Ask a handful of metro Detroiters about Michigan wine trails and you'll likely hear about routes that skip up the coast of Lake Michigan, or skirt up the fingers of Grand Traverse Bay. You'll hear about sweet Rieslings and Gewürztraminers that ripen late due to the cool spring breezes off the lake, and tasting rooms that serve farmstead cuisine.
Is all this starting to sound a little distant and expensive? That's because it is. But the good news is there's a new wine trail in our own backyard, stretching up through the Thumb. It's called the Thumbs Up Wine Trail, and it features more than a dozen places making wine, cider, mead, and various cottage foods.
What's more, unlike western and northern wineries, which are mobbed by cyclists, sightseers, and oenophiles alike, chances are you'll get the full attention of the staff at these establishments, without the crowds. And also without the high prices: A passport for the trail is running $15 in this introductory year.
We spoke with the trail's Denise Bell, who told us about this new way to enjoy the state's bounty.
Metro Times: Can you describe what a visitor on this trail might see and encounter?
Denise Bell: The trail itself is rather large. It starts in Harrison Township and ends in Bad Axe. So you could do a loop or you could do several of the wineries within that loop. We only have self-driven trails as of now, but at some point we will be adding bus tours, limo tours, and things like that. Each winery is different. We have vineyards, we have orchards, we have urban wineries, we have charming little wineries that use all kinds of grapes, not only from Michigan but from out of state as well.
MT: We didn't know the Thumb was a wine region.
Bell: These wineries all along the southeast side of Michigan. The area is something that we want to attract tourism to and we want to make it easy for people visit these wineries and feel the unique charm of each one. We're trying to promote one another along the way, so that rather than being competitors we try to drive tourism to all the sites, and make it a lot like what you would normally go to the west side of the state for. There is a rails-to-trails bike trail that runs through there called Macomb Orchard Trail, and you can bike to some of the wineries if you want, though it makes it a little hard to buy some and bring it home. [laughs]
MT: Is there a charge for sampling the wares?
Bell: Some charge, but some do not for samples, it just depends on each little winery. They each have their own list of events on their website. They change it up quite often.
MT: How long has this been a thing?
Bell: We just started with our formal grand opening. We did one event together this year, and we'll probably be doing two or three next year and add to the list every year. Our goal is to have at least four different things that we do together as a trail per year.
MT: What do you get that you can't get in a wine shop specializing in local wine?
Bell: You get to talk to wine makers as you go, some of them you get to actually tour the vineyards or the orchards. It depends on where you go.
MT: What are some of the highlights?
Bell: Fieldstone is an urban winery in Rochester. Blake's is an orchard that does a lot with fruit wine and hard ciders. Westview Orchard's winery is very well-known for its fruit wine and hard cider. Their fruit wine, like their Awesome Apple and Strawberry Fields are what they're best known for right now. There's Filipo Marc Winery at 17 and Garfield in Clinton Township, and he's known mainly for his dry reds. Village Winery in Romeo is known for both dry reds and fruit wine with nice finishes. There's Sage Creek Winery, a little mom-and-pop place in Memphis. There's a vineyard in Croswell that opened in November of last year, Three North Vines, and it's very well-known for its pinotage. We have Superior Lakes in Harrison Township, a guy who makes meads. We have Washington Street Winehouse right on the water in New Baltimore and it's a shop more than it is a winery. It's called a petite winery. But they have some great wines. I love their Drop Dead Red.
MT: How about taking more than a day? Are there a lot of campgrounds?
Bell: Up north of I-69 there are some campgrounds, and if you call the wineries up that way, most of them keep a list as to where the nearest campgrounds are, so that they can help you out along the way.
For more information on the Thumbs Up Wine Trail, see thumbsupmi.com.