Michigan Wine Series: Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail

There are nearly 20 wineries to be found in the Southwest portion of Michigan.  Many of these wineries can be easily accessed from either I-94 or M-22 which makes taking a wine tasting trip easy to do.  What helps make Michigan a great wine region, is that we get a lot of help from the Great Lakes.  The “Lake Effect”  brings increased air flow  through the rolling hills reducing the danger of frost to the vines.  The Southwest area of Michigan also has a 2-3 week longer growing season than the northwestern Michigan wine growing areas.  Additionally, this area grows an abundance of other fruit for wine making or blending.

 

The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail is divided into 4 Sections.

South Section

  • Baroda Founders Wine Cellar
  • Domaine Berrien Wine Cellars
  • Gravity
  • Hickory Creek Winery
  • Lemon Creek Winery
  • Round Barn Winery, Distillery & Brewery

This section of the Trail is an easy drive from Chicago and is a bit more expensive than the other sections on the Trail.  That being said, they have some  great wineries and I really enjoy making a day trip to this area.  Here are a few of my top choices in the South Section:

Gravity – An easy-going winery with beautiful patio seating.  Gravity makes great every day wines that are tasty, affordable and sport super cute labels.  Their wines are great for hanging out with friends or just good table wines.

I really like the tasting set up at Gravity.   You get four 1/3 full glasses of wine with a palate appealing cleanser of gourmet cheese & crackers. This all comes on a tray and then we invite you to sit to enjoy. All for $13!

We usually take ours out to the patio to enjoy.

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Tasting Flight at Gravity

 

Lemon Creek Winery – Tastings are $8 for 5 samples.  If you love red wines, DO NOT SKIP tasting the Cabernet Sauvignon!  Made from some of the oldest Cab Sauv vines in Michigan.  It is delicious.  On the other hand, if you like a nice white table wine try the Lighthouse White.  Wines range from $10 – $25 per bottle and $40 for Reserves or Ice Wines.

A bonus at Lemon Creek is their “farm market” barn on the property.  If you come during cherry season, you can even pick your own  cherries from the orchard at a really reasonable price.

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Lemon Creek Farm Market

Round Barn Winery, Distillery & Brewery  – You may have read my detailed post featuring Round Barn if you followed my Brewery Series.  If not check out this link which also includes in-depth information on their winery and distillery.

I have been here many times and yet each experience seems somehow different.  They offer so much variety and there is always something new and a lot to do when you are there.  This is my number one site you must visit in this Section of the Trail.

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Semi Private Wine Tasting with my “Crew” at Round Barn Winery

 

North Section

  • Cogdal Vineyards
  • Fenn Valley Vineyards

I have not yet visited Cogdal Vineyards (penciling it in on my summer to do list) but I have been to Fenn Valley and even taken their facility tour.  I like Fenn Valley’s  farm like setting, but they are a huge production facility that makes/bottles not only their own wines, but wines for several other wineries across Michigan.  I find that a bit off putting and prefer to patronize smaller more independent establishments that have a bit more character.  Just my opinion.  Sorry, not much help in this Section.

Central Section

  • 12 Corners Vineyards & Winery
  • Contessa Wine Cellars
  • Karma Vista Vineyards
  • Lazy Ballerina
  • Vineyard 2121
  • White Pine Winery

I have visited 4 of the 6 wineries in the Central Section.  My top 2 suggestions from this Section are Contessa and Karma Vista. Both offer a good selection in a relaxed tasting environment.

Contessa Wine Cellars – I stop every time that I visit the South West Shore Wine Trail.  They are just off the highway and have a nice tasting room with a big deck.  During warm months, they sometimes have live music on the deck.  Tony and his staff are amazing.  They are always helpful and friendly and are never stuffy.  The tastings here are just $5.

Contessa offers a varied list of wines ranging from $12 to $30 per bottle.   They have big reds like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and  Tre Tenores (which is a Bordeaux style blend) as well as fruit wines, table wines and a Reserve Chardonnay.  Definitely something for everyone.  I never leave with less than two bottles of wine here.  One is usually Pinot Grigio and the other is whatever we fancy on that day.

Contessa Wine Cellars Tasting Room

Karma Vista Vineyards – This winery is not far off the highway either.  Tastings are $5 for 5 tastes and refundable if you buy 6 bottles.  They are an intimate tasting room with beautiful views.  Karma Vista emanates a funky vibe best illustrated through their wine names, playful labels and quirky merchandise.

Wines here range from $10 to $28 per bottle.  They have a good mix of Reds, Whites, and fruit wines.  They even have a sparkling and a port.  Starry, Starry White (a semi sweet white blend) is their most popular white.  I prefer their award-winning Pinot Noir, Stone Temple Pinot.

 

Karma Vista Tasting Room

East Section

  • Cody Kresta Vineyard & Winery
  • Lawton Ridge Winery
  • St Julian Winery & Distillery
  • Warner Vineyards

In this section, I suggest you exit in Paw Paw and you will find St Julian and Warner Vineyards near one another on Kalamazoo Street.

Warner Vineyards – The Paw Paw Winery and Tasting Room is a unique setting in the refurbished city Waterworks building.  They also have tasting rooms in Holland, New Buffalo, Marshall and South Haven.  Tastings are $8 for 5 samples.

Wines are priced between $10 and $35 per bottle.  They offer an interesting mix of wines including some sassy blends.  Their cranberry and white wine blend called Holiberry is quiet tasty and makes a nice base for a crantini. They have all the standards along with Sparkling wines and Port.

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Warner Tasting Room – Paw Paw

 

St. Julian Winery & Distillery – St. Julian has several locations throughout the state of Michigan (Dundee, Paw Paw and Frankenmuth).  There used to be one about 10 minutes from us which is how we became familiar with their wines.  They are very commercial and you can find many of their wines in local stores.  It is still fun to visit.  You get to taste the wines you see in the store before buying them and the ones that you can only find in their Tasting rooms.  You will find they have a huge selection of wine giftware and companion foods for sale as well.

A Standard Tasting is $7 per person for 6 tastes and a logo glass to take home.  The tasting rooms are large and can hold a lot of people at one time.  In addition to their regular wine selections, they are well known for their sparkling juices.  My kids thought it was the best thing when they got a bottle to share during the holidays.

St. Julian makes Port and Sherry along with distilled products which include Brandy, Rum, Gin and Vodka.  They have Kosher wine and a big line of affordable table wines at $8 to $12 per bottle.  But they also have a higher quality line called Braganini Reserve which ranges in price from $16 to $28 per bottle.

St. Julian – Paw Paw

Final Thoughts

There are a LOT of wineries to explore in this area.  From small family run wineries to big commercial operations.  There is bound to be a style that fit’s your Wine Tasting style.  It’s great that they broke the Trail into smaller Sections so you can focus on one area at a time.  If you are a native to Michigan, plan some day trips to this area (maybe spring and fall) and visit a few wineries each time.  If you are not, plan a long weekend and book a room in the St. Joseph area to use as your base camp.  In addition to wineries, this area boasts beautiful beaches, breweries and a great dining selection.

Cheers!