Say ‘I Do’ Among the Vines

Wineries offer variety of options for on-site weddings

(Courtesy of Moersch Hospitality/photo by Kalamazoo Michigan Wedding Photography)

When 3 North Vines Vineyard & Winery opened in 2014, co-owners Kristi Nichols-Shopbell and her husband never imagined they’d be in the wedding business.

“We’re a very small tasting room, and we didn’t really think that weddings would work that well in our tiny tasting room,” Nichols-Shopbell says.

But they were persuaded by a couple eager to utilize the winery, located between Croswell and Lexington, as their wedding venue.

“We had a couple who were engaged, and they just loved the site,” she says. “They ended up, through coming up a few times, talking us into doing their wedding there, because they loved it so much. And it was a really wonderful experience.”

That first wedding convinced them to give the business a try.

“It was so special to be a part of somebody’s day like that, that we thought, ‘Okay, well, we can do this a couple more times a season,’” Nichols-Shopbell says.

The winery now hosts a handful of weddings each summer and offers two wedding packages: a ceremony-only package that includes an optional wine hour add-on, and a full package encompassing a ceremony and reception with winery-provided tents.

In Demand
Weddings were always part of the plan for Moersch Hospitality Group, which owns several Michigan wineries. However, demand from customers prompted Moersch to build a wedding venue at Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant in Buchanan.

(Photo courtesy of Moersch Hospitality)

Round Barn Estate, Moersch Hospitality Group’s original property, had previously hosted weddings but soon became too busy. When Moersch Hospitality owner Rick Moersch purchased Tabor Hill a few years ago, it was the perfect opportunity to develop a new wedding site. Tabor Hill’s wedding venue opened in 2018.

“Hospitality is our main focus here, so we love to celebrate people — celebrate all occasions,” says Hillary Casey, Moersch’s private event manager.

After weddings were discontinued at Round Barn, demand for them remained, which led Moersch Hospitality to open the new venue, Casey says.

“We continued to get inquiries at Round Barn after they stopped hosting (weddings), so we knew that there would be a demand,” she says. “And Tabor Hill, the brand, it’s a great brand to branch off into weddings — it’s very elegant and upscale. So, we just wanted to fill a demand and serve more people.”

Tabor Hill can accommodate weddings of varying sizes. Its signature offering is the Estate Tent, which can seat up to 225 guests. For smaller weddings, couples can choose between two private dining rooms in the winery’s full-service restaurant. All locations include the option of an on-site wedding ceremony and a wedding coordinator partnered with Tabor Hill.

“We really are a full-service wedding venue,” Casey says. “We try to make it easy for our couples that are planning from afar.”

Northern Sun Winery in Bark River also hosts weddings. The Upper Peninsula winery provides wedding guests with wine made from the grapes grown in its own Anthony Vineyard, which was first planted in 1999.

“It kind of started as a hobby, and it grew from there,” says Wendy Middaugh, Northern Sun co-owner, adding with a laugh, “Now it’s a full-time backache.”

Northern Sun hosts weddings in spring, summer and fall at multiple locations within the vineyard. Couples work with their own wedding coordinator to arrange catering and seating.

Location, Location, Location
For Northern Sun, hosting weddings was an obvious choice. The main draw? The view.

“It’s a beautiful setting,” says Northern Sun co-owner Melissa Middaugh.

Wendy Middaugh elaborates: “It’s just gorgeous out here, that’s the thing,” she says. “… We have a pergola that the grapes grow around and down and makes a pretty spectacular little sanctuary.”

Casey makes a similar observation.

(Courtesy of Moersch Hospitality)

“For us (the draw is) the natural scenery that we have, the ambiance that we have, with the vineyard all around,” she says. “Specifically, with our Estate Tent, we tucked it right into the vines, so you do have vineyard all the way around, and that’s something not a lot of people can offer.”

Beyond the view, there’s something romantic about a vineyard, Nichols-Shopbell says.

“I think there’s a certain romance, and there always has been, to vineyards,” she says. “You’ve seen movies about them over the years … I just think the whole idea of growing grapes and making wine has always been this old-world romance kind of setting.”

And privacy comes with the territory.

(Courtesy of Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery)

“As opposed to being inside of a building or a hall, at our facility you’re on 36 acres,” says Geoff Frey, co-owner of Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery in Alanson. “You have a beautiful view of the vineyard and the hills around Petoskey, and the lakes, and you have the whole facility (to) yourself.”

Crooked Vine hosts smaller weddings of up to 125 guests. The winery provides the experience, the venue and the wine and couples arrange the rest.

Looking Forward
While the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a difficult year for wineries in the wedding business, several Michigan wineries say things are looking up in 2021.

“We are seeing people are continuing to book, even still for this year and going beyond into 2022,” Casey says. “I think couples are still wanting to have normalcy in their lives; they want something to look forward to. So, we have been heavily booking still.”

While Tabor Hill was unable to host many weddings last year, it was able to retain clients, most of whom chose to postpone their weddings to 2021.

“For this wedding season, we are full,” Casey says. “We don’t have a weekend off until the end of October. So, we’re really excited to start celebrating with our couples and having some normalcy return to our business.”

Northern Sun Winery finds itself in a similar situation.

“We’re trying not to double-book — now (that’s) our bigger problem,” Wendy Middaugh says.

(Courtesy of Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery)

Some wineries, such as Crooked Vine, are taking a more cautious approach. Crooked Vine is holding off on weddings until rules and regulations concerning gatherings become clearer. However, the winery continues to receive a stream of inquiries, Frey says.

3 North Vines has delayed scheduling weddings as well. The winery hosted two weddings last season for couples whose original venues had cancelled — the lighter restrictions on outdoor events made modified winery weddings possible — but has been hesitant to book weddings for this season.

“We just didn’t want to promise anything that we couldn’t give,” Nichols-Shopbell says, “and so it was a little tricky booking this year — we have nothing officially booked — but we’re looking forward to 2022.”

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