It’s time to visit some “local” southern Michigan Wineries after spending the last 5 years on the west coast. 2 of those years were spent 30 minutes away from Willamette Valley Wine Country, so it’s no wonder why all of my reviews up until this point are from wineries I fell in love with out west.
It’s been many years since I have been to some of these southwestern Michigan wineries and some of these I have never experienced, so I am excited to go back, see what’s new and exciting, taste some bubbly and report back.
Southern Michigan Wineries
We have a pretty ambitious goal of tasting bubbly at 8 different wineries over a 3 day period. That may seem like a lot, but I learned a while ago that when I go wine tasting, even though I do love wine, I need to stick to tasting the bubbly. Every once in a while, I’ll sneak in a still wine to my tasting, but not very often. With the exception of Bubbles Fest which is a giant wine tasting of all bubbly, this is how I approach wine tasting.
Coming from Chicago, here are the Michigan Wineries in the southwestern part of the state we’re going to target:
- Red Top Winery
- Gravity Winery
- Round Barn Winery
- Lemon Creek Winery
- Vineyard 2121
- St. Julian Winery
- Fenn Valley Vineyards
- Lawton Ridge Winery
What to Bring
Depending who’s coming with me on the wine tasting adventure usually determines if we’re renting a house or hotel rooms. It also really depends on how spread out the wine tasting region is. So, in this case, we rented hotel rooms in 2 different cities.
No matter if it’s a hotel room or a house, I like to be prepared for bubbly tasting fun! Even though bubbly is a natural palate cleanser, I always bring along oyster crackers just in case.
And we always have Liquid IV, at least one pack for each day and we each drink one before we head out for the day and a supply of Smart Water, about 2-3 bottles per day. We also typically coordinate our outfits with matching Bubbly Side of Life attire.
Visiting Michigan Wineries During COVID-19 Re-Opening
So, this was our first time out during/post COVID, but really still during the pandemic. These Michigan wineries have been re-opened for just about 1 month now.
We had our masks, antiseptic, and Wet Ones (which you know is part of my stay healthy travel pack anyway) and we were ready to do whatever the wineries told us. Now interestingly enough, a new order was going into effect the night we arrived to close down the bars, but the wineries were still to be open.
So, we entered every winery with our masks on and waited for direction. Staff members at every winery wore masks at all times. At some of them we were able to taste inside while 6 feet away from anyone else, others, we sat outside while 6 feet away. Every time we walked around whether to the restroom or to take pictures, we had our masks on.
Many of the wineries were doing tastings out of plastic cups for easy disposing and the ones that did glass, let us take the glass with us. Some had pre-set flights and some you were still able to choose your own.
Overall, I felt safe and glad to get back out and interact with people.
Since this will be my first time visiting Michigan wineries since they’ve opened up after COVID, so we did contact the wineries in advance to check on new procedures in place to make sure we were in compliance.
Now, I will not be doing official report cards on all of these wineries, just a few of them. This post I will talk about our impressions of each and then will officially “grade” others.
So, let’s get tasting!
We started at Red Top Winery and and it’s definitely a different experience as all of their sparkling wine is on tap. You will choose your tastings with guitar picks and of course, we recommend the 5 bubblies. Our favorite was the Pinot Grigio bubbly and the Rock N Red.
Next stop was Gravity which I wrote in my notes, “must visit, love the philosophy,” but unfortunately the experience we had didn’t match the philosophy at all.
They only had two bubblies which we knew about ahead of time, but we didn’t even know which one we were poured first. And it was the Pinot Noir Rosé bubbly which was quite sweet actually, not horribly so, but surprisingly so. The second bubbly we tried was Liquid Gold, which was sweet, but enjoyable.
Now I wish I could tell you more about this wine, but the staff was not very knowledgeable or didn’t care to share as it wasn’t just us who received our pour and nothing more, it was others in the tasting room at the time. So, you only knew what you were tasting because they removed a marker from your tasting menu and then you could read the very brief description that was there. So needless to say, even though it’s the same owners as Red Top, that are two VERY different experiences.
