Words by Ellie Mullins
Photography by Jodi Bodtke
The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail is one of our most popular adventures. There’s something about exploring wine in the place it’s made and among the fields it’s grown that moves the experience beyond simply tasting wine. Delightful, right? But the truth is, wineries are as individual as makers, and it can be hard to figure out which suits you best.
With that in mind, we sent trusted local wine expert Ellie Mullins on a field trip. As proprietor of P&E Bottle Shop, she was the perfect person to flesh out each winery’s unique character to help you find the ones right for you. Read on for her 411.
Dablon Winery & Vineyard
The moment I entered Dablon’s elegant tasting room, my thought was to uncork a bottle of red, curl up on the leather couch, and relax fireside for a while. The place is that inviting, designed for folks to tuck in for a bit, whether inside and on the lovely outdoor patio. Here, the choice is yours — taste the entire portfolio, order a glass of your favorite, or share a bottle with friends. And because lingering is encouraged, cheese, charcuterie, crackers, and chocolates are all available for pairing.
Dablon label wines are made with 100% estate-grown fruit from the surrounding 57-acre vineyard. I’m always drawn to their current release Cabernet Franc. The varietal is ideally suited to Lake Michigan Shore soil and climate, and the expression they capture is classic Old World.
Note that Dablon is the region’s only winery open exclusively to guests 21 and over.
Hickory Creek Winery
Hickory Creek owner and winemaker Adam McBride has a talent for sourcing unique varietals to produce small-batch wines you won’t find anywhere else. Marquette Nouveau, Blaufränkisch, even an heirloom apple wine — only a trip to the winery allows you to taste these little-known gems. Truly a labor of love, Hickory Creek produces just 1,500 cases each year.
The tasting room is small but functional, with options for self-guided and guided tasting with his excellent staff. You’ll often find Adam pouring himself. In warmer months, sit under a canopy of trees while you take in all the vineyard action.
Domaine Berrien Cellars
Take a ride with the Rhone Rangers at Domaine Berrien. As a member of this American winemaker group dedicated to venerable Rhone varietals, winegrower Wally Maurer focuses production on Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah, and Viognier, so look for wines that feature these grapes. The super knowledgeable and eager staff will point you in the right direction.
You’ll find a cute picnic area and pond behind the tasting room, where both pups and outside food are welcome. And don’t miss the viewing area overlooking the production floor. It made me feel like I was ‘in the room where it happens’ (for you Hamilton fans).
Lemon Creek Winery
Pioneers of southwest Michigan wine production, the Lemon family boasts over 165 years of fruit farming and 37 years of winemaking on their picturesque, 230-acre farm. As a result, they offer a broad range of wines from sweet to dry, including a Sauterne that’s entirely unique in the region. A nicely balanced dessert wine with full body and rich viscosity, it shows notes of honeysuckle and tropical fruit, perfect to pair with an after-dinner cheese course.
The tasting rooms are large and accommodating, but if you want to make the most of the storybook setting, pack a picnic and explore the grounds. Whether you shop the farm stand, roam the fruit fields for u-pick, or simply hang with the Lemon’s gorgeous farm dog (Elsie!), it’s our most complete farmstead winery experience.
Tabor Hill Winery
Tabor Hill is what you might picture when someone says ‘wine estate.’ An expansive, rustic old building with beautiful vineyard views from almost every room. With multiple tasting rooms, a scenic outdoor patio, and well-established restaurant, it’s an ideal spot to kick back over a meal and soak up the wine country vibe.
As longtime southwest Michigan winemakers, there’s a distinctive blend of tradition and exploration in the wines Tabor Hill makes. With some of the oldest Riesling vines in Michigan, I suggest exploring these vintages, offered from sweet to dry for every palate.
Round Barn Winery & Estate
Come one, come all to Round Barn! Welcoming to families, bachelorette parties, beer lovers, cocktail swirlers, and (of course) wine lovers, Round Barn rolls it all up into one fun, happening experience. Live music, food trucks, even special events for little ones — be sure to check their calendar for the latest as there’s no lack of creativity here. The Round Barn team knows how to party.
In addition to their own wine, spirits, and beer, Round Barn also pours wines from sister wineries Free Run Cellars and Tabor Hill, so there are plenty of options to please an array of tastes. Groups of 15 or fewer can call ahead to reserve a private ‘elevated tasting’ in their namesake Amish round barn. Or take a hike on the Mt. Tabor Trail to and from Tabor Hill winery. Drinks and dogs are welcome.
Free Run Cellars
This off-the-beaten-path winery is a secluded haven for a relaxed wine tasting experience. One of the only tasting rooms with table service, the space is comfortable and intimate with views of a peaceful pondside landscape perfect for summer sipping. Order a signature cheese and charcuterie course to accompany your flight, glass, or bottle.
Aptly named ‘free run‘ for the method used in the vinification process, I suggest focusing on whites like a spicy Gewürztraminer. Although the method produces some tasty Syrahs as well.
Perched above a pond between rolling vineyard hillsides, Gravity is an inviting outdoor oasis. I was struck by the sleek, minimalist look of the tasting room — unique on the trail — but the surrounding landscape is true wine country. Enjoy a flight, glass, or bottle on their scenic patio. Snacks are available as well. Gravity wines are all estate-grown, and they also pour a few ciders crafted with apples and blueberries from nearby farms.
Baroda Founders Wine Cellar
My visit to Baroda Founders reminded me that vineyards are really just farms that grow grapes, and wineries are first and foremost a place to make wine. While rustic and industrial, the tasting room is welcoming and friendly, with a space so large for groups that it feels like line dancing might break out any moment. If you time your visit right (in early fall), you can watch winemaking in action with views of the production floor behind the bar. Choose a glass or a bottle, and they’ll be sure to give you a bowl of salty nuts or buttery pretzels to keep you wanting more. Don’t miss the Chambourcin, a light-bodied dry red made from an Old World French hybrid varietal. Another perfect match for the climate and terroir conditions of the Lake Michigan AVA.
More on southwest Michigan wine tasting and tours can be found on our Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail guide.