Wine tours and wine tasting have become popular ways to spend a lazy, summer afternoon. My city visited some local wineries and found fantastic wines and beers. Aficionados, get ready to sniff, swirl and sip … in your own backyard.
Fenton Winery & Brewery
1370 N. Long Lake Rd., Fenton
Matt and Ginny Sherrow have owned Fenton Winery since 2008. In 2009, they started brewing beer and the operation became Fenton Winery & Brewery. Starting out in a Fenton strip mall, the business has gradually grown over the years. In July 2014, they moved into a large, free-standing building that houses a taproom, outdoor beer garden, and a 280-person banquet and wedding facility. The taproom overlooks the brewery and the winery. “We love it out here,” says Matt. Their love of wine led them to start the business. They enjoy traveling and were inspired by the many wineries in the Traverse City area. Matt left his job in automotive engineering to become an entrepreneur. Ginny, who has a degree in finance, handles all financial aspects of FWB. The Sherrows took some wine-making classes, but are mainly self-taught.
The fermentation, blending, bottling and aging of the wine, as well as the label design and packaging, are all done on the premises. The grapes used to make the wine come from California. “We rely on our friends in California to grow our grapes,” Matt reports. “The grapes are shipped in big steel drums.” FWB has 20 different wines – from dry whites and reds to fruitier, sweet-tasting varieties. The Sample Board is a very popular menu item, which comes in a flight of four different wines. The No. 1 seller since FWB opened is the Solo Blackberry Merlot, which is a semi-sweet, red wine. Wine is sold by the glass and the bottle, and you can also make you own wine and custom labels at FWB. Seasonal and specialty wines are released throughout the year.
Matt is in charge of production and is the primary wine maker/brewer. He has a couple of assistants who help with the brewing process. They now have 14 beer varieties on tap and three sodas: cream soda, orange cream and root beer. The hops used to make the beer come from Goodrich. The varieties include Fenton Light, Summershine Wheat, Yes Honey Amber, Hans’ Golden Tripel, Unbridled IPA (India Pale Ale), and Head-On Collision Black IPA. On Thursdays at FWB, you will find some specials, such as beer infused with fresh fruit – a beverage bursting with flavor. Beer can be purchased in growlers (refillable bottles) of various sizes.
FWB serves delicious food prepared by Chef Chris, who also prepares all the food at the banquet facility. “We’re not really a restaurant, but our food is a complement to our wines and beers,” says Ginny. “We’ve become well-known for our pizza.”
The Sherrows have a few tips for wine and beer tasters. “Drink what you like,” Matt advises. “To taste it is to know if you like it. Be willing to experiment.” They encourage their patrons to mix and match wine and beer when sampling. You’re invited to stop in any time for a flight!
Seven Lakes Vineyard & Winery
1111 Tinsman Road, Holly
Who would have guessed that there is a vineyard just down the road a bit? Yes, Seven Lakes Vineyard & Winery can be found tucked away off a dirt road in scenic Holly Township. Once a 100-year-old private family estate, the property was purchased by Robert Diaz. “It used to be a vineyard,” he says. “I wanted to revitalize it.” He grew up watching his grandfather make wine and now, his own children – Charlie, 10, Elizabeth, 12 and Emily, 13 – all help out at the vineyard. Diaz has spent a few years getting the property back into shape by planting grapevines, setting up the production facility, and renovating the tasting room, which is adjacent to the vineyard.
The vineyard produces a variety of grapes, including Concord and Marquette varieties. The Concord grapes produce a dry, red wine, and there will be a crop this year, says General Manager, Karen Irwin. The Marquette grapes were replanted this year, and it takes about three to four years to yield a harvest. Last year, the weather and deer destroyed many of the grapevines, and they are in the process of installing new fencing to keep the deer from eating the tops of the vines.
