Michigan Wineries’ ‘Best-Kept Secret’

Winter is a wonderful time to visit a tasting room
Fireplaces offer a spot to cozy up after a day of snowshoeing at Chateau Chantal. Photo by Kyle Brownley for Chateau Chantal

Winter is an underrated time to visit a Michigan winery. In fact, “the winter is our best-kept secret,” says Brian Lillie, director of hospitality operations and distribution at Chateau Chantal on the Old Mission Peninsula.

The cold-weather months come with special seasonal offerings, less hectic crowds, and plenty of events. Here, Michigan winery reps share why this is a great time of year to come visit their tasting rooms.

Seasonal Offerings
The changing of the seasons gives wineries a chance to lean into the cold and experiment with ever-changing local produce.

Food served at Gilchrist Farm Winery is made with local, seasonal ingredients. Photo courtesy of Gilchrist Farm Winery

“At Gilchrist Farm, we love wintertime,” says Business Manager George Brittain. “The change of pace and excitement of the holidays brings time to be creative with food and wine offerings.” The Suttons Bay winery opened its doors a few months ago and takes a farm-to-table approach to wine pairings.

“For us, this is a time of research and development,” Brittain says. “Visitors will see seasonal cocktails made with house-made shrubs, a fruit-based syrup that takes months to prepare. We’re making hearty dishes based on local winter produce — think homemade pasta with parsnip sauce or braised short ribs. We’re sipping mulled wine all winter paired with baked brie.”

Undivided Attention
Visiting a winery in the wintertime also offers a more intimate experience. “One of the nicest things about visiting a Michigan winery in the winter is the one-on-one conversations that occur easily between our guests and our tasting room staff and winemakers,” says Sarah Peschel, director of marketing for Bel Lago on the Leelanau Peninsula. “During our summer and fall months, our tasting rooms are packed. While we strive to give our guests the utmost care and attention, those lengthier, more connecting conversations are harder to come by. We love this time of year to get to know our clientele on a deeper, less hurried level.”

The usual hustle and bustle that accompanies a visit to a winery can be overwhelming, especially for those who want to relax and unwind post-holidays. “Visitors can skip the crowds of summer and make deeper connections with the people and the land,” Brittain says. “A guarantee of snowy landscapes and a growing list of outstanding wineries and restaurants in Suttons Bay make for the perfect cozy winter trip.”

Lots of Coziness
“We offer igloos for a more private tasting experience,” says Taylor Simpson, co-owner of Aurora Cellars in Lake Leelanau. “Anyone who decides to come and taste in the winter can spend more time with the wine stewards and enjoy a differently paced experience.”

Igloos can be a fun option for visitors who want to enjoy the beauty of the snowy months up close, without the frostbite. Seating up to six guests, the see-through, heated, tentlike structures certainly provide a unique wine tasting experience.

Chateau Chantal’s award-winning bed-and-breakfast offers discounted pricing in the winter. Photo by Janella Rose for Chateau Chantal

The cold weather makes cozy, quiet lodging particularly enticing. Plus, award-winning accommodations, such as those at Chateau Chantal, tend to cost less this time of year. “For those who want to spend some time with us this year when the crowds and rush are at a standstill, they can experience an amazing stay at our bed-and-breakfast for a fraction of the peak-season price — especially midweek,” Lillie says.

Endless Events
Chateau Chantal hosts an array of events throughout the year, and wintertime is no exception. The winery’s sixth annual Ice Wine Festival will be held on Jan. 26 and 27. The event includes family-friendly activities such as snowman building as well as a tour of the ice wine vineyard, s’more kits, and outdoor firepits. The festival ends with the Fire and Ice Wine Dinner, where each course is paired with a Chateau Chantal wine. All three of the winery’s ice wines will be featured.

Over at Bel Lago, Lasagna Saturdays begin in January. Guests are asked to reserve their spots by Thursday and then gather to enjoy homemade lasagna from Folgarelli’s Market & Wine Shop in Traverse City, which has been operating since 1978 and prides itself on its old-world recipes and local ingredients.

The Great Outdoors
At Aurora Cellars and Chateau Chantal, guests are invited off the beaten path for some seasonal snowshoeing. Aurora is home to two well-groomed snowshoe trails that are available to visitors during open hours. Over at Chateau Chantal, winery guests can snowshoe right through the vineyards on fresh powder before cozying up by one of the tasting room fireplaces with a glass of wine.


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