11 Unique Wine Experiences You Can Find at Michigan Wineries
Tour Michigan's many wineries and vineyards and you'll quickly agree with those who describe wine as not simply a drink, but as an experience. New patios overlook vineyard panoramas, gourmet food plates pair with each winery's vintage bests, and wineries and their vines have become entertainment centers boasting live music, dinners, in-vines yoga and even grape-decked trails for cycling. Try one of these experiences and see that vineyard visits are still great for sampling—but also, now, for a whole lot more.
1. Bike Along a Wine Trail
Get a rental from Grand Traverse Bike Tours, and from the Suttons Bay front door, you can cycle a flat, safe wooded trail to eight or 10 wineries. Pick from a self-guided tour, and they'll map out your route and pick up your purchases, saving the need to haul clinking bottles in the saddlebag. There are guided options too, and other spots like 45 North that welcome fat tire bikes on trails that connect vineyards and keep repair tools handy—just in case. Country roads around Baroda, in the state's southwest corner, are also popular for cycling to wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
2. Plan a Winery Tour via Shuttle
Think glam hayride, and you've got the Fruitful Vine Winery Tours’ Wine-o-Wagon. Book the cushy, roofed deck on wheels, hauled by a tractor, and you'll be conveniently transported between tastings to a selection of Southwest Michigan wineries and getting a countryside tour—fresh air included—en route. If an open air shuttle doesn’t interest you, the company also offers a clean and comfortable 14 passenger "Vino Coach."
3. Book a Winery Sleep Over
Book one of the winery inns along the Traverse Wine Coast, and you'll get the chance to play wine chateau owner—and not just that. The plush rooms and suites at Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn and the Inn at Black Star Farms come with private tastings or receptions, gourmet breakfasts and cozy nooks with fireplaces in common areas. The Inn at Chateau Grand Traverse has views and breakfast too, and you get a complimentary bottle of wine with each night's stay.
4. Attend a Wine Festival
When you don't have time to travel the whole state to sample, festivals like the Michigan Wine and Cider Festival at Detroit's Eastern Market are the way to go. There, you can sample the best vintages from 44 wineries and cideries and also explore the shops, murals, restaurants and fresh foods at a city centerpiece with more than 150 years of history. The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival brings “wine and tunes to the dunes” in a don't-miss festival held in stunning Warren Dunes State Park. The Wine on the Water Festival also combines the sampling of award-winning wines with a shoreline setting, in this case, the charming lakeside town of Suttons Bay.
5. Travel a Wine Trail
Wineries across the state have joined together in easy-to-navigate vineyard groupings. They offer maps, making it easy to visit them in succession, and they also join together for regular events. On the Pioneer Wine Trail, that might mean their “Art on the Trail” pairing of food, wine and the work of a showcased poet, sculptor, musician or writer.
The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula offer an event that pairs wine with creative variations of macaroni and cheese, and its Blossom Days serves up barrel tastings of new vintages in front of orchards in bloom.
On the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, some events pair wine with the expected gourmet samplings, while others like Sips and Chips, offer what you really want to know: What wine goes with my chips and dip or buttery popcorn?!
6. Pair Wine with Live Music
There's scientific evidence that music can affect the taste of a given varietal of wine, something that's been explored on sensory tasting experiences at Michigan wineries. But whether jazz pairs best with red, or white with a singer-songwriter, know that live music on a vineyard patio—something you'll find in all the wine regions of the state—makes everything better.
Experiment with pours to the backdrop of the live Celtic tunes frequently booked at Rove Estate Vineyard & Tasting Room, perched on one of the highest points in the Traverse City area, or Dablon Winery and Vineyard in Baroda, where you'll find regular performances of rock, blues and acoustic guitar. Or join in the fun at karaoke night at Resort Pike Winery and Cidery in Petoskey or the occasional Saturday night Cellar Dance at Fenn Valley Vineyards and Wine Cellar in Fennville.
7. Relax at a City Wine Bar
You can sample a region's worth of wines—in some cases some of the best vintages from around the world—at the state's classic wine bars and their cozy date night settings. Grape Beginnings at Main Street in Midland pairs wines with gourmet offerings like gorgonzola honey bruschetta.
Some wineries offer tasting room branches conveniently in walkable towns, the way St. Julian Winery does in Frankenmuth, and spots like Grand Rapids' popular bar Divani and Reserve Food and Wine curate wine from around the world. Ann Arbor's Vinology Wine Bar and Restaurant does, too, and is notable for the wine education wrapped into its service and setting; a representation of vineyard soil from wine growing regions around the world is worked into the wall décor. And if you want a taste of the state's wine trails in metro Detroit, the Michigan by the Bottle Tasting Room offers some of the best.
8. Dine in the Vines
You can't get much closer to the source of your wine than you will during specialty dinners in the vines, offered at spots like Bowers Harbor Vineyard in Traverse City which teams with chefs at The Boathouse Restaurant for its popular Dining in the Vines event featuring lobster boils, steaks and barbecues paired with specialty Michigan wines.
45 North in Lake Leelanau offers leisurely multi-course meals in its vineyard, too. The Crane Cafe at Jackson's Sandhill Crane Vineyards ensures you always have available bites with your sips, Black Star Farms runs a popular harvest dinner series; and Fenn Valley Vineyards and Wine Cellar in Fennville is also known for its winemaker lunches and dinners and small plate offerings you can buy to picnic in the vines.
9. Take a Cooking Class
Chateau Chantal on Michigan's Old Mission Peninsula has been called a retreat for gourmets who seek a food and wine holiday, in part because of its weekly hands-on gourmet cooking classes taught by visiting chef educators. Round out the trip by sampling some of Traverse City's growing culinary offerings.
10. Find Surprising Surroundings
Michigan winery tasting rooms sometimes resemble classic French chateaus, but more often you're surprised—say when your tasting room is atop a landing strip, as it is at Jackson's Chateau Aeronautique Winery, where the bottle logos are an open cockpit biplane. Left Foot Charley serves its award-winning wines in a former laundry room at the one-time Northern Michigan Asylum in Traverse City. There, the architecture of buttery brick walls and castle-style turrets has been repurposed into the Grand Traverse Commons' lofts, boutiques, restaurants and the city's only urban winery. There's a royal setting too at Kalamazoo's Henderson Castle Bed & Breakfast and Winery with its Bordeaux-style wine cave and offerings that pair architectural tours with wine tasting flights and a cheese plate for two.
11. Have a Wine Workout
Wine tasting isn't exactly a sport, but increasingly, you can combine it with one. Vineyards may be the hottest new setting for competitive sports, perhaps for the lure of the after party. Join the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail's Harvest Stompede, where competitive athletes can compete in the run across autumn vineyards, or take the non-competitive walking route. Both end with a self-guided wine tour. “Running Between the Vines,” offers routes of several lengths that traverses shady back roads near Sandhill Crane Vineyards and ends with a finish party of wine and culinary treats from Zingerman's Creamery and Mindo Chocolate Makers. Or try the Vine Wine'd 10K, 5K, or 1 Mile RunWalk through Southwest Michigan vineyards and end in a post-race cookout.