuisine. And spring is an excellent time to enjoy some of it before everybody else arrives!

Mike Norton, a native of Grand Rapids, spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. An avid hiker and an enthusiastic (if rarely successful) mushroom-hunter, he lives in the village of Old Mission.