Black Star Farms

The Top 10 Most Unique Wineries In Michigan

In Wine Events by Emily CedarLeave a Comment

If you’ve ever ventured to explore Michigan’s wine scene, you might understand the amazing energy that circulates throughout this incredibly friendly and hospitable community. If you’re new to this scene, then allow me to introduce you to some of the most unique, vivacious, and inspiring wine makers and connoisseurs in the mitten. Drum roll please… Here are the top ten wineries you must visit this holiday season!

1. Lone Oak

Dennise and Kip Barber are proud of their handcrafted wines made from their estate-grown grapes. Dennise expands on this, “You can make bad wine from good grapes; you can’t make good wine from bad grapes.” One of the many ways this couple shares their wine made from their twelve world-class European grape varieties is at their Saturday night candle-lit dinner concerts. The intimate venue seats about forty people and is host to some of the best talent in Michigan. Not only is the sound quality impeccable, but because there are no big screen TVs or other distractions, guests are able to fully enjoy the music, while the musicians feel truly appreciated.

Dennise says this is a “listening environment”, meaning people are actually listening to the band or musician that is performing! The Barbers enhance the intimate tone by dialing down the house lights and use candles as a light source. “People come here to listen to great live music and enjoy wonderful food and drinks.” Be sure to book a reservation at Lone Oak for your next night out. Or, if you’re in town and want to stop by for free live music on Saturdays from 2-5p.m., that’s great too!

2. Sandhill Crane Vineyards

Despite being a boutique winery, Sandhill Crane Vineyards has one of the biggest wine lists featuring loads of unique wines made from 100% Michigan-grown fruit. Winemaker, Holly Balansag, produces (with love, or course) rich and complex wines and meads made from their own grapes, apples, pears, honey, and maple syrup. The tasting list includes well-balanced acidic white wines, rich reds, flavorful fruit wines, and delicious sweet-tart dessert wines.

The winery just expanded their building, and their operations as well. The expansion includes a small banquet room for winery events and private parties, with an expanded wine cellar below. At the café attached to winery, guests can enjoy a selection of recipes made with food from local farms. Spend your Thursday nights at Sandhill; the café is open late for Thirsty Thursdays with live music and an extended menu! Or, for all the yogis out there, bring a mat and reserve your spot for Wine & Yoga on Tuesday nights!

3. Bowers Harbor Vineyards 

This winery was once used as a horse-breeding farm throughout the 60s and early 80s, and is now the second oldest vineyard on Old Mission Penninsula. Although they are proud to be one of largest producers of Pinot Grigio and sparkling wine on Old Mission Peninsula, their true flagship wine is Unwooded Chardonnay. Justin Leshinsky, Director of Sales, says this wine is great for barbeques and enjoyed best on the patio, grilling with friends and family. Justin also shared what he thinks makes their winery so unique…

One of the many special aspects of our winery is our motto, “Taste, learn, and enjoy.” We have an incredibly knowledgeable staff that is constantly getting together for educational training… basically, we get together to drink and discuss wine!

We have plenty of tours and activities to choose from around the vineyard. You can stop in for a dinner or tasting in our tasting room, which used to be the old horse barn. It’s an intimate setting because we’ve utilized the old wood and planks that used to separate the horse stalls. We’ve even teamed up with a local restaurant to produce a five to seven course meal for our guests. They can eat and drink wine in the middle of vineyards in spring, summer, and fall. We also have a snowshoe wine and brew outing this winter that showcases the beauty that Bowers Harbor has to offer!

bowers harbor

Bowers Harbor has partnered with the Grand Traverse Resort to create a package deal that includes a one-night stay at the resort and an hour-long massage. Guests are then treated like VIPs and shuttled from the resort to the vineyard for a tour of the property, as well as wine and food samplings!

4. Flying Otter Winery

This family- run winery has a pour for every palate. Owned by Linda and Bob Utter, this eight acre location is the place to be, especially in the summer months. The outdoor deck overlooks the large landscape, where guests can watch the grapes grow while sipping on a delicious glass of white, red, or dessert wine. Linda and Bob’s son, Jeff and his wife, Sarah, also help out with this bustling vineyard. Linda says the summers in Michigan are great for so many reasons, but her favorite past-time of the season is watching her grandkids play in the vineyard. Guests can lounge in the outdoor tasting room from April through October (or, really as far into the fall as the weather permits).

Linda says that she is thankful for the cold climate hearty grapes they grow, as they are able to flourish even in the harshest Michigan winters. Come out to Flying Otter for live music on Friday nights, or book your next party or wedding shower at this thriving vineyard!

5. Left Foot Charley

Created in 2004, Left Foot Charley is an urban winery located in the former Northern Michigan Asylum of Traverse City. Operations Manager, Meridith Lauzon, shared the ins and outs of what makes this winery special…

Most wineries are on a wine trail, however, we are right in town and very accessible. Our location is a really cool reuse of an old building; the winery used to be a laundry facility inside state hospital. It’s the perfect spot to make wine because of the old tiles floors (wine making is a messy business)! Another reason it’s ideal: there are huge windows in front that the nurses used to open for air circulation. Now, people can just sit and enjoy the natural lighting over a glass of our wine. There is nothing better than sitting down with your favorite wine in nice and warm space, watching the big snowflakes come down in wintertime.

