Text: R. Collins
For decades, Michigan has been generating a name for itself as a premier wine-making destination within the Midwest and broader United States, with about 208 wineries dotting its landscapes by 2017, according to the Michigan Craft Beverage Council. In Michigan, wine making constitutes an approximately $2.1 billion industry that spreads along the eastern coast of Lake Michigan, where the state’s piece of the famed 45th parallel lies, and beyond.
Northwestern areas like the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas have long held credibility and recognition as Michigan’s “wine country,” where traditional and innovative methods of wine making are constantly being cultivated and practiced.
However, the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail to the south has also gained momentum as a prominent destination of its own, and Michigan’s largest American Viticultural Area, or AVA, which extends from Fennville in the north to St. Joseph and Kalamazoo, before bending south to the Michigan and Indiana border.
Its location also reaps the benefits of Michigan’s dynamic four seasons; the warmth of lake waters to the west and protective frosting of lake effect snow can create unique late bud bursts in the spring and growing seasons that roll well into the fall, with opportunities to nurture tender budded grape varieties in the winter.
In this issue of The Golf Explorer: Michigan’s Journal to Incredible Golf, we decided to take a closer look at the wineries and vineyards—and their savory offerings—that stud the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, as well as the Old Mission Peninsula’s mainstays—and some newer additions—to the north.
Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail
Fenn Valley Vineyards
Winery: 6130 122nd Avenue, Fennville, MI 49408
Downtown Saugatuck Tasting Room: 310 Butler Street, Saugatuck, MI 49453
Located five miles from Lake Michigan and just south of Holland, the 240-acre Fenn Valley Estate in Fennville, Michigan has been producing world-class wines from the lakeshore’s bounty of grapes vines since 1973, when its family-owned-and-operated vineyard and winery complex was established.
Fenn Valley’s 90 acres of vineyard land were originally fitted with grape varieties like vidal, chancellor, and vignoles, which were later joined by vinifera varieties like riesling and chardonnay in the 1970s, and pinot noir and pinot gris soon after.
The winery utilizes the lake effect cast by Lake Michigan into the state’s western regions, producing cold tender grapes and other varietals with the help of the moderate climate and the vineyard’s naturally sandy, sloping terrain. From these conditions, the winery creates crisp, well-balanced white and sparkling wines, as well as canned ciders and fruit wines made from regional staples like cherries, blueberries, and even peaches and raspberries under the right conditions.
Though the same climate can create a trickier environment for producing high quality red wines, Michigan has proven its ability to produce delicious, award winning options time after time. Fenn Valley’s varieties are no exception; nearly 40 years of experience and the unique lakeside location result in reds like the modest, crisp merlot with chocolate and dark fruit undertones, or the pleasantly dry meritage blend.
Also to the north: Cogdal Vineyards – 7143 107th Ave, South Haven, MI 49090
White Pine Winery
317 State Street, St. Joseph, MI.
Located central on the trail, in the port town of St. Joseph, White Pine Winery is known for producing aromatic whites such as riesling and pinot gris, and fruit-driven reds like merlot and syrah.
White Pine Founder and Michigan Wine Collaborative President Dr. Dave Miller, whose educational tenure in the wine industry includes 12 years on Michigan State University’s research winery production team, credits the uniqueness of White Pine wines to Michigan’s unique soils and climate, as well as a traditionally-driven, hands-on approach to wine making in some instances.
“I use Old World wine making techniques, which include a lot of hands-on work like stirring lees in barrels, barrel aging of red and some white wines, and so on. The extra work shows in the texture and complexity of the wines,” Miller said.
For new White Pine visitors looking to gather an idea of its offerings and approach to the art of wine making, Miller recommends two of the winery’s original flagship wines: the Reserve Riesling—made in the style of a German kabinett—and the Bordeaux-style Serendipity red blend.
With just a 10 percent alcohol content thanks to a prematurely halted fermentation process, the riesling’s leftover trace of natural sugars balances its acidity and touches lightly on the palate. As for the Serendipity, 12 months of French oak barrel aging yield complex flavors, aromas and tannins for structure according to Miller, who noted that its shelf life—easily 10 years—is as promising as a fresh pour.