We were so very excited for our next stop at Round Barn Winery which also ended in a big disappointment. While we know this is during/after COVID, their pre-selected tasting offerings had no bubbly and their only bubbly by the glass was an Asti. So, needless to say, we left thinking maybe we’d come back for a frosé later in the weekend.
Our next stop was Lemon Creek Winery. Now let me preface this with that fact that I reached out to all of these wineries multiple times to ask them if they were tasting bubbly since the circumstances are very different. Well, it turns out they are not opening/tasting the bubbly which was very disappointing and they offered to sell me a bottle for $34, but having never tried it, I didn’t want to.
We ended day 1 with what I believe is a hidden gem, Vineyard 2121. This place is awesome. Their tasting room is spacious and inviting. The staff immediately greeted us, were very knowledgeable and super friendly. And their outdoor patio is a great place to enjoy your tasting.
We tried their sparkling Michigan Bubbly inside and decided we needed an entire bottle to share on the patio and then a few bottles to take home, so yes, it was delicious. We also ordered a charcuterie experience and Brisket Mac and both were very good. At the end we tasted their Peach Passion Spumante and also grabbed a bottle of that to take home because it was not too sweet and would make for some great bubbly cocktails!
Our first stop was St. Julian Winery, who will be celebrating 100 years next year…now that’s certainly a reason to POP the bubbly! With quite the selection of bubbly on hand, I was definitely in my happy place. With a great indoor space divided by 6 ft sticks, awesome outdoor patio, we were here for 2 hours. Stay tuned for a full review on this one because there is so much to say.
Next stop after a bit of a drive was Fenn Valley Winery. Their outdoor set-up was awesome and they had live music which was really enjoyable.
Our favorite bubbly here was the bubbly rosé which was very fruity, but when served really cold, is delicious. Our other favorite was the sparkling riesling, which normally isn’t my thing, but it wasn’t too sweet at all, more “apple-y”.
Our second night we stayed in Grand Rapids for the evening and while this wasn’t a planned stop. If you find yourself in that area, treat yourself to a frosé at House of Wine. It was so good, not too sweet at all, topped with a fresh, frozen strawberry. The place was very cute with plenty of bar and table seating inside and a great patio area out front. And trust me, they make a great before dinner drink and after dinner drink!
Our last day visiting Michigan wineries and with a 3 hour drive home, we only planned to visit one, but it was a great one to wrap up our trip. Lawton Ridge Winery which may not look like a lot from the street, is a stop you should make.
This tasting room is also a production facility and all of their wines are made from grapes from their vineyard or a neighboring vineyard, so true Michigan wine will be tasted here.
The tasting room is a bit smaller than most, so my advice is you get there right when it opens. Their tasting room manager is super personable and very knowledgeable and definitely will to give you as much or as little education as you want about what you’re tasting.
Our first taste was of a sparkling rosé and boy was it good. Definitely more on the tart, crisp side, but very dry. If you like sweeter rosé, this is probably not for you with 0% residual sugar. Our next taste was their bubbly which has 5% residual sugar, so I was a little scared after the first one. But it was not overpoweringly sweet and actually would make for a great bubbly cocktail. Lastly we tried their cranberry because I have some ideas up my sleeve and it was so good and smooth, but definitely needed something else, so stay tuned for some recipes with that!
Must Visit Wineries
So, that wraps up our trip to southwestern Michigan wineries where, as always, you visit some great places that you are already planning your return trip and you visit some not so great.
In no particular order, if you would like a great place to start, make sure to visit these:
- St. Julian
- Red Top
- Vineyard 2121
- Lawton Ridge
Keep in mind, these are the experiences we had on this one particular weekend. As we chat with others, we, of course, learn that they had very different experiences at some of these southwestern Michigan wineries. And I’ve always said in this business, there is no right or wrong…it’s what you like and the experience you have during that time. And I am sharing ours.