Look for Berrien Springs, Baroda, and Buchanan on the Michigan mitten, and you’ll find a lovely nook just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan and the state’s southern border. This southwest region is a haven for Chicagoans, Hoosiers, and Michiganders seeking great local wines and foods. Nine wineries are within this triangle of communities. Just beyond are another eight or so wineries within easy driving distance. Throughout the region are dining destinations, such as Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant in Buchanan, devoted to featuring local wines paired with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
The first time I visited this region, I was surprised by the number of vineyards. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been. After all, this is Michigan’s oldest grape-growing region. The Lemon family is a longtime grape and fruit grower in Berrien Springs – eight generations strong. In 1984, the Lemons opened a wine tasting room. Today, vintner Jeff Lemon and his family farm 150 acres of wine grapes, including the state’s oldest planting of Cabernet Sauvignon. A must buy from Lemon Creek Winery is the unique Cabernet Sauvignon ice wine called Moon Shadow, a flavorful dessert wine with light plum and honey flavors.
Neighbors Wally and Katie Maurer of Domaine Berrien Cellars produce a yummy Syrah, Lemberger, and Viognier – and encourage you to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with a bottle of wine in their vineyards.
Also in Berrien Springs is Free Run Cellars, a boutique winery run by brothers Chris and Matt Moersch. The winery earned top rankings for Dry Gewürztraminer and Dry Riesling in a recent regional wine competition hosted by the Michigan Grape Society. Master sommeliers oversaw blind tastings of wines crafted in the Lake Michigan Shore appellation and benchmarked them against styles from renowned wine producing regions. Lemon Creek’s Cabernet Franc and Domaine Berrien’s Cabernet Sauvignon also won top honors.
The busy Moersch brothers are brewing up a new brewpub that will open next year. They’re converting a former tool and die shop into a destination restaurant. This is in addition to their involvement with their father’s founding winery, Round Barn Winery, in Baroda. Matt is the winemaker for both of the family wineries and oversees the production of wines, brews, fruit brandies, and vodka made from grapes.
In neighboring Buchanan, visit Hickory Creek Winery for the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc Rosé. I’m a huge fan of both, so I look forward to tasting the new vintages. Overnight stays are offered at the winery’s adjacent farm cottage, a comfy home-away-from-home in the vineyards.
Call ahead to visit the lovely Old Shore Vineyards nearby. The winery focuses on three wines: Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. “The Pinot Noir is receiving rave reviews and going like gangbusters,” says owner Dannielle Maki Alphonse. Several restaurants carry the 2010 Pinot Noir by the glass, including Everest Restaurant in Chicago, a Michelin Star restaurant. Closer to metro Detroit, taste Old Shore Vineyards wines in Ann Arbor at The Produce Station, Café Zola, and Vinology. Tasting notes describe the wine as “dark cherry and soft vanilla aromas with hints of smokiness.”
Dannielle and husband David Maki plan to host monthly summertime wine and food pairings at restaurants in the southwest. Time it right to spend a lazy day at Lake Michigan, followed by a delicious dinner with Michigan wine. Charming bed and breakfasts abound in the region, making the Lake Michigan shore region an easy weekend getaway.