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
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!
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.
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.