Ask the Locals

When you’re on a wine tasting trip across Michigan and wondering where else residents go for fun, asking the tasting room staff is a great place to start. Here, we’ve done the homework for you.
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St. Julian Winery in Paw Paw. Photo courtesy of St. Julian Winery

Southwest
A trip to the state’s oldest winery can be a vacation in itself. At St. Julian Winery, owned and operated by the same family for a century, you can enjoy wine made from 50 varieties of grapes at its flagship Paw Paw location and sample cider, spirits, and sparkling grape juice, too.

But when visitors want to round out the experience, winery President John Braganini suggests a meal of Eggplant Parmesan al Forno or a classic alfredo at nearby La Cantina. The Italian restaurant was founded back in 1936 and even hosted his parents’ wedding reception.

Braganini also recommends that visitors head to world-class museums such as the Smithsonian-affiliated Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum and the Gilmore Car Museum. One offers full-motion flight simulators, the other the chance to drive an authentic Model T.

Northwest
The images on her bottles — drawn from landscape photos of regional scenery — can make a perfect travel guide for vacation outings anywhere near Lissa Edwards’ Glen Arbor Wines, part of the walkable Glen Arbor Village Wine Trail. The longtime magazine writer and editor didn’t pick these images randomly; she’s done her share of exploring within the local Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There’s Lake Michigan Overlook No. 9 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (inspiration for her blanc de blanc) or historical Port Oneida (depicted on Farmstead red) along the multiuse Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

Flowers at Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. Photo courtesy of Brys Estate

Nearby on the Old Mission Peninsula, Patrick Brys, president and CEO of Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, notes that many wineries are becoming destinations in themselves. His offers a lawn bar, tours and treats in the winery’s gardens, and progressive tastings through the vines by stretch golf cart. But he also loves directing guests to the tip of the peninsula and the lighthouse park and hidden beaches located on the 45th parallel — a latitude line on which wine grapes are grown around the world.

And in the Petoskey Wine Region, you’ll find Walloon Lake Winery in the heart of Hemingway country. Tasting room manager Bernadette Masterson likes sending people into the village of Walloon Lake, where there’s a new waterfront statue in honor of the author who spent his childhood vacations there. Local Barrel Back Restaurant is one of her favorites because of the meats smoked in-house and the wall of glass overlooking the lake, and she recommends the Walloon Lake Inn for its fresh fish and truffle fries. The nearby Boyne City Farmers Market is a must, too, she says, for the tastings of local wines you can find among the produce.

Northeast
In Alpena, on the state’s sunrise side, Thunder Bay Winery’s tasting room is right downtown, and after guests enjoy their tasting, co-owner Janis Sahr loves to send them to the adjacent Fresh Palate restaurant, where the focus is on local ingredients (and her wine).

A diver in Lake Huron surveys the shipwreck of the schooner Lucinda Van Valkenburg, sunk in a collision in 1887. Photo courtesy of the NOAA, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

But Alpena also has attractions found nowhere else in the world. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the visitor center of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has more than 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. Sahr recommends rounding out a visit there with a shipwreck tour on a glass-bottomed boat (offered through the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary). Lake Huron has 200-plus shipwrecks, and they are some of the best preserved in the world, thanks to the cold fresh water. “It’s very unique to our area,” Sahr says.

South/Southeast
While all Michigan wineries showcase the state’s unique — and varied — terroir, Detroit Vineyards also emphasizes its manufacturing heritage inside a former Stroh’s factory that once made ice cream. City history tours are particularly apropos since city founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac planted a vineyard in Detroit back in 1702 — one inspiration for the winery’s co-founder Claes Fornell. Organizations that host city tours include The Black Scroll Network History & Tours, founded by the city of Detroit’s official historian, Jamon Jordan; the Detroit Historical Society; and Preservation Detroit. Detroit Vineyards’ winemaker and general manager, Chris Southern, also loves sending people to check out the murals (and famed Supino Pizzeria) of Eastern Market, which are within walking distance of the winery.

Colorful warehouses in Detroit’s Eastern Market. Photo by Peeter Viisimaa/iStock

Since ice cream goes with everything — including a day of wine tasting — the owners of Lansing-area Burgdorf’s Winery send guests to the Michigan State University Dairy Store for ice cream made on-site, ideal for eating on a stroll at the nearby Horticulture Gardens. Winemaker Deb Burgdorf sends beer aficionados to Old Nation Brewery in Williamston and bourbon lovers to Red Cedar Spirits. For more family-oriented fun, visiting the Potter Park Zoo is a must.

Upper Peninsula
And for an experience that’s wild by the best definition of the term, wine lovers will want to head to Michigan’s far western border. Menominee’s Yooper Winery carries the fun, award-winning Yooper Stooper as well as a plum wine that pairs well with Asian takeout and many other vino options. The region is also a prime white-water rafting destination; the river boasts class III and IV rapids and numerous rafting outfitters.

The Menominee North Pier lighthouse. Photo by Melissa Kopka/iStock

For quieter pursuits, Yooper Winery’s vintner and owner, John Lucas, recommends strolling to the Menominee lighthouse or through downtown’s John Henes Park, notable for its Green Bay shoreline and its wildlife, including whitetail deer.

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