Wine Tours: Michigan Beckons Wine Lovers

For over 100 years, southwestern Michigan has been a weekend getaway haven. With its ample wide beaches and charming lakeside towns, the area of Michigan known as Harbor Country continues to lure weekend visitors. Since the late 1970's, it's also been a popular destination for wine travel fans.

Southwestern Michigan is only about 90 minutes by car from greater Chicago. Interstate 94 takes a gentle north by northeast turn near the Indiana-Michigan state line, tracing the route of historic U.S. 12. Back in the 1930's, this area established its link to Michigan tourism. The first town greeting you upon entering Michigan is friendly and walkable New Buffalo.

With its harbor and compact business district, New Buffalo has long attracted boaters and those seeking a weekend escape. Of the eight communities comprising Harbor Country, New Buffalo feels most like a true town and a defined destination. Waterfront development has been carefully planned and monitored, ensuring the charm of this community for generations to come.

A Day Of Wine Tasting

Just outside of New Buffalo's business district is the famous Red Arrow Highway. This is the heartbeat of Harbor Country and southwestern Michigan. From the Indiana border north 25 miles to the waterfront community of St. Joseph, Red Arrow Highway invites you to stop and explore. You'll find antique stores, farmstands, home spun stores, and most of all, winery tasting rooms. For just over two decades, these tasting rooms have introduced visitors to this area's pride and joy - Michigan wines.

Just a short distance from Red Arrow Highway, majestic dunes and woodlands give way to rolling hills and valleys planted with lush grapevines. Local viticulturists credit a good part of their success to the area's sandy, well drained fertile soil, hilly terrain and Lake Michigan's help in creating a variety of unique microclimates.

The Six Wineries

While there are literally dozens of wineries in the area loosely defined as southwestern Michigan, we'll focus on Harbor Country and the area between New Buffalo and St. Joseph. This is an exceptionally convenient tour, as the six wineries are in very close proximity to one another.

Let's start our wine tasting at perhaps the most well known winery in this area, Tabor Hill Winery. This is a beautiful, tranquil setting, with the tasting room and adjoining dining room overlooking the vineyards. Nearly 40 years ago, Tabor Hill artisans discovered the premium grapes typically grown in France, Germany, and Napa Valley thrive equally well here.

We've always been partial to Tabor Hill's white wine selections. We were especially pleased with the Lake Michigan Shore Dry Traminette, with it's fruity floral bouquet. And don't miss the approachable Tabor Hill White Heritage, an award winner that has been frequently served to White House guests through several administrations.

Less than a half mile down the road is the fascinating and ever evolving Round Barn Winery and Distillery. As the name implies, part of the facility is housed in an Amish built round barn, which is frequently used for weddings and special events. Not only can you sample wine at Round Barn, but distilled spirits and microbrews as well.

The other four wineries in this area are also quite near one another, making Harbor Country perfect for an afternoon of leisurely wine travel and tasting. Free Run Cellars, Domaine Berrien, Lemon Creek, and Hickory Creek all offer finely crafted wines that will appeal to even the most discriminating wine lover.

After visiting the wineries, there are plenty of other attractions to keep you busy. Spend an hour or so in a U-pick fruit orchard, or for a unique shopping experience, stroll the cobblestone streets of downtown St. Joseph. Or, kick back and relax on a wide, sandy beach. No matter the activity, this area is sure to give you memories that will keep you coming back.

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About The Author, Jim Hofman
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