Yesterday I was invited into a collaboration with a fellow wine friend I met on Instagram, and I am SO EXCITED! I miss the wine industry, and any excuse I have to participate with it, I take. I’ll share more information in a week or two once the planning comes to a close, but until then you can be sure I will be educating myself even further on Southwest Michigan’s local wine scene.
One key component I will share about this collaboration is that it will involve wine tastings and tours. The question of how many and which wineries will be on the tour is still up in the air. However, as I continue to prepare for this new event, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share some of my wine knowledge with you. As someone who worked in the Michigan wine industry for over four years, I gained a few gems of information on the topic. Welcome to one of my passions: wine!
Southwest Michigan has become a focal point for any wine connoisseur. It is nearly impossible for visitors in the area not to pass a sign mentioning a local winery and allowing passers-by to, quite literally, taste the countryside. With the lake effect off Lake Michigan, Southwest Michigan has earned the privilege of having its own signature varietals, expressing the particularities of the local soil and climate. With a specific vocabulary and wide range of flavors to master, wine can be an intimidating subject. Do not let this daunt you though! If you’ve never been on a tasting tour, here are some basic tips to keep in mind as you sip your way along the lake shore.
Give yourself ample time. Wine is one of the ultimate slow foods. If you are having fun, a tasting can last over an hour, so set aside plenty of time between visits. You will be glad you’re not in a hurry, and so will the person conducting the tasting.
This is also a very important tip if you are looking to wine taste during “peak season.” Peak season in Southwest Michigan is typically May through October, and weekends are definitely busy during these months. Most tasting rooms have room for twenty or less guests at one time, so you may need extra to schedule waiting time. Thankfully the next step can sometimes decrease this need…
Call ahead. Whether they are out in the vineyards or down in the cellars, winemakers are usually eager to welcome visitors, but they’re not necessarily in close proximity to a doorbell. So unless you are aware of schedule tasting and tour hours (which some do have), let them know you would like to visit in advance.
Calling ahead may also reserve a spot for you and your party. There are several wineries in Southwest Michigan (Lemon Creek, 12 Corners, Tabor Hill, to name a few) who have ample room for groups of 20+ at a time, but parties larger than 6 guests are usually asked to make a reservation to help decrease wait time. Calling in a reservation allows wineries to reserve bar space as well as staff appropriately. It is a win-win for both sides! Plus, it is simply good manners.
Do not be afraid not to know. Wine criticism may be all about identifying the faults and strengths of a wine, but wine tasting is about finding what you enjoy. You are eminently qualified to do that no matter how much or how little you know. Most wineries have educated servers who are more than happy to explain and answer your questions. If you feel your questions are going unanswered, ask if a winemaker or owner may be available to chat. You won’t learn more without asking!
Ask where to eat. Take advantage of your server and their wine experience in Southwest Michigan! The best way to enjoy wine is with delicious food, and what better resource of good restaurants in the area than the locals? The wineries in Southwest Michigan are very invested in and connected to area restaurants, and vice verse. Ask for recommendations.
Michigan passed a law a few years ago where you can bring a bottle of wine into any restaurant for your own enjoyment. There may be a corkage fee instilled by the restaurant, but many owners take pride in the Michigan wine industry and will comply with inexpensive fees. Find a wine you love at a tasting? Have the full wine-tasting experience and skip the wine imports on the restaurant’s drink menu. Instead buy a bottle at a winery you are visiting, take the bottle to dinner with you, and enjoy all the savory tastes of Southwest Michigan!
And with that.. Buy a bottle. No winery is going to have the exact same wine as another, even if the same grapes are being used in the recipe. So if you find a wine you love at one, go ahead and buy a bottle. Not only are you taking a one-of-a-kind souvenir back home with you, you’re also thanking the winery for pouring their hearts and souls into their product.
If you happen to be traveling in Southwest Michigan, feel free to DM me on Instagram @uncorkingpeonies or send me an email for winery and/or restaurant recommendations. I am a foodie and a local, so I can generally direct you to some of our best options per your taste buds.
If you’re not in Southwest Michigan, these tips hold true in every wine touring adventure. I would love to hear about your experiences across the country and globe when it comes to wine. Please share in the comments section below.