Making wine since 2009 for friends and family, Diaz opened his operation to the public three years ago. He works with other Michigan vineyards to produce an array of luscious, quality wines. And he is involved in the entire process – harvesting, wine-making, and overseeing the staff of three and the many volunteers. Karen adds, “I run the tasting room, make wine, bottle wine and do behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Seven Lakes Vineyard offers 13 varieties of wine. Their specialty product, La Rose Red, is named after Diaz’s grandfather. It is described as a premium red wine blend, dry and fruity with a hint of oak. It is artfully crafted to be served as an accompaniment to red meat, chocolate, or foods with lightly-seasoned sauces. “It’s amazing,” says Karen. The Imperial Hard Cider is one of Seven Lakes Vineyard’s signature beverages and is made from apples grown on the property. “Everybody loves it,” Karen adds. It is described as “crisp and sweet – an intense, new taste for your next adventure.” But their most prestigious bottle of wine is the Cabernet Franc Reserve, which has a rich and spicy nose with a black cherry character. “It’s on the shelf now!” Karen exclaims. “Our customers have been waiting for it for three years!”
Seven Lakes Vineyard hosts wine-making and painting classes, and wine tasting events by private appointment. They also hold many small, group events. “We really work hard to make top quality wine,” Diaz reports. “We try to make sure it is appealing to your taste buds, and we really shoot for a premium product.” While the wine is perhaps the biggest draw to the vineyard, many people visit to just sit outside and enjoy the scenery. “There’s a lot of wild life here,” says Diaz. “It’s a great place to watch the sunrise and sunset. Come on out, have a taste of wine, and kick back. It’s a great, natural and serene getaway.”
10411 Clyde Rd., Fenton
Spicer’s Orchard and Farm Market has been a popular family destination in the area for cider and doughnuts, as well as the pick-your-own farm for many fruit varieties – apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, plums, and pears. The addition of Spicer’s Winery has been a big hit, featuring a tasting room with a 22-foot bar, outdoor balcony seating, and cellar-viewing areas. “Fruit wines are our specialty,” says Ben Staub, Operations Manager, who also makes the wine and hard cider. Mitch White is Bar Manager.
Spicer’s Hard Cider, of which they have four different varieties – Original, Cherry, Reserve and Sweet Williams – has become so popular, they are adding two more varieties, Mango and Cinnamon, in the fall. According to Ben, their signature award-winning artisan cider is aged to perfection and produced and bottled on-site using Spicer’s apple cider – a delicious blend of Red Delicious and Gold Delicious, Honey Crisp, McIntosh and Northern Spy apples.
Spicer’s Winery has just started growing its own grapes, but gets most of its wine grapes from Fenn Valley, one of the oldest wineries in Michigan, located on the west side of the state. “We rent tanks from them to produce our wine,” Ben explains. Spicer’s has experimented with growing Traminette, as well as Concord and Riesling grapes. “Our goal is to eventually grow all of our grapes here,” he adds. The fruit wines are made from the fruit grown at Spicer’s Orchard.
The popularity of the winery has been astronomical, Ben reports, with sales increasing by 40 percent in the last 12 months. “We’re extremely satisfied! It just keeps getting busier and busier,” he adds. Some of the top-selling wines are the Cabernet Franc and Pinot Grigio, which has prominent notes of apple and peach. “We can’t keep the Cabernet Franc on the shelf!” Ben exclaims. The most popular fruit wines include Honey & White, Cranberry, and Sparkling Peach.
A deli was added to the tasting room about three years ago. Popular menu items include a smoked turkey and blueberry sandwich, roasted apple and onion sandwich, and an Italian BLT. The Hartland bruschetta is made with mouthwatering basil pesto, spinach, tomato and mozzarella on a tomato-basil bun. Since the tasting room is family-friendly, kids can enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich or hot dog meal.
Spicer’s Winery invites you to come to the tasting room and try some samples. They hope to add live entertainment in the near future for their guests’ enjoyment. “There is truly something here for everyone,” says Ben. “Everything is harvested on Michigan soil. We really take pride in doing what we can with our bare hands. Everything in the winery was hand-built from the ground up.”
