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.

10 Traverse City Sights to Explore

Thousands of visitors will flock to Traverse City from June 29 to July 6 for the National Cherry Festival. There’s no end of things to do at the festival – but you should still take a little time to get out and see the rest of this beautiful town. Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau shares a few suggestions.

Hey, I LOVE the Cherry Festival! From the first window-rattling roar of the jets at the air show to the last float in the Cherry Royale Parade, I’m a big fan. But there are lots of must-see and must-do things in the Traverse City area, and you shouldn’t leave without checking out at least a few of these:

1. The Sleeping Bear Dunes
I never get tired of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a breathtaking 64-mile curve of beaches, coves, islands and dunes – some perched as high as 400 feet above the water. Its grandeur can be viewed from overlooks along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. But it’s even better to walk its beaches, hike its trails or even take a ferryboat ride to the unspoiled Manitou Islands.

2. The Grand Traverse Commons
Traverse City’s most distinctive architectural treasure is the sprawling Grand Traverse Commons, our former mental asylum, whose castle-like buildings are slowly being converted into a complex of apartments, shops, galleries, offices and restaurants. Great shopping, and the 480-acre wooded campus is a beautiful place for people to walk, run and bicycle.

3. Wine Country Touring
Traverse City may be the “Cherry Capital of the World,” but the same water-cradled slopes that make this a perfect place for fruit orchards are now producing some of the best wines in the country. The Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are dotted with vineyards and wineries — many in awe-inspiring hilltop settings that make them attractions in their own right.

4. The Interlochen Center for the Arts
In a secluded forest setting (about 20 minutes from downtown Traverse City) Interlochen is a magnet for lovers of music, drama and dance. Over 200,000 people visit each year. Come for a show, or simply for a stroll around the campus.

5. Beaches
You can’t go to TC without spending some time at the beach! On West Grand Traverse Bay, try Clinch Park, West End, and Bryant Park (a particularly good spot to catch the 4th of July fireworks). The entire southern shore of East Bay is one long beach of fine sugar sand, and it’s shallow enough for little ones. Check out the Traverse City State Park near Three Mile Road.

6. Slabtown
In the 19th century, Bohemian immigrants came to work in Traverse City’s waterfront sawmills. They built their homes with slabs of scrap lumber from the mills, so their neighborhood came to be known as Slabtown. Many of their cottages are still standing – and so are two great bars: Sleder’s Family Tavern, and the Little Bohemia Pub & Grill. Both places still preserve the feel of an earlier, more authentic Traverse City.

7. Tall Ship Sailing
Traverse City’s has more of these stately sailing vessels than any other port on the Great Lakes. Taste the exhilaration of the Days of Sail is to take a two-hour cruise aboard the 114-foot Tall Ship Manitou, a replica of a 19th-century schooner, or on the Nauti-Cat, the largest commercial sailing catamaran on the Great Lakes.

8. Lighthouses
At the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum near Northport, visitors can see how lighthouse keepers and their families lived in the early 1920s. One of the oldest lighthouses on the Great Lakes, it has been in service for over 150 years. The smaller Mission Point Lighthouse at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, is another scenic treasure.

9. Shopping
Traverse City is a shopper’s paradise. I love our shady, pedestrian-friendly downtown, with its scores of fascinating boutiques, restaurants and galleries, and lots of places to sit and relax. Nearby are picturesque lakeport towns like Leland, Glen Arbor, Elk Rapids and Northport — filled with hidden byways, cozy cottages, quaint shops and stunning galleries.

10. Fresh Food
This time of year, fresh fruits and vegetables – including cherries! – can be found almost everywhere around Traverse City. The community has lots of farmers markets, roadside stands, and U-pick orchards where you can enjoy picking your own fruit. It tastes so much better that way!

What would you add to the list? Visit michigan.org to learn about more things to do and see in the Traverse City area.

Mike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations director at the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

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.