It didn’t start out as a quest to visit every winery in the state. Yet, over the last seven years, Colleen and Nathan Monfette have managed to cross nearly all of Michigan’s 140-plus wineries off their list.
The New Hudson couple began their love affair with Michigan wine in 2011, shortly after they began dating. While vetting venues for Colleen’s sister’s bachelorette party, they checked out several of the wineries on the Pioneer Wine Trail, starting with Sandhill Crane Vineyards in Jackson. “At first, I wanted to complete the Pioneer Trail and Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail,” Colleen says. “Once we completed those two trails, we moved on to the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. After we completed Traverse City, we noticed we had been to a large portion of wineries within Michigan and thought it would be amazing to go to them all.”
Now, the Monfettes say there are only five wineries on the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council’s member list — two of which aren’t even officially open yet — that they haven’t been to. “A lot have opened through the years; it has been very exciting to see the industry grow so much in such a short period,” Colleen says. “We have loved being able to see so many beautiful cities and towns throughout Michigan. We have put a lot of miles on Nathan’s car — he has done all the driving — met a lot of amazing people, and been to numerous great restaurants.”
A Couple’s Quest
According to Karel Bush, executive director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, 147 wineries were recognized by the council as of the last week of August. Bush says she hasn’t heard of anyone who has visited as many Michigan wineries as the Monfettes. “There was a couple — probably 10 years ago — that had a goal to visit all of the wineries on their motorcycle,” she recalls. “They had made it to about half at that time, but I haven’t heard from them in ages.”
The most recent winery the Monfettes crossed off was Bangor-based Great Mead Hall, one of the newest additions to the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, in late August. With the exception of one visit to Sandhill Crane with a friend, every other winery adventure has been the two of them together, Colleen says. Nathan even proposed to Colleen at Sandhill Crane in 2004. “Nathan arranged to have his sister and her friend, both of whom are photographers, come and take photos,” Colleen recalls. “He proposed near the apple trees. His sister had put a grouping of apples to mark the spot he should propose to have the best photos … he could not find the spot.
“On the way over, I had seen a car that looked like his mother’s car and joked that I thought his mother was there. Turns out his sister had driven the car to take photos of us. He also reserved a table on the large porch — had my favorite flowers, sunflower, and a bottle of Solstice. He got down on one knee; I soon dropped to my knees as well and said, ‘yes.’ ”
Hard to Play Favorites
The Monfettes say it would be difficult to pinpoint a favorite wine trail, since their favorite wineries are scattered throughout the state. Among them are Wyncroft in southwestern Michigan; Verterra, bigLITTLE, and L. Mawby on the Leelanau Peninsula; and Mari Vineyards on the Old Mission Peninsula. Colleen says Verterra co-owner Paul Hamelin always recognizes them and makes a point to say hello, and she loves the “amazing” cellar and Italian vibe at Mari. Nathan appreciates the minimalist atmosphere of bigLITTLE, the sister winery to L. Mawby: “They do not offer many wines,” he says, “but the wines they do offer are really good.”
Left Foot Charley in Traverse City is their most-visited winery; the Monfettes estimate they’ve been there 10 times, and make it a point to stop every time they’re in the area.
Nathan’s all-time favorite Michigan wines include Wyncroft Avonlea Chardonnay, Verterra’s Chardonnay and rosés, and Grace, a sparkling wine from L. Mawby. The Pinotage from 3 North Vines in the Thumb area and Row 7, a red blend from Mari, are among Colleen’s top picks.
Having visited so many wineries, the Monfettes have developed some surefire tips for making the most of their trips. “Talk to staff, learn about wine,” Colleen advises. “I know I like wine, but I did not feel as though I know a lot about it. I wish that I asked questions and listened more in regards to the description of the wine instead of just being excited just to taste it.” She says she’s also “taken a lot of joy” in inquiring about the stories behind each winery’s and wine’s name.
Other suggestions: If your favorite winery has a wine club, join it. Check out some of the special events offered by wine trails throughout the year. Take a winery tour. And don’t forget to tip your wine servers.
Most of all, Colleen says, be sure to plan enough time at each winery to truly enjoy the experience. “Do not be in such a rush,” she advises, noting there were times they didn’t take enough time at one winery because they were too focused on getting to the next. And take pictures of your adventures: The Monfettes regret not snapping a photo at every stop.
The couple had considered making a book of the labels from every winery, but struggled to remove some of the labels intact. They also debated keeping corks from every winery, but not all have the winery’s name or logo on them, and an increasing number are converting to screwcaps. It would be nice to have some photographic evidence of their feat. “I am sad we did not do this,” Colleen says. “You never know: You could start a quest to finish them all, and it would be nice to be able to prove it.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.