St. Julian Winery
127 S. Main St., Frankenmuth
Owned by the Braganini family since 1921, St. Julian Winery has been and is Michigan’s oldest, largest and most-awarded winery, according to Manager, Felice Tansley. There are two St. Julian wineries, one in Frankenmuth and the other in Paw Paw, MI. The wine is made from grapes grown within a 45-mile radius of the winery in Paw Paw. St. Julian Winery-Frankenmuth is the home of the Solera (sun-aged) Cream Sherry – a dessert wine aged in large oak barrels using a four-stage process. “It’s the most-awarded wine in Michigan,” Felice boasts. “It’s a sipper with a nutty flavor.”
Of course, St. Julian offers a tasting room. “You can sample any of our wines and the spirits,” says Felice. “We come out with new varieties every three months.” They recently released a new, limited release strawberry wine, which has been a big hit. Wine is served by the glass in the tasting room. “My personal favorite is the Merlot, a dry, red wine,” says Felice. St. Julian’s vodka is made from grapes and is gluten-free. Their gin is made with grapes and juniper, and the rum is made with cane sugar. All of the spirits are made by Master Distiller, Larry Gilbert.
St. Julian’s fruit wines are very popular, including strawberry, peach, blackberry, blueberry and cherry. Brandy lovers will find a nice variety at St. Julian Winery, as well. There are enhanced tasting events, during which wines are paired with chocolate and a variety of cheeses. “Our wine club members love to try new and different wines,” says Felice. “It’s like getting a new gift every three months.”
A message from St. Julian Winery: David Braganini, the beloved leader and president of the St. Julian Wine Family, passed away unexpectedly on July 5. The Winery has been family-owned and operated since 1921, but Dave truly made the company a family. His passion for our mission and love for his staff were what made St. Julian what it is today. As we mourn Dave’s passing and reflect on the impact he had on us, we know that Dave’s memory and spirit will live on through our family and through each and every one of our products. In honor of David Braganini, please raise a glass. Salute!
814 S. Main St., Lapeer
If you’re looking for a more unique wine or something just a bit different, check out Wills Winery in Lapeer. A few years ago, Owner Sue Wilson turned her passion for wine into a business that is well-known for its sweet, refreshing wines. “We have an amazing product,” says Manager, Amy Chalice. “Our customers just love it. We have some incredible, outside-the-box creations you will never find anywhere else.” The grapes used to make the wine are imported from Canada.
One of Wills’ surprising wines is the Chocolate Raspberry Red, which is a Tasters Guild International Gold Medal Winner; it is their most well-known wine and a top-seller. Simply Psychedelic, a red wine, is another hit – nicknamed “Jungle Juice.” “It’s made from three different wines and fruit,” Amy explains.
All of their wines are made on the premises, offering 40 varieties of red and white wine and two ice wines. “The sweet wines are the most popular,” Amy reports. Some of the unusual blends include Blackberry & Cream, Mojo (made with mint and lime and one of Amy’s favorites), and Blast Berry – a blend of blackberries and raspberries. “We bottled 100 bottles and it sold out in three days,” Amy shares.
All labeling is done by hand on the premises, and the winemaking is a group effort of Sue, Amy, and Dennis Delong. It is open from Thursday to Saturday, but private events are available on other days of the week. They have sampling in the tasting room every six weeks, when guests receive six complimentary samples and hors d’oeuvres. And, Wills enjoys many regular customers. “I just grab the bottle when they walk in the door, because I already know what they want,” Amy says with a smile. “It gets pretty busy in here; it’s a nice micro-winery in a small town. We get a lot of visitors from all over Michigan and other states. Our wine is so unique – you can’t find it anywhere else.”
You don’t need to go far to taste some premium quality wine. Local Wineries and a vineyard Are just a hop, skip, and jump away. Use the map and plan your own wine tour!
Photography by Eric Dutro