Wine and Music: A Perfect Pairing

A look at how four Michigan wineries are making a leisurely summer evening even better — with live music
A Pink Floyd tribute band performs at Chateau Aeronautique Winery. (Courtesy photo)

Chateau Aeronautique Winery
This Irish Hills winery embraced the idea of live music in 2019 and decided to go big, with concerts each Friday and Saturday.

“Saturday nights are classic rock tribute bands,” says owner Lorenzo Lizarralde. “We discovered tribute bands in 2019, and they’re just fun — when you know every word to every song. And it’s amazing that we’re able to find so many within a couple hours’ drive.” Friday night concerts feature local cover bands most weeks.

The concerts take place in the winery’s biergarten, an airy and spacious 5,500-square-foot covered patio that has vinyl curtains and heaters for use in all seasons and all weather.

“It works really well,” Lizarralde says. “It has really, really been a lot of fun.”

Lizarralde says the concerts are here to stay. The bands perform on a fully equipped stage — a big investment for the winery.

“We invested in the stage and stage lighting and our own state-of the art sound system,” he says. “So bands come and all you have to do is plug and play.”

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into Chateau Aeronautique’s plans, but it also helped the winery refine its services. The staff now provides table service for the Saturday concerts, and table reservations are required — necessary steps during the pandemic, but something the staff plans to continue in the future.

Despite the pandemic, the concerts have been a big success.

“We have a lot of repeat customers, repeat guests, for our concerts in particular,” Lizarralde says. “Many of our concerts sell out. For instance, we have a Journey tribute band coming in a couple weeks, and it sold out with 20 people’s names on the waitlist.”

Fenn Valley Vineyards
Fenn Valley Vineyards — located in Fennville, about 10 miles from Saugatuck — has dabbled in live music for about 15 years. This summer, they are hosting live music on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, in addition to summer evening cookouts with live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.

“Probably the most popular live music event is our Thursday night ‘Music in the Vineyards’ series, which kicked off several years ago,” says Brian Lesperance, vice president.

“It’s kind of a way to get folks coming out to check out the vineyards mid-week a little bit. A lot of people around here do come out for the long weekend — from Chicago, etc. — so it kind of kick-starts the weekend.”

“It’s really become kind of a local tradition as well, so it’s a nice mixture of out-of-town guests and local folks,” Lesperance adds. “It’s really kind of neat to see everyone come together on Thursday.”

As many as 400 guests come each Thursday to watch the musicians play on a stage on the winery’s property.

“Our stage is set up such that it kind of backs up to some of our production vineyards,” Lesperance says. “So it’s really pretty because you’re looking out over the stage and have the vineyards in the background.

“We really like to do things that feature the vineyards — that’s really our unique aspect out here,” Lesperance adds. “And we have the ability to put the bands out there in such a beautiful setting. So many of them say it’s one of the most unique places they’ve ever had the opportunity to play, just because the backdrop is so unique.”

The Thursday evening events will run until mid-September, and the Saturday events run into October. The live music is free both days, although reservations are recommended for Thursdays.

Guests at Boathouse Vineyards listen to live music played at the winery’s bandstand from the lawn and covered porch. (Courtesy photo)

Boathouse Vineyards
Some wineries put on smaller music events as well. Boathouse Vineyards in Lake Leelanau hosts musicians on the winery’s lawn and covered porch each Wednesday and Sunday in summer for crowds capped at about 100 people. All the musicians are local, and favorites are invited back up to five times a year.

The live music is a crowd-pleaser year after year.

“We started lately back in 2014 with just a few musicians, and we did it just during July,” says Boathouse Vineyards owner Dave Albert. Now the entertainment runs from mid-June to mid-September, with 26 events.

The musicians play on the winery’s bandstand on the lawn, and guests spread out across the lawn and covered porch as they listen to the music with their glass of wine. “It’s really cool,” says Albert. “And we have a setting on the water, so that we’ll usually have a couple of pontoon boats, with people listening.”

Each musician performs for about two and a half hours on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons.

“The Wednesdays are fun because they’re a little bit later and so you’ve got the setting sun, and it’s very nice,” Albert says. “We’re a little down low, our setting, so we’re a little bit out of the way of the wind, and it’s a real nice way to spend an evening.”

The events are fun for the musicians, too.

“They love playing here,” Albert says, “because they love playing on the venue on the water. And they love playing with customers who actually listen to them. They’re not playing background music here.”

The musicians’ popularity with guests is clear — the crowds speak for themselves.

“We are full to capacity every night,” Albert says.

“That’s not how we started,” he adds. “When we started, it was usually just me sitting out there with maybe one of our staff people, listening to the performer. And it slowly evolved — it took a long time — but over the last two years now, you’ve gotta bring lawn chairs if you’re gonna find a place to sit.”

Albert notes that the winery doesn’t even need to advertise.

“I used to put a sign out on the highway here saying, ‘Live music today,’ and this is the first year we haven’t done it, and it hasn’t affected anything — we’re busier now than we used to be.”

Flying Otter Winery
Located between Adrian and Tecumseh, Flying Otter Winery has live music on Friday and Saturday evenings, May through October. The winery has been holding these events for several years. These days, usually 50 to 100 guests come out for the concerts.

“We have some regulars that are here every single night,” says co-owner Linda Utter.

But the winery also sees new faces. “We still continue to see new people every week,” Utter says.

Every Friday night, the musician Cat Canyon plays at Flying Otter. He’s played at the winery for seven years, Utter notes, and is very popular in the area. “He’s an entertainer first,” she says.

On Saturdays, the winery hosts a different musician every week. They’re “mostly local guys, but they can come from as far away as Ohio,” Utter says. The musicians include jazz guitarist Jesus Sanchez, duo Soup Sandwich, and guitarist Andy Schiller, among others.

Hosting live music felt like a natural step for the winery. “I’ve always loved music, and liked supporting music in your local area,” Utter says. Flying Otter started with just a few events a year, but popular demand led to more and more.

And it doesn’t hurt that wine and music make a perfect pairing.

“Wine, music, cheese — it’s all in the same happy category,” Utter says with a laugh. “People like it.”

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