There’s a reason so many Michigan wineries have sprouted up along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan. The expansive waters moderate the weather, protecting wine grapes from the fickle temperament of Mother Nature. As a result, Southwest and Northwest Michigan — full of vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms — are at the heart of Michigan wine country.
These connected regions of the state are also ideal for a south-to-north (or vice versa) road trip, particularly if you’re looking to explore a variety of wineries. Designated wine trails make it easy to stop at multiple tasting rooms in a single day, while charming beach towns and impressive state and national parks along the shoreline offer additional opportunities for diversion. Some wineries even offer overnight accommodations, making them ideal jumping-off points for visiting vineyards and other attractions.
Southwest Shoreline Stops
If you’re coming from Chicago or northwestern Indiana, the gateway to the southwestern Michigan wineries is Interstate 94. The region is home to some 50 wineries, many of them part of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
Dablon Vineyards & Winery in Baroda can be found a few miles east of I-94’s exit 16. Terraced vineyards, full of grape varietals common in Burgundy and Bordeaux, France, surround the rustic-contemporary tasting room; the vines are terraced as much for the aesthetic as for the grapes. “It gives people the sense they are somewhere different, someplace they’ve never been before,” says William Schopf, the winery owner and founder. Guests can sample from more than two dozen wines, most of them red varietals.
Nearby, Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant is one of Michigan’s oldest wineries and one of the few to offer a dining experience with vineyard views. Tabor Hill’s Classic Demi-Sec, a semidry white blend, has long been a favorite. Neighboring Round Barn Winery & Estate, owned by the same parent company, has overnight accommodations; the options include a home on the estate and a farmhouse just minutes away.
Lake Michigan beach towns in the area offer prime shopping, dining, and wine tasting. White Pine Winery, for example, has a tasting room in downtown St. Joseph. Guests can follow up their tasting with a brief walk to get dinner at The Boulevard Inn & Bistro, which sits on a bluff overlooking the lake.
Follow Interstate 196 north toward Holland, known for its annual Tulip Time Festival and Dutch heritage attractions. Holland State Park and others to the north boast expansive beaches and other amenities.
Peninsular Appeal Up North
From there, follow U.S. 31 to Manistee, and then take M-22 to the Leelanau Peninsula, one of the two peninsulas of the Traverse Wine Coast. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a must-see there. Climb the dunes or take a drive up Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to an overlook with panoramic views of Lake Michigan. Afterward, stop in nearby Glen Arbor to eat or shop before exploring Leelanau County’s roughly two dozen wineries.
“Planning is essential for visiting the wineries because there are so many to choose from,” says Nicholas Hartmann, managing director of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. He recommends checking with wineries beforehand because some require reservations. “The wineries are the best way to relax and enjoy this beautiful region,” he adds.
Farther north on M-22, Good Harbor Vineyards, one of the peninsula’s oldest, pours favorites such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio. Its sister winery, Aurora Cellars, is in Lake Leelanau, just over a mile off M-204. Known for its red wines (like Cabernet Franc), the winery includes a renovated 19th-century farmhouse that’s open to overnight guests.
The Inn at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay, off M-22 (which loops around the peninsula), also boasts upscale accommodations. The Kentucky-style estate home is set on 160 acres and has 10 classically furnished guest rooms and suites with contemporary touches.
Continue on M-22 to Traverse City, a winery-dense region of the state. Turn right on U.S. 31 and follow it down a short ways to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. A former state hospital, the Commons is now a complex with boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, and Left Foot Charley, an urban winery. The winery’s Barrel Room provides a more intimate wine tasting experience with food pairing options.
Retracing U.S. 31 to M-37 leads to the Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail, home to 10 wineries. The deck at Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery boasts one of the best views of Grand Traverse Bay. Savor the winery’s frozen rosé — or “frosé” — or stroll the Secret Garden and enjoy the smell of the lavender. Settle in for the night in the winery’s 1,100-square-foot guesthouse that once served as a barn. Another overnight option is Chateau Chantal’s inn, farther north on M-37. The bed-and-breakfast’s well-appointed rooms, many of which are named after 19th-century impressionist painters, evoke the styles of a French chateau. Cap your trip with a stop at the historic Mission Point Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. The 1870 lighthouse is open for self-guided tours May through November.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 Michigan Wine Country magazine.