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Ultimate Guide to Michigan Wine Country

Wine country is a popular travel destination for couples and friends.
Wine country is a popular travel destination for couples and friends.
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Napa. Bordeaux. Chile. Italy. What do these locales have in common? They're all regions famous for their wines. Pinot noir, chardonnay, shiraz, merlot, pinot grigio and more come from vineyards all over the world, and each sip takes us somewhere exotic and delightful. Oenophiles -- that is, wine enthusiasts -- dream of taking trips abroad or across country to visit some of the world's best vineyards. But not everyone can afford to jet off to Chile or the Napa Valley when they want to visit wine country.

Luckily, the United States is full of hidden wine country gems, including the Michigan wine country. With nicknames like "The Wolverine State" and "The Great Lakes State," and its notoriety in car manufacturing, the state of Michigan might not always evoke thoughts of a perfect glass of riesling. But in truth, Michigan's wine country includes more than 14,000 acres of gorgeous vineyards and 80 wineries, as well as upscale restaurants. Plus, you can enjoy a wine country vacation in this neck of the woods for a fraction of the price it might cost to tour the more well-known wine regions, like Napa or Tuscany.

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Sound alluring? Keep reading to learn more about Michigan wine.

You'll find the majority of Michigan's wineries in the Lower Peninsula, along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. (The Lower Peninsula is the part of Michigan shaped like a mitten -- wine country goes up and down the left side of the mitten.) The lake climate makes for ideal soil for growing grapes that later become various wines. This climate, called lake effect climate, protects the vines in the winter by covering them with snow, prevents frost damage, provides enough rainfall for fertile soil, and extends the typical growing period by about two or three weeks. The Michigan wine country's soil and climate are similar to the soil and climate in wine-growing regions like France and Germany.

You can enjoy a Michigan wine country tour in one of several ways: Do some research, put together a "DIY" tour, and then rent a car. Or, try one of dozens of professional tours. If you're an outdoorsy, fitness-minded person, you can tour wine country by bicycle. What better way to enjoy the scenery? Or, you can tour by chartered car or limo, visiting the wineries in style. One outfit even offers vineyard-to-vineyard tours in a large wagon pulled by a tractor. You can also sample Michigan wines by lake; board a sailboat to cruise Lake Michigan, stopping off to taste various vintages from local vineyards. Some bed-and-breakfasts offer a complete wine-tasting experience, with hosted dinners where you'll learn the history of area wines.

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Any time is a good time to visit wine country, but enthusiasts recommend visiting Michigan wine country in spring or summer when the weather is cooperative. If you want to learn about the grape harvest, you should visit in the fall, when workers typically pick the grapes. Many wineries and restaurants in Michigan wine country hold seasonal festivals -- check a tourism Web site like MichiganWines.com to select one that sounds appealing to you.

The Michigan Shore Wine Trail is a strip of about a dozen wineries along Lake Michigan, nestled close together. It's in the southwest region of Michigan wine country, and some call it "The Napa Valley of the Midwest." This wine trail is a great place to spend a long weekend or day trip. Not only will you enjoy the various wineries along the way, but some excellent restaurants as well.

Start your journey in Saugatuck, a charming community dotted with art galleries, eateries and -- of course -- wineries. Then continue working your way south through South Haven, Coloma, Benton Harbor and Bridgman. End to end, it's about a 60-mile (96.5-kilometer) journey. But you'll want to stop off and enjoy the sights of the sand dunes along Lake Michigan, as well as enjoy some of the area restaurants. Cottages and bed-and-breakfasts sprinkled along the Wine Trail offer various types of accommodations, from romantic getaways to family resorts to theme packages, like murder-mystery weekends.

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Native varieties of grapes, like Concord and Niagara, make up about 3 percent of Michigan's wine grapes. You'll find the majority of these grapes used in grape juice. Finally, you'll find hybrid varieties of grapes, which make up about 35 percent of Michigan's wine grapes. Growers often cross European varieties with North American varieties because they're more resistant to the cold. These include Vignoles, Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Chancellor, Marechal Foch, Chardonel and Traminette.

Whatever variety you like, a Michigan winery most likely makes it. Thirsty for more? Check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • "About Michigan Grapes and Wines." Michigan Wines. 2008. (July 18, 2011)http://www.michiganwines.com/page.php?menu=about
  • "Enjoy Michigan Wineries." Michigan Vacation Destination. 2011. (July 18, 2011)http://www.michigan-vacation-destination.com/michigan-wineries.html
  • "Fast Facts." Michigan Wines. 2008. (July 18, 2011)http://www.michiganwines.com/page.php?menu_id=19
  • Putz, Andrew. "Michigan: In Defense of B-List Wine Country." Food & Wine. 2010. (July 18, 2011)http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/michigan-in-defense-of-b-list-wine-country
  • "State Nicknames and Their Explanation." 50States.com. 2011. (July 18, 2011)http://www.50states.com/bio/nickname3.htm
  • "Trail Map." Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country. 2010. (July 18, 2011)http://www.lakemichiganshorewinetrail.com/trail-map.html
  • Visbeen, Jaclyn. "Touring wine country." Pure Michigan. 2011. (July 18, 2011)http://www.michigan.org/News/Detail.aspx?ContentId=ef6261d7-3010-44d4-b17a-bedf8072a316
  • "Wineries." Pure Michigan. 2011. (July 18, 2011)http://www.michigan.org/Things-to-Do/Attractions/Wineries/Default.aspx?city=G3602

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