Left foot charley

We are a great venue for events like birthdays, retirement, and college graduation parties. The warm and inviting atmosphere accompanied by huge windows really makes you feel like you’re a part of the community. Also, our open mic nights are really popular. They’re held every Monday night and showcase the awesome musicians from around the area. If you can’t make it out on Monday, join us for Throw Back Thursday; we bring out a wine we’ve been aging in the cellar. This is a great opportunity for people to try something new! 

6. Black Star Farms

Founded in 1998, this dynamic 160-acre farm offers a unique experience for all guests. I spoke with the farm’s Marketing Coordinator, Kim Zacharias, about the various compartments of this renowned agricultural destination. As it turns out, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye…

There’s an inn, 3 tasting rooms in the Grand Traverse region, 2 wine processing facilities specializing in red and white wine production, a distillery, farm-to-table restaurant, and boarding stables. The “lake effect” climate enables the growth of classic vinifera grapes varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. Fruit is sourced from both their own vineyards, as well as local partners. This diversity allows them to obtain consistent quality across vintages.

Winemaker of Black Star Farms, Lee Lutes, is self-taught and has been studying and crafting delicious concoctions for nearly 25 years. He is a proud supporter of all things Michigan, and is most passionate about their Rieslings and Pinot Noirs.

7. Pentamere Winery

Pentamere was the first Urban Winery in Michigan; their fruit comes from Great Lakes Watershed and occasionally from Ontario. Appropriately, all of their wines are named after ships from the Great Lakes! Their wide variety of balsamic vinegars, olive oils, preserves and sauces pair wonderfully with their wines. Their food products are always on hand to taste, and they’ll even custom make a gift basket with these products (along with their wine of course)!

Kate from Pentamere says one of the things that drew her to this winery was the bottling process experience. Volunteers can actually participate in or watch the process of bottling. “It’s a lot of fun, and people who wouldn’t normally be part of the wine making equation have the opportunity to learn something new about their favorite drink. We educate them about how the wine is made and they get to feel like they are a part of the process.”

The team at Pentamere is very much in belief of helping each other out, as well as the surrounding community. “We love to participate in citywide events, as well as promoting other businesses in the city,” says Kate. “We have an event coming up called Moonlight Madness on December 11th from 5-10p.m.; anyone who wears an ugly sweater gets a 10% discount!”

Come out for a wine and food pairing, participate in the wine making process, or simply enjoy one of Pentamere’s wines… I’ll be having the Baked Apple spiced fruit wine!

8. Brengman Brothers

For the Brengman Brothers, hospitality is everything. They, as well as their staff, do everything they can educate their customers and ensure they are getting the best product possible. Although hospitality is a crucial part of what these three brothers do, Robert Brengman says, “The focus is first on the wine and everything else is built around it. We want people to know that when they are tasting is fine wine at its best.” He goest on to say, “Most patrons know their taste and when they taste our wine, they can understand the difference. However, it is always our job to make the wine, package it, and serve it in a way that enlightens and educates our customers.”

Brengman Brothers hosts a variety of events including weddings, corporate events, and a wine dinner series in the winter months. A couple other events that might peak your interest are the Sausage Making Party on November 28th and the Oyster and Sushi Social held on December 5th! Robert says it is always their goal to put on a 5-star event!

9. Ciccone Vineyard

Overlooking Grand Traverse Bay, this estate vineyard is home to fourteen acres of vines. The fruit forward wines of this nearly twenty-year old winery reflect Italian European Tradition. Janell Preseau, one of the managers, explains that everyone at Ciccone is very passionate about wine and this is partially because of the owner’s true love of wine and the land on which they make it. “It carries through in almost everything we do,” Janell says.

Ciccone Vineyard

The owners, Silvio and Joan, sold their first bottle of wine in 1998. Since then, their establishment has become a hot spot for all kinds of events, especially destination weddings (about 26 per year)! Between the vineyard, the water, and the rustic 100-year old barn, it seems that Ciccone is the place to be.

10. Chateau Aeronautique Winery

This winery is unique in many ways…. Tasting Room Manager, Sandy Brown, elaborates on why this winery is one of a kind.

We’ve started expanding our current location, as well as purchased twenty-two acres for our new place in Irish Hills. All of our wine making will be done at the Irish Hills spot, and we hope to have that tasting room up and running by next summer or early fall!

Our owner, Lorenzo Lizarralde, is reserve pilot for an international airline; he is very passionate about providing guests with a fun and unique experience. It’s pretty cool for guests to be able to relax and have a glass of wine while watching the planes land and take off. To keep with the theme, some of our blends are named Aviatrix (the term for female pilot), such as Aviatrix Crimson and Aviatrix Rouge. All of our bottles have a Stearman aircraft on the labels; they are beautiful!

Check out the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail’s events for more info on happenings of Chateau Aeronautique!

Is Your Favorite Winery On This List?

There are many wineries in Michigan experimenting with ways to create unique experiences for their guests. If one of your favorites isn’t on this list, leave a message in the comments sharing your favorite mitten-based winery!

Special thanks to Allen-Kent Photography for the beautiful feature photo.