Another unique aspect of White Pine’s wine production is its focus on sustainable practices. No synthetic fertilizers are used in the vinicultural process, and a canopy management system opens fruit to more sun exposure, enabling an even and complete ripening. A love of the land also drives the sustainable effort; from composting and reutilizing winery waste water, to utilizing weed growth as a natural snow fence in the winter and vine growth pacer in the summer.
“We love being part of the local agricultural community and sharing with our customers our love of our land,” Miller said.
Also central on the trail: 12 Corners Vineyards – 1201 N. Benton Center Road, Benton Harbor MI 49022
Lawton Ridge Winery
8456 Stadium Dr, Kalamazoo, MI 49009
The location for Lawton Ridge Winery’s production, tasting room, lab, and private tasting and class space is as notable as the red and white wine varieties it produces. The 4,400-square-foot facility, located in the heart of Kalamazoo, Michigan is a converted 1930s diner built on the roadway that once served as the main highway between Detroit and Chicago. It is also one of the few wineries in the area, making it an equally rare stop on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
The winery’s formation is also rooted in its location, which neighbors Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University. A handful of WMU graduates established the vineyard in the early 1970s on a former peach orchard near Lawton, Michigan, which was rich in high grounds, and soon became home to varietals like chambourcin and pinot grigio. The vineyard’s harvests appeared in its first commercial vintage in 2007 and its first in-house vintage in 2008, as well as in some of St. Julian’s wines nearby in Paw Paw, Michigan.
As for recent selections, reds like Azo Red, a supple semi-dry wine with hints of black raspberry, and the Two-Handed Red, a dry blend with a peppery finish, have garnered several awards regionally and internationally, including the Indy International Wine Competition and the Michigan Wine Competition. Since Lawton Ridge distributes wines in select regional locations, an in-house visit makes for a special trip along the continually developing wine trail.
Also to the east: Warner Vineyards Tasting Room – 19 N Whittaker St, New Buffalo, MI 49117
Lemon Creek Winery
Berrien Springs Winery:
533 East Lemon Creek Road, Berrien Springs, MI 49103
Grand Haven Tasting Room:
327 North Beacon Blvd., Grand Haven MI, 49417
Lemon Creek Winery’s roots can be traced back to 1834 when the Lemon family first arrived in Berrien Springs, and they are distinguished by more-than-a-century of grape- and fruit-growing experience. According to the winery, the land hosted the first commercial planting of sauvignon blanc in the state of Michigan, and the winery continues the tradition with a sauvignon blanc ice wine edition.
A summery semi-sweet like the Silver Beach Sauterne with its ripe pineapple, honey, and peach flavors marks the sweeter offerings of Lemon Creek’s diversified collection, while reds like the 2017 Meritage packs six red wine grape varietals into a concentrated meritage to round out drier offerings.
The family farms encompass more than 300 acres of loamy, rolling vineyards and orchards, with approximately 170 acres of grapes for wine and 60 acres of fruit varieties, which are either pre-picked or can be picked by guests. Apart from interactive seasonal picking, the winery also offers home winemaker events, wine festivals, wine tastings, culinary events, and fruit-season farmer’s markets to connect with visitors and create a distinctive wine trail getaway.
Also to the south: Hickory Creek Winery – 750 Browntown Road, Buchanan, MI 49107
Old Mission Peninsula
2 Lads Winery
16985 Smokey Hollow Road, Traverse City, MI 49686
Sustainable farming and a specialization in cool climate red wines, sparkling wines, and small-run white wines distinguish 2 Lads Winery’s 58 acres on the Old Mission peninsula. Also unique is the multi-level, 10,500-square-foot production facility itself, which houses gravity flow and gentle handling systems to save energy while processing juice and wine to yield preserved natural aromatics and develop complexity.
Accessible red blends like the 2018 Rola Red and mature picks like the acclaimed 2016 Cabernet Franc mark the winery’s red spectrum, while a collection of four white wines—plus a rosé—brings lighter offerings to the banquet. The tasting experience is deepened by 90-minute tasting tours—and curated small bites—that are available to visitors interested in learning about the winemaking process from vine to bottle.
