This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune brand publishing special section Off The Vine.
A visit to Michigan’s wine country is a tonic for hectic modern life. A leisurely drive through the rolling farmland and tree-lined country roads rewards visitors with beautiful scenery and unique wineries.
The two major wine regions of Michigan are the southwestern Lake Michigan shore and the Traverse City area. Traversing the west side of Michigan, from the Indiana border right on up to the tip of the mitten, you’ll pass by sandy beaches, spectacular sand dunes, crystal blue bays and rustic farm country bursting with nature’s bounty.
In terms of wine, the Lake Michigan Shore is its own appellation. An appellation is a special wine place name (such as Champagne or Cotes du Rhone in France) designated by the government so buyers know they are getting authentic local wine made from local grapes.
The tasting rooms come in a variety of styles, from ’70s time capsule to modern California chic to country store style. They might be located in a brand-new building on a hilltop or a historic round barn.
The Lake Michigan Shore wine region is anchored by quaint beach towns such Saugatuck and South Haven. The tiny Fennville appellation, and its eponymous small town, falls within this area.
Out-of-staters can get to the southwest Michigan wine country quickly via expressways, but will see more by taking the historic scenic highways such as the Red Arrow and Blue Star. They can soak up the small town charm of South Haven, picnic at the beach at Warren Dunes State Park or do a gallery tour in Saugatuck. Many of these west coast towns have tasting rooms for the nearby wineries, which are located inland from the lakeshore.
Accommodations range from bed-and-breakfasts to cottage rentals to retro motels that are making a comeback.
The wineries “up north” in the Traverse City area encompass the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula appellations. They lie smack in the middle of cherry land. In fact, many cherry orchards have been converted to vineyards as Michigan’s wine business is booming. There are currently 123 wineries in Michigan.
Near Traverse City is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore, which has been named one of the most beautiful places in America.
Traverse City has long been a summer fun playground for water sports, boating, fishing, golf, shopping and dining. The historic town known is for its cherry festival and art and music festivals. It’s perfectly situated at the base of Grand Traverse Bay and has many places to stay.
The two wine peninsulas — Old Mission and Leelanau — extend north into Lake Michigan like fingers from Traverse City.
Each has its own wine trail and spectacular scenery. The contrast of the blue water and the green rows of vines covering rolling hills is positively gorgeous. In the fall, the color rivals that of New England.
This part of Michigan is home to large, upscale destination wineries. Some have restaurants, accommodations and host events.
It’s not all about the views. Michigan wines are winning more awards every year. In fact, Traverse City’s Chateau Chantal’s Ice Wine was chosen by the White House to be served at a state dinner this spring honoring Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
For more Michigan wine tourism information, visit www.michiganwines.com.