Michigan’s fledgling Bay View Wine Trail makes its own way

Every winery has a distinct personality in the Petoskey area

It’s Memorial Day, and while many people are kicking back at family barbecues, Tim Dennis and his family are busily pouring wine for guests at Walloon Lake Winery, in the tasting room he built with his own hands.

His wife, Marta, and daughter, Britta, have been doing the same, all weekend long, amid the throng of holiday tourists.

A few miles away, Mackinaw Trail Winery owners Ralph and Laurie Stabile and their son Dustin, the winery’s head of production, are breathlessly recounting their own bustling weekend. And it’s a similar story with Tracie and Andy Roush, owners at nearby Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery.

On the Petoskey area’s burgeoning Bay View Wine Trail, it’s not out of the ordinary to find the winery owners slinging wine or sweeping the floors or working in the vineyards.

“For all of us,” says Tracie Roush, “it’s a labor of love.”


New Kids on the Block

Relatively new to the Michigan wine map, the Bay View Wine Trail encompasses the Petoskey area, spanning from Ellsworth north to Harbor Springs and east to Alanson.

As of June 2017, there were nine official trail members. Dustin Stabile reports that several more are on the horizon — including Resort Pike Cidery and Winery, Mackinaw Trail’s sister winery, expected to open in July.

Stabile believes some of Bay View’s biggest draws are the distinct personality of each tasting room, customer service, and unique varietals cultivated in the region.

“I’m so proud of what the whole of our trail up here is doing,” he says.

Diehard vinifera fans may struggle to find some of their favorite varietals represented here — in general, cold-hardy hybrids fare better — but there is plenty of adventure to be had for those willing to step outside their wine comfort zones.

Fans of hybrid grapes like Marquette and Frontenac, in particular, will find much to enjoy. Winemakers here are experimenting with the hybrids in ways many Michigan wine drinkers may not have experienced: in sparkling wines, with extended oak aging, in unique blends, etc.

At the time of our visit in late May 2017, labels attributing the grapes to Lake Michigan Shore — the American Viticultural Area in the southwestern part of the state — were common among Bay View wineries. Stabile attributed the need to acquire grapes from LMS to the back-to-back harsh winters of 2014 and 2015 and the immaturity of local grapevines due to the trail’s youth.

In the coming months and years, however, more and more wines here will be produced from the region’s grapes and bear the newly minted Tip of the Mitt AVA on the label. Approved in July 2016, Tip of the Mitt, which spans six northern counties, is the fifth of Michigan’s AVAs and the first established in nearly 30 years, thanks to lobbying by the Straits Area Grape Growers Association.

“The 2017 vintage will be much different, as every winery up here is expecting a great crop,” says Stabile.

At Petoskey Farms, the Roushes just proudly bottled their first estate-grown wine — aptly called First Crush — in spring of this year. Tracie Roush says they were the first winery on the trail to use the new Tip of the Mitt AVA on a label.

Like many of their counterparts on the trail, the Roushes — who abandoned “corporate America” for the dream of owning and operating their own vineyard — started out contracting custom crush services and are now segueing into winemaking in-house. In July, they’ll welcome their first on-site winemaker: Josh Morgan, formerly of Black Star Farms.

“In-house winemaking has always been the plan,” says Tracie Roush. “The 5,000-plus-square-foot facility was designed and built into the side of the hill to take advantage of the ground temperature year-round. The entire cellar/manufacturing operations were structurally reinforced to bear the earth’s resistance.”

Mackinaw Trail Winery, the largest facility on the trail, also started out as the fulfillment of a dream. Ralph Stabile launched the winery in his garage in the Upper Peninsula’s Iron Mountain in 2004. They expanded into tasting rooms in Manistique, Petoskey, and Mackinaw City before constructing their state-of-the-art headquarters in Petoskey in 2014. At that point, they were producing 5,000 cases a year. Now, between their own wines, custom crush operations for other wineries, and the pending sister winery, Resort Pike, they’re generating nearly 30,000 cases that represent a range of vinifera, hybrids, and fruit wines, says Dustin Stabile. The Stabiles also have continued to expand the Petoskey facility, adding an events center, barrel room, and production space.

“As the oldest winery on the trail, people have looked at us to be trendsetters,” he says. “We have been very close with the other wineries on our trail; as one succeeds, we all succeed.”


Out on the Trail

On our recent visit, Dustin Stabile served as our tour guide. We had ambitious plans to visit the majority of the trail’s wineries, but as is often the case, we ran out of time due to our tendency to geek out about wine with the folks at every stop.

Petoskey Farms boasts a million-dollar view, with two levels of outdoor patios overlooking sweeping hills and vineyards. Tasting flights served outside are arranged on vertical tree-like wine glass holders — Tracie Roush calls them “mobile tastings” — to maximize table space and simplify service. Wines with names like Joy and Romance are a hit with customers. The venture has been so successful that they’re already planning to open an additional off-site tasting room in downtown Petoskey this summer.

At Pond Hill Farm, home of Harbor Springs Vineyard and Winery and Tunnel Vision Brewery, I joked that this would be the place to hole up during the zombie apocalypse. The sprawling farm estate appears to be completely self-sustaining. In addition to growing grapes in distinctive terraced vineyards, they grow and can myriad fruits and vegetables to sell at their farm market. The property also contains a barnyard, a full-service café (serving up a mind-blowing pesto grilled cheese), an on-site sawmill, and a trout pond.

Rudbeckia Farm and Winery had one of our favorite Rieslings of the day. Owner Vickie Wysokinski says they’re especially proud of their Belle Blanc, a popular dry white made from 100 percent vidal blanc. Rudbeckia produces beer, too, including a s’mores porter that’s festooned with a flaming marshmallow. They also offer s’mores kits you can roast tableside or at their outdoor fire pit.

Surrounded by 36 acres, Walloon Lake Winery is in a gorgeous log cabin-like structure crafted with trees from the Dennis family’s property. Their only vinifera is Riesling; otherwise, they specialize in cold-hardy reds like La Crescent, Marquette, and Frontenac. While they have acquired most of their grapes from southwest Michigan, their goal is to shift to local grapes by next year, says Tim Dennis. They host special events like Pilates and painting classes.

At the time of our visit, Resort Pike Cidery and Winery’s tasting room was still a wooden skeleton. Behind the tasting room looms a big red barn with an eye-poppingly large American flag on one side. The winery team has adopted that flag as a symbol of Resort Pike, emblazoning it on the crown caps of their sparkling wines and ciders.

Dustin Stabile says his family originally purchased the property just to expand their grape-growing acreage, but decided to establish the sister winery out of a “love of bubbly.”

“By focusing on sparkling ciders and wine, we are bringing something fresh to our wine trail and customer base,” he says.

Resort Pike winemaker Matt Killman says the higher-acid, cold-hardy varietals are suitable for bubbly, and ciders give them an opportunity to showcase the area’s quality apple orchards.

The flag-bearing barn will become an events space, and an adjacent farmhouse will eventually be available for guest accommodations.

Other wineries on the trail on our to-do list for the future include Crooked Vine, the Cellars of Royal Farms, Seasons of the North, and Maple Moon Sugarbush and Winery, which specializes in maple wine.

“As a wine trail, I would just tell people to expect an amazing time with some great new faces to the Michigan wine industry,” says Dustin Stabile. “Each and every winery on our trail has their own niche and beautiful tasting rooms.”

Which of the Bay View wineries have you visited? Comment below!

For more information on the trail, visit bayviewwinetrail.com.

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 cort@michiganbythebottle.com.