Although summer and fall keep Michigan wineries hustling, tasting room representatives from around the state know that one of the best times to visit is actually in the winter.
“If anyone has visited a winery in the busy season, they know that it’s pretty fast-paced and it’s crowded,” says Marie-Chantal Dalese, president and CEO of Chateau Chantal. “You might not get to spend as much time as you want asking questions or learning about the wine, and winter definitely affords that opportunity to slow down (and) really have a good time with your server.”
Guests aren’t the only ones who benefit from the more intimate atmosphere and increased elbow room.
“The lack of crowds is a fantastic opportunity for both the customer and us, our servers,” says Caryn Chachulski, wine club and marketing manager at Bonobo Winery. “We like to take the time to get to talk to people, to get to know them better. … We feel it’s a better experience for everyone.”
Some wineries offer special deals to attract locals in the offseason. Couples also flock to tasting rooms during the cold weather.
“It’s not so much families or girls trips,” says Claire Lepine, marketing and wine club manager at Mawby. “It’s couples who are up for a cozy, romantic vacation.”
People visiting northern Michigan to enjoy outdoor winter activities also stop at local wineries afterward to relax.
“I think as the region becomes more known as a four-season tourist destination, we’re seeing people come all year round,” Lepine says.
Happy Trails — and More
Many Michigan wineries are tapping into the winter sports market themselves by offering trails that guests can snowshoe or cross-country ski during the winter. At Black Star Farms’ flagship property in Suttons Bay, snowshoeing officially kicks off between Christmas and New Year’s and recurs most Saturdays — and some Sundays — the remainder of the season.
Rove Estate, meanwhile, boasts spectacular views along its self-guided trail on the Leelanau Peninsula.
“It’s only about a 10-minute hike to the very highest point of Leelanau Peninsula, and it’s even kid-friendly,” says co-owner McKenzie Gallagher. “You don’t have to be a professional hiker on our trail.”
Wineries around the state also participate in seasonal events to entice guests during the colder months.
Along the Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula wine trails, several ticketed events — Winter Warm-Up, Romancing the Riesling, Premium Pour, Sips & Soups and Taste the Passion — include wine-and-food pairings at participating establishments and souvenir wine glasses for attendees.
“That’s very much what those events were designed to do, was to try to get folks out to the winery at times of year when we don’t necessarily see the volume of traffic that we do May through October,” says Michael Hunter, operations manager at 2 Lads Winery.
For the inaugural Premium Pour event, wineries along the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail are treating attendees to some of their finest vino throughout December. Mawby, for example, is offering a champagne-method sparkling pinot noir.
“It’s luxurious and it is perfect for the holidays,” Lepine says.
Wine-themed festivals also shake up the winter lull. The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail will host a Winter Wine Festival on Feb. 29, and Chateau Chantal will host its third annual Ice Wine Festival on Jan. 25.
“This year, we’re trying for the first time a new ice wine, a Cabernet Franc ice wine,” Dalese says. “We wanted to add that to our portfolio of ice wine.”
Mulled wines are another cold-weather favorite.
“We do promote our mulled wines in the wintertime more,” says Brian Lesperance, vice president of Fenn Valley Vineyards. “Those are going to be more popular when it’s a little bit chillier outside.”
This time of year, various wineries also promote live music, tours and special holiday merchandise. 12 Corners Vineyards in Benton Harbor even offers the perfect holiday photo prop throughout December — an antique custom sleigh.
It’s all to boost business and showcase winter as a wonderful time to visit a tasting room.
As Caitlin Hammond, director of operations for Peninsula Cellars, puts it, “There’s something special about wine in the winter.”