Love at First Sip
Michiganders dish about their love affairs with local wine
I'd been visiting the Traverse City area every summer since I was an infant. I loved swimming in the bays, stretching out on the sand, splashing in the Pinestead Reef's pool, and engaging in viciously competitive mini-golf games at Pirate's Cove.
But as I grew older, I discovered an entirely different aspect of the region when my parents dragged me along to visit Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula. They weren't even really wine drinkers themselves - the most I'd ever seen my dad drink was a dash of Bacardi rum in his Pepsi during vacation - but they'd heard it was fun, so why not?
At the time, I thought wine was for retirees and insufferable snobs. I was dismissive of the so-called "hobby" of wine tasting. How dull and pretentious! I tagged along with all the enthusiasm of a sulky teenager forced to endure an adults' dinner party.
The fact that I went on to establish an online Michigan wine community, own three Michigan wine tasting rooms, and become a freelance wine writer probably is evidence enough of how that visit to Chateau Chantal - and subsequent visits to tasting rooms throughout the state - radically altered my perception of wine. (It didn't hurt that I ended up marrying someone who became as enamored with the Michigan wine industry as I did.)
The more winemakers I met, discussing their passion for their craft, and the more wine lovers I encountered, sharing a laugh with glasses in hand, the more I realized that wine is truly for everyone (of legal drinking age, that is). I discovered that wine isn't just something for the rich and retired; it's perfectly accessible, if you share it with and learn about it from the right people.
To me, wine has become a symbol of something so much more than just a beverage made from fermented fruit. It brings people together socially. It becomes intertwined with the good times in our lives and celebration. It showcases the bounty of our land. It's the embodiment of the winemakers' hard work, dedication, and years of honing their skills.
And Michigan wine, especially, combines all those things with a sense of place - a sense of home.
In a month when love is in the air, I thought it fitting to explore other Michiganders' stories of how they discovered a passion for Michigan wine.
For Joanne Fisher of St. Clair Shores, it grew out of a desire to support local industries when the recession struck.
"During the 2007/2008/2009 financial crisis which hit Michigan so hard, I realized that no one was going to come to our aid," she says. "If our local industry, craftspeople, and farmers were going to survive, we needed to pitch in and help. So I committed to drinking Michigan wines almost exclusively, in addition to buying local produce and food items whenever possible and giving locally crafted gifts."
Sterling Heights resident Virginia McCallum's love for Michigan wine stemmed from an unlikely source: an unwanted present.
"A co-worker bought me a bottle of Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling, and I hated wine, so I re-gifted it to a friend," she recalls. "She thought it would be a great idea to open it and drink it together. I was bummed that things backfired, but I was delightfully surprised, and it was my door opener for wine. I haven't stopped drinking Traverse City wine ever since."
It took Marcia Badhorn's daughter to convince her to give Michigan wine a try - and now she's hopelessly hooked.
"Our daughter, Cassandra, kept telling us we would love the wines," says Badhorn, a Beverly Hills resident. "We were very skeptical and could only think of the sweet cherry wines we saw in the grocery store. She finally convinced us to travel to Traverse City for a wine-tasting weekend. The rest is history."
Heather Hall of Troy says the vistas of Northern Michigan wine country were what initially captivated her when she began visiting wineries on Old Mission Peninsula.
"First, I fell in love with the beautiful scenery, which I think helped me really notice the flavors and tastes of the wine," she says. "The more I learned and tasted, the more I enjoyed and appreciated."
Oakland Township resident Gina Shay - now a board member of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and owner of Petraea Plus, a company that supplies barrels and other products to winemakers - traces her affinity for Michigan wine back to 2010. She can recall the exact Michigan wines that entranced her: Chateau Grand Traverse's Gamay, 2 Lads' Pinot Noir Cuvee Beatrice, Domaine Berrien Cellars' Viognier, and "everything at Left Foot Charley."
Mike Certain of Lake Orion is an avid wine drinker, often posting photos of his elaborate homemade meals and the Michigan wines he pairs with them on social media. But a decade ago, he and his wife, Julie, "weren't really wine drinkers at all." And then they discovered Old Mission Peninsula.
"One day and we were hooked!" he recalls. "We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and now are die-hard Michigan wine fans."
The Lake Michigan Shore area enchanted Joyce Colling of Redford and has become a favorite destination for her and her loved ones.
Colling says she and her traveling companions appreciate the area "for the convenience of location, friendliness of staff and owners, and the small-town atmosphere," and especially enjoy the smaller, more intimate wineries.
"We are totally taken in by the wineries in that region," she says.
A new home wasn't the only thing Jenn Bourgeault discovered when she moved from Ferndale to Traverse City.
"Not being a Michigan native, I had never been to Traverse City," says Bourgeault, now the tasting room manager at Blustone Vineyards on Leelanau Peninsula. "My husband suggested that we go out wine tasting. We walked into Blustone Vineyards 10 days after they opened their doors. Between my husband and I, we tasted everything on their menu and loved it!
"I looked my server (who is the vineyard manager) in the eye and said, 'I'm going to work here. When do you start hiring for the season?' The rest is history."
It was a similarly whirlwind love story for Melia Fast Howard of Grand Rapids.
"We visited Traverse once and were so taken with it, we decided to get married up there," she says. "The amazing view led us to choose Ciccone, and the wine was an immediate hit. Seven wine clubs and two kids later, we make our pilgrimage up from Grand Rapids a few times a year."
Jenelle Jagmin, now the promotion specialist for the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, says she fell in love with Michigan wine by "working in a restaurant that focused on regional products - a cutting-edge idea 20 years ago!"
For some, the link between wine tasting and happy times has solidified their bond with Michigan wine.
"Wine tasting up in Traverse City and [the] Jackson area with my good friends, I started associating Michigan wine with some of my favorite memories," says Kim High of Royal Oak.
"Hubby and I took a winery tour around Old Mission and Leelanau during our honeymoon," says fellow Royal Oak resident Julie Dean Wingett. "Now whenever I drink Michigan wine, I think of the love of my life."
How did you fall in love with Michigan wine? Tell us your story in the comments!
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, tasting rooms operated in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township, Royal Oak, and Auburn Hills. Contact her at email@example.com.