In recent years, Michigan has gained a reputation for crafting award-winning wines, rivaling those of France, Australia, California, and other well-known wine-producing regions. Although wineries are dispersed throughout the state, Michigan has two main winemaking areas in the Lower Peninsula—along the Southwest Coast and around Grand Traverse Bay. Both regions, which contain more than 30 wineries, benefit from a lake effect climate that protects the vines with snow cover in winter and extends the growing season for up to a month.
For at least a week—preferably during summer or early fall—wine connoisseurs can tour the wineries along the Lake Michigan coast, sampling Michigan’s finest. Of course, it helps to have a car.
Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail
There are a dozen wineries and several tasting rooms along this stretch of the Southwest Coast, from Union Pier to Saugatuck. Take a couple of days to experience the best of them.
Begin with the southern half of the wine trail, just east of Harbor Country. To reach these inland vineyards, take Red Arrow Highway to Lemon Creek Road. At the 200-acre Lemon Creek Winery and Fruit Farm, visitors can sample wines in the tasting room, take an informal tour of the vineyard, and pick whatever fruit is in season.
Afterward, drive south on Burgoyne Road, turn right onto Mount Tabor Road, and stop at the Tabor Hill Winery and Restaurant, known for its midpriced, award-winning wines. Following a tour or tasting, have lunch in the first-rate restaurant, which offers an ever-changing menu of fine dishes, from elk chops to swordfish.
Your last stop of the day should be The Round Barn Winery, which lies west of Tabor Hill. This family-owned winery, distillery, and brewery invites visitors to tour the vineyard, sample wines in the unique farmhouse, and take a winemaking class. Afterward, drive north to St. Joseph, where you can stay the night in The Boulevard Inn & Bistro, a terrific spot to enjoy dinner (or breakfast) on an outdoor terrace overlooking Lake Michigan.
The following day, head east on I-94 to M-40, where you’ll find two long-standing wineries in Paw Paw. The first, the family-owned St. Julian Winery is actually the oldest and largest winery in the state; it provides year-round tours and tastings. Just up the road lies Warner Vineyards, the state’s second oldest winery, offering self-guided tours and a wonderful deck on which to sip champagne. Before heading north to the Leelanau Peninsula, veer toward the coast, where towns like Saugatuck offer diversions of their own. In South Haven, stay at The Last Resort B&B Inn and have a casual meal at fun-loving Clementine’s.
Following breakfast, head north on U.S. 31 to Traverse City, just over a three-hour trip. From here, wineries and tasting rooms stretch north along either shore of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. After dining in one of Traverse City’s downtown eateries, drive west on M‑72, toward the Leelanau Peninsula, which nurtures nearly two dozen wineries. Take County Road 651 north to Cedar, follow Schomberg Road to French Road, and spend the afternoon sampling merlot and other vintages at Chateau Fontaine Vineyards & Winery, a long-ago potato farm and cow pasture now transformed into 22 acres of grapevines. Head east to Suttons Bay, where you’ll find Black Star Farms, a fascinating winery, distillery, creamery, and farmers market, with a tasting room and a luxurious bed-and-breakfast—an ideal, if pricey, place to spend the next four nights.
Over the following three days, feel free to explore some of the other wineries that line this picturesque peninsula. Take special note of several locales in Suttons Bay, including Raftshol Vineyards, a former dairy enterprise and cherry orchard that now produces over 1,000 cases of bordeaux varietal red wines annually; Chateau de Leelanau Vineyard & Winery, which presents a tasting room not far from Grand Traverse Bay; Ciccone Vineyard and Winery, a Tuscan-inspired winery and tasting room owned by Madonna’s father; and L. Mawby Vineyards, offering a year-round tasting room and annual picnic events. You should also stop by Leelanau Cellars, which is situated north of Suttons Bay and provides a fine tasting room for sampling everything from riesling to bacco noir.
Old Mission Peninsula
If your taste buds haven’t yet wearied of reds and whites, you should spend the last day of your weeklong wine tour amid the seven wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula, accessible via Traverse City. Make sure to explore two wineries in particular: Chateau Grand Traverse Winery and Chateau Chantal, both of which offer complimentary tastings, winery tours, and luxurious accommodations with incredible views.
Of course, if you have time to spare, feel free to continue your own wine-tasting adventure, either retracing your steps to wineries you might have missed or venturing out into the rest of Michigan, where numerous other vineyards and tasting rooms await.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Michigan.