Also to the north: Chateau Chantal – 15900 Rue Devin, Traverse City, MI 49686
14916 Peninsula Drive, Traverse City, Michigan 49686, United States
Tabone Vineyard’s focus on bright, dry, fruit-forward, small-batch wines is evidenced on its 30-acre Old Mission Peninsula site, where grape varieties like pinot gris, riesling, and chardonnay grow alongside apples, peaches, and cherries.
From the bottle, dry, sweet, and semi-sweet wines alike have been acclaimed by both regional and international wine competitions, marking the winery’s stance in the regional market since its establishment, which was pre-dated by nearly two decades of grape-growing experience in the area.
The 2014 Estate Reisling was part of Tabone’s first commercial production—which was limited to just 74 cases—and it received a gold medal at the Indy International Wine Competition in 2019. Additionally, the crisp and lightly tropical, 100 percent estate grown 2017 Semi-Sweet Pinot Gris won double golf from the Tasters Guild International Wine Judging competition in 2019.
Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery
3309 Blue Water Road, Traverse City, MI 49686
On a 91-acre site—once a cherry orchard—the vines on Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery’s property have quadrupled in number since the estate’s first planting of vinifera grapes in 2001. The vines produce varietals for a 2016 Artisan Merlot and 2017 Artisan Dry Riesling, both packed with rich fruit flavors, from plum and fig jam, to white peach and apricot, respectively.
In 2017, the estate also released its Signature Red Reserve, a full-bodied red wine softly underscored by flavors like coffee beans, vanilla, licorice, and chocolate, alongside the distinctive qualities of aged French Oak. The flowering flavors in Brys Estate’s wines are mirrored in its Secret Garden and garden shop, where more than 6,000 lavender plants flourish amongst strawberry and blueberry patches, and a fresh flower and herb garden.
The estate further tailors its tastes to season, offering timely favorites like pinot noir or riesling rosé and spiked hot apple cider, alongside a seasonal upper deck offering elevated views of East Grand Traverse Bay and the sprawling vineyard at its threshold.
Also central: Bowers Harbor Vineyards – 2896 Bowers Harbor Rd, Traverse City, MI 49686
8175 Center Rd. Traverse City, MI 49686
In 2006, an initial cross-planting within Mari Vineyard’s mysterious first seven vine rows led to its first vintage called Row 7 which, quite appropriately, had a unique flavor of its own.
“This is a field blend made from our very first plot of grapes planted in 1999,” said Jenna Viega, marketing and events manager at Mari Vineyards. “The grapes were haphazardly planted by a well-intentioned mistake, and ended up making our most popular wine.”
Building on the success of Row 7, the vineyards now house more than 60 acres holding approximately 20 grape varieties, from petit verdot and refosco to syrah and chardonnay.
“Additionally, I would highly recommend trying our rieslings,” Viega said. “Our winemaker, Sean O’Keefe, studied in Germany. He’s known for creating true ‘acid bomb’ rieslings, comparable to those of the Rhine region in Germany.”
Mari’s commitment to raising the profile of Michigan’s red wine offerings is also paired with a commitment to sustainability, which includes a 31,000-square-foot carbon-neutral building. Production also includes a hoop house system used by about 10 percent of the vineyard to raise grapes to an unprecedented maturity level, creating flavorful, full bodied red wines, Viega explained. In addition to its range of award-winning reds, an exciting new project will yield a new product in Mari’s diversified portfolio.
“We are embarking on a big cider experiment, where we will release a rotating stock of apple ciders, some even made using pressed grape skins from the 2019 harvest,” Viega said. “We will also see new reds released as well as the return of some old favorites.”
Also to the south: Black Star Farms – 360 McKinley Rd E, Traverse City, MI 49686
Complement a trip along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail with this collection of golf courses, or the Four Winds Casino Resort in New Buffalo.
Lake Michigan Hills Golf Club
2520 Kerlikowske Rd
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
201 Graham Ave
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
Ravines Golf Club
3520 Palmer Dr
Saugatuck, MI 49453
Whittaker Woods Golf Club
12578 Wilson Rd
New Buffalo, MI 49117
Four Winds Casino Resort
11111 Wilson Rd
New Buffalo, MI 49117