6 Michigan Wineries to Try this Season
Our neighbor to the north has more than 160 wineries. These picks showcase a mix of what’s being made in the Great Lakes State.
In the late 1600s, when French settlers foraged the wild grapes growing on the banks of Rivière du Détroit in what is now Michigan, wine was a do-it-yourself kind of thing.
Times certainly have changed. Now you’d be hard pressed to find wild grapes along the Detroit River, but then again, you don’t need to make your own anymore.
“Michigan has over 160 wineries with new businesses popping up all the time,” says Emily Dockery, executive director of the Michigan Wine Collaborative. “Since 1991, the number of wineries in Michigan has increased by 1,000%.”
Meander along the Lake Michigan shoreline where most of the state’s five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs for short), vineyards and wine trails can be found, or explore the growing number of wineries in the southeast.
St. Julian Winery & Distillery: Founded in 1921, St. Julian Winery & Distillery is the state’s long-running and largest winery. Its other firsts include opening Michigan’s first tasting room in 1959 and hiring Nancie Oxley, the first female winemaker in the state, in 2002.
“We have over 180 products ... wine, hard ciders, sparkling juices and spirits,” says Oxley, now vice president of winemaking. Twelve to 15 new wines and vintages are released each quarter for wine club members.
St. Julian consistently garners awards and their 2020 Braganini Reserve Mountain Road Estate Riesling scored Best of Show, Best of Class and Riesling Challenge Top Honors at the International East Meets West Wine Challenge in February 2022. In the same competition, St. Julian’s 2020 Winemaker Series Harvest Select gewürztraminer/riesling and Sweet Nancie, a sweet sparkling wine named after Oxley, won Best of Class medals.
The winery has six tasting rooms throughout the state including two in southeastern Michigan. Besides wine flights, wines and ciders by the glass, all locations feature wine slushies and cocktails made with the distillery’s spirits. 716 S. Kalamazoo St., Paw Paw, Michigan 49079, 269/657-5568, stjulian.com
Fenn Valley Vineyards: “We’re actually in two AVAs — Lake Michigan Shore and Fennville,” says Brian Lesperance, vice president of the family-owned winery that opened in 1973. “The Fennville AVA designation came about in 1981 and was the third in the nation.”
Encompassing 240 acres, including 100 acres planted in grapes, Fenn Valley is one of the few makers of ice wine, a sweet dessert libation made from grapes left to freeze on the vine at temperatures 20 degrees or lower and then gently pressed while still frozen.
Bestsellers are Capriccio, a big jammy unoaked dry red, and a classic Italian-style pinot grigio that’s fermented in stainless steel. Taking advantage of their acres of fruit trees, they produce hard ciders and fruit wines as well.
Besides charcuterie, Fenn Valley serves Neapolitan-style pizzas and tacos. Through the year they also feature food-and-wine-pairing dinners.
Fenn Valley offers tours of both their cellars and the vineyards (the latter weather permitting).
“We’re believers in education,” explains Lesperance. “It helps people understand what they’re drinking.” 6130 122nd Ave., Fennville, Michigan 49408, 269/561-2396, fennvalley.com
Black Fire Winery: Michael Wells was 16 when he decided to try his hand at winemaking. Though he lived with his parents in urban Detroit, the family had a large side yard where they grew vegetables and grapes.
“I picked all the grapes, turned them into a slush using a potato masher and poured the mixture into Coke bottles,” recalls Wells. “Then I put the bottles in the back of a closet where my dad hung his suits, shut the door, and forgot about them.”
Now, as the first Black winery and brewery owner in the state, as well as the first person to open a winery in Lenawee County, Wells produces a lineup that also includes hard ciders and craft beer. Black Fire Winery has a tasting room and offers nibbles as well. As for the name, Wells says most people think it’s because he’s Black and a retired fire lieutenant.
“But really, the name just came to me one day,” he says. 1261 E. Munger Rd., Tecumseh, Michigan 49286, 517/424-9232, blackfirewinery.com
Cherry Creek Cellars: If only school had been as fun as sampling wines in the tasting room inside Cherry Creek’s 1870 schoolhouse. Part of the landscape of the Irish Hills region of southeast Michigan, the winery bottles under two labels, says Janet Smoyer, cafe manager at Cherry Creek Cellars.
“Charamar is our premium wine, and among our most popular are the pinot noir and the gewürztraminer,” she says. “And Old Schoolhouse Red is a bestseller, as is our Montage, Summer Breeze and Cranberry Passion.”
Cherry Creek also offers hard ciders sourced from local apple orchards. Their wine grapes are grown in Michigan, including those harvested on their own 5 acres.
The menu at the cafe includes soups, salads and charcuterie. There are views of the lake and vineyards for those enjoying their wine outdoors.
“We have live entertainment on the weekends,” adds Smoyer. “It’s such a perfect place for enjoying the countryside and the wine.” 11500 Silver Lake Hwy., Brooklyn, Michigan 49230, 517/592-4663, cherrycreekwine.com
Mari Vineyards: “Our soils here are composed of sandy glacial loam, which give dynamic qualities to our wines and nurture even our most delicate grape varietals,” says Bonnie Hardin, sales and marketing coordinator of Mari Vineyards, noting that their wines are 100% estate grown and their farm implements many sustainable practices.
Blending past and present, winemaker Sean O’Keefe harkens back to ancient Georgian techniques to make Bestiary Ramato, one of Mari’s newest offerings. It’s a skin-fermented blend of pinot grigio, Malvasia Bianca, sauvignon blanc and Tocai Friulano. These are among the 24 grape varieties grown at Mari. To extend the growing season, they use Nella Serra (Italian for “in the greenhouse”) hoop houses designed to raise temperatures, so grapes ripen quickly, a necessity for their Italian varieties.
Innovation goes deep here, into an extensive cave system where wine is aged.
“The caves are 100% inspired by historic European caves,” says Hardin. “It’s just one of those things that people invented that work well, so why not do it?” 8175 Center Rd., Traverse City, Michigan 49686, 231/938-6116, marivineyards.com
Black Star Farms: Located on a side road just off scenic highway M-22, this isn’t the type of farm where grandma raised chickens. It’s an160-acre uber winery experience with an inn, vineyards, horse stables, a tasting room and a restaurant.
Owned by Kerm and Sallie Campbell, who spent years abroad with their children in Wales and Belgium, their European sensibilities are reflected in such products as Pear in the Bottle Brandy, created by inserting budding Bartlett pears into bottles tied to tree limbs. Once the pears are full grown, brandy is added and aged producing a 90-proof spirit and inspiring questions as to how they do it.
“We only make about 250 to 300 bottles a year as it’s labor intensive,” says their daughter and managing owner Sherri Campbell Fenton. “I think we’re the only people in the U.S. doing this. It’s a French thing.”
The inn offers a complete food menu including entrees. For more casual fare, there’s the cafe.
“Some guests never leave the property,” says Fenton. “Everything they want is here.” 10844 E. Revold Rd., Suttons Bay, Michigan 49682, 231/944-1300, blackstarfarms.com