If you ask metro Detroit resident Jenny Pike which Michigan wineries she likes, she has a tough time narrowing them down.
“I can’t even think of any [wineries] that we don’t like to go to,” she says.
Pike, along with her husband, Dennis, and teacup schnauzer, Clare, is a Michigan wine superfan. The trio, who have a condo in Traverse City, spend many an afternoon cruising from one tasting room to the next, soaking up the information they learn along the way.
Here, Michigan Wine Country caught up with Pike to discuss what she loves about our state’s wine scene, one of her most memorable tasting experiences, and her recommendations for wineries to visit.
This interview has been edited for length.
What do you like about Michigan’s wine scene?
We love going to the wineries, first of all, and learning about the wines. The second thing is we love the people that work in the wineries. We love to chat with them; they’re all very friendly. We take our dog with us, and she’s a big part of going to the wineries, too. We have to spell it around her: “w-i-n-e-r-y.” Otherwise, she runs to the door and she’s ready to go. I don’t know that the people at the wineries enjoy seeing us, but they certainly enjoy seeing our dog. And then of course the wines themselves. I’m not a sommelier or anything, but to me, Michigan wines are real distinctive in their flavors, especially the reds. They’re not like what you would get at the grocery store — a California wine or anything. They’re pretty distinctive in how they taste, and we really enjoy them.
Have you had any particularly memorable experiences while visiting any of Michigan’s wineries?
This has been a few years ago, because our kids are in their 30s now, but when they first turned 21, we were out at Bowers Harbor, and one of the folks there was doing a vertical wine tasting. My kids, of course, weren’t drinkers yet; they had just turned 21 and 22. So we went there, and he did a vertical tasting with them of one of their wines over four years and sat and talked to them about what made the wines taste differently. Like, you could get a Riesling in 2020 and it would taste this way, and the next year, because of the climate and the weather and the dryness, it would taste totally different. So just because you like the Riesling one year because of one particular taste, it may change totally in the next year or two. So it’s always good to go back, retaste things that maybe you did or didn’t like, and see if they change. My kids have talked about that a lot ever since that time. They really got a lot out of that education, so that stands out in my mind.
Have you tried any unusual Michigan wines?
I had one that was at Good Harbor (we love them; we’re club members there). It was a Marquette red, and it had almost a smoky flavor. I don’t know how else to describe it; it was like it was smoked. That was really different. If you have it with barbecue — if you have a steak or pulled pork or something like that — it would be good with that.
Do you have any tips or recommendations for other people interested in going wine tasting at Michigan wineries?
First of all, only do one peninsula. Don’t try to do both [Old Mission and Leelanau]. You’d have to have two days to try to get to both peninsulas, and then you’re only going to try a few on each. Know what you’re wanting to taste; if you like reds or you only like reds or you only like whites, then try to find the ones that fit you in that regard. And don’t try too many, of course. Pick one or two wineries, maybe three if you’re just doing a real light tasting, but any more than that and they’re all going to taste the same and make you miserable the next day.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Have fun with it. It’s an education, but it’s also just fun, and do try some of the things that you think you might not like because you might be surprised you like it.
And finally, here are some of Pike’s recommendations for wineries to visit in the Traverse City and Leelanau areas:
Mari Vineyards: “It is really the best of all worlds. They have, hands down, the best reds in the Traverse City area. Plus, the view — amazing. We love Andy [Jacobson, the tasting room operations manager,] and his staff. They are wonderful.”
French Valley Vineyard: “Julie [Lopata, the tasting room and special events manager,] and Robert [Walters, the facilities manager,] and all of the staff will make your tasting experience memorable. They have the best charcuterie boards and amazing salsa and guacamole, and their reds are also wonderful. They make you feel special every time you go.”
Chateau Fontaine: “All [the] wines [here] are wonderful. I love their gift shop (I have purchased many Christmas gifts there!), and … their staff is amazing. They [also] … offer free tastings!”
Dune Bird Winery: “This is the newest winery in the region (the old Gill’s Pier). I think they have the best Riesling in the area, but my husband loves their Pinot Grigio — and we are red drinkers! Plus, the amazing story of the owners. The husband [Bo White] is a true war hero, and the wife, Nicole, is so lovely. [The] food is amazing, but so is the wine.”
Good Harbor Vineyards: “Another winery where literally everything is good! [The] owner and workers are so pleasant. [It’s] great to go and relax outside or inside with a glass and enjoy.”
Brengman Brothers: “Another winery where everything is good. Plus, the owner Robert loves to educate you on growing methods and the history of their wine. Lauren, Delaney, and all of the other staff make you feel welcome. The wonderful food offerings and music nights are a bonus, plus their oyster tasting socials. [This is] maybe the best-kept secret on the wine trail.”
Bowers Harbor Vineyards: “A kindred spirit for dog [lovers], this winery has great whites and reds. Members get a free glass of wine every time [they] visit. [The] staff is great and love to educate you on their wines.”