Visitors from Wisconsin to the west and Canada to the north have long made the road trip to Michigan to enjoy the state’s outdoor resources and other attractions.
You can add wineries to the list of reasons to visit.
“This is a huge draw locally as well as a destination for overnight guests,” says Jim Powell, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. “People make it part of their planning process.”
If they don’t, many discover what they almost missed when they arrive in the area and stop at a winery.
Perfect U.P. Pairing: Cheese and Wine
Wisconsin is known for its cheeses, and complementary wine is a draw for residents from the state who cross the Michigan border to explore the western Upper Peninsula, where a half-dozen or so wineries can be found from Menominee to Germfask.
“We actually get a lot of people from Wisconsin,” says Julie Lambert, co-owner of Leigh’s Garden Winery in Escanaba.
Her husband, Tony, says a local hotel owner who keeps that type of data reports that about 40% of guests come from Lower Michigan, 40% come from either Wisconsin or Chicago, and 20% come from other areas of the Midwest. The Lamberts believe they see an even higher percentage from Wisconsin given they’re just 55 miles on M-35 from the border. Even coming from Green Bay only takes about two hours in a nearly straight line northeast, from U.S. 41 to M-35.
“The reason why I think our numbers are higher is because many Wisconsinites make day trips to the U.P. and don’t necessarily sleep here,” Tony Lambert says.
For Julie Lambert, it’s fun introducing newbies to Michigan wines — especially those made in the north from cold-climate grapes. They don’t taste the same as those produced in other major winemaking states, she says: “We explain how our wines are different from California wines off the shelf.”
Yooper Winery in Menominee, which is just across the border from Marinette, Wisconsin, is a convenient halfway stopping point on the route from the Green Bay area to Escanaba. There, owner and winemaker John Lucas makes a variety of wines from cold-climate grapes and Michigan-grown fruit. He says U.P. wineries such as his act as gateways to the rest of the state’s wine industry, in a way.
“I have a lot of Wisconsin customers. … We just point them in the direction and let them know about tasting rooms in Traverse City,” Lucas says. “They want to do the wine trails. They usually want to try them all.”
While in the U.P., visitors can make the most of the outdoors by enjoying plentiful bike, snowmobile, and birding trails. The scenery doesn’t disappoint — there are forests and mountains and even waterfalls, which are popular spots for savoring nature and taking pictures.
A detour southwest of Manistique to the Garden Peninsula leads to Snail Shell Harbor and Fayette Historic State Park. Here, the old townsite with historical buildings gives a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and worked in this once-thriving iron smelting industrial community. There’s also camping at Fayette, as there is at numerous other state-run parks in the U.P.
Tip of the Mitt Exploration
Those traveling from Canada and crossing at Sault Ste. Marie or continuing on from the western U.P. can traverse the Mackinac Bridge and discover another world of Michigan wines in the Tip of the Mitt American Viticultural Area. This AVA, the newest of Michigan’s five, having been approved in 2016, is home to the Petoskey Wine Region, a wine trail with 14 wineries.
“People are always surprised that we have 14 wineries in this area, and they’re always excited because we’ll get them the maps that we have for the Tip of the Mitt and Petoskey Wine Region,” says Angie Horning, a tasting room manager at Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery. “It’s just so cool. They don’t know about it, then they’re excited to go and try other people’s [local] wines.”
Victoria Wysokinski, co-owner of Rudbeckia Winery and Burnt Marshmallow Brewstillery in Petoskey, says Canadian customers were coming to her business before the pandemic and they’ve been returning recently. The winery also sees a lot of people from Chicago, Indiana, and Ohio, and quite a few from Texas as well, she notes.
Before or after a trip to the Tip of the Mitt, visitors might stop in the U.P. to sample pasties, savory meat pies that were popularized by the miners who once toiled in that section of the state. From St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, ferry service to Mackinac Island makes for an easy day trip. Also in Mackinaw City, Headlands International Dark Sky Park serves up first-rate stargazing, and there are even a couple of lodging options on the property.
A spectacular drive involves bypassing I-75 and the majority of U.S. 31 and instead taking the 20-mile M-119 Tunnel of Trees along the shoreline and down to Petoskey. Bringing a bike? The Little Traverse Wheelway runs roughly 25 miles from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs with prime views of Little Traverse Bay. Searching for Petoskey stones is a Michigan tradition, and Petoskey State Park is one of the best places to do it.
Along the way, stopping to savor a glass of local wine makes for a happy diversion.
“We want lots of people to know about our wine region and come and try it because it’s such a unique experience,” Horning says. “It’s just a cool, unique place to come and try something totally different.”
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 Michigan Wine Country magazine.