While Detroit is in southeast Michigan and a bustling metropolitan area, you’ll also find quaint small towns in the southeast countryside showcasing the Irish Hills and various lakes. In addition, this area is home to the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail, which features boutique Michigan wineries that are family-run businesses.
While several southeast Michigan wineries grow some of their own grapes, they may also use grapes produced in one of Michigan’s five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). An AVA defines a grape-growing region that features specific climatic or geographic characteristics. Michigan’s five AVAs are Fennville, Leelanau Peninsula, Lake Michigan Shore, Old Mission Peninsula, and the Tip of the Mitt. These areas are known for Michigan-grown grapes, but they aren’t the only places in Michigan where grapes are grown.
Here are seven southeast Michigan wines to enjoy. Five are part of the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail, some of which grow their own grapes while also using other Michigan-grown fruit. I’ve arranged the wineries on the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail in the order you might visit them, starting with the northernmost winery. Then I’ve added two more must-try southeast Michigan wineries.
1. Burgdorf’s Winery
Located at the northernmost point of the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail, just outside of Haslett, Burgdorf’s Winery started as what the wine industry refers to as a Garagiste. This is a European concept where winemakers produce limited production wines called Vin de Garage or Garage Wines. While in the beginning, the term had negative connotations because these small rogue wineries didn’t follow the rules, today, it’s a phrase applied to the vintners that make award-winning wine.
The Burgdorf’s started their winery in a three-car garage, and today they showcase more than 20 styles of wine, many award-winning. Now they no longer make their wine in the garage. Instead, that has become a tasting room, and they shifted to making their wine in a 2,400 square-foot barn behind the tasting room. The country setting is a peaceful spot to sip some wine.
One of my favorites at Burdorf’s is the 2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. It won Best of Class and a Double Gold Medal at an international show in Sonoma, California. This dessert wine, made from grapes picked while frozen, has concentrated natural flavor. I always taste notes of pear, peach, and nectar when enjoying this wine.
Pro Tip: Look for the Truly Michigan™ seal on wines. Dave Burgdorf trademarked the Truly Michigan™ seal to indicate the product is 100 percent grown and produced in Michigan.
2. Chateau Aeronautique Winery
While you might expect a winery to sit majestically in a vineyard, Chateau Aeronautique Winery rests on a 3,000-foot grass runway, sized to accommodate single-engine aircraft. The airpark community, located outside of Jackson, is the original location and has grown to three locations, including Irish Hills and Auburn Hills.
The aeronautical theme at Chateau Aeronautique Winery fits the winery, since Lorenzo Lizarralde, an international airline pilot, owns and operates the venue. This is a fun winery with a vintage airplane theme, right down to the cute labels with a sky blue background and its bi-plane logo representing its 1940 Boeing Stearman. You can also see his 1956 Cessna 172 in his dual-purpose hanger, which also serves as a cellar room.
So, while it’s fun to spot all the aeronautical items in the upscale tasting room, the wine receives as much attention. The winery has several award-winning wines, which include a 2011 Syrah and a 2012 dry Riesling.
If you’re into live music, be sure to visit the Irish Hills location when it’s hosting one of its tribute band events.
Pro Tip: If you prefer a craft beer over wine, check out its second location in the Irish Hills that also features Blue Skies Brewery.
3. Sandhill Crane Vineyards
Located off Interstate 94 in Jackson, Sandhill Crane Vineyards is a family-owned and operated winery. It offers more than 35 varieties of wine made from 100 percent Michigan grapes. The eight-acre vineyard supplies about 10 percent of its grapes, and then it purchases more from other Michigan vineyards.
One of my favorite dessert wines is Annie’s Maple Shine, made from maple syrup purchased locally. The company revived an old recipe that uses unfiltered maple sap wine sweetened with maple syrup. Then it’s aged for a year in bourbon barrels. Annie’s Maple Shine is a Bronze Medal winner from the 2017 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. I brought this one home, as it’s rich and smooth.
I like to plan my stop at Sandhill Crane Vineyards around lunch or dinner time. With a chalkboard behind the bar, showcasing local suppliers, it uses local ingredients to create fresh seasonal soups, salads, and sandwiches. When it’s on the board, give the sandwich “Not Just for Thanksgiving” a try. It has turkey, brie, and cranberry sauce, everything for Thanksgiving rolled into a sandwich. Also, be sure to get one of its cookies for the road.
Pro Tip: Enjoy a tasting at $12 per person for a standard flight, and on the winery’s birthday, tasters get to keep the stemware.
4. Cherry Creek Cellars
Situated in the Irish Hills, the Burtkas have been making wine for four generations in the United States. Today Cherry Creek Cellars, a boutique winery, uses Old World winemaking techniques to create its award-winning wines. Housed in a historic 1870s schoolhouse, Cherry Creek Cellars is a great place to get schooled on wine.
One of my favorite wines here is the award-winning Wood Duck Riesling, the perfect example of a Michigan Riesling that isn’t sweet. I often pair this with a mild cheese from a charcuterie board. The dry wine has the expected pear and apple notes with a perfect acid balance.
Cherry Creek Cellars is an excellent place to stop around lunchtime as it offers soups, salads, paninis, and flatbreads that showcase fresh, local ingredients.
Live music events increase the party atmosphere outside under the pergola, where you can enjoy picturesque vineyard views while sipping your wine. In the fall, the colorful landscape is stunning.
Pro Tip: You get to ring the school bell when you finish a bottle during your tasting.
5. Pentamere Winery
Pentamere Winery, a boutique urban wine producer located in downtown Tecumseh, offers food and wine pairings instead of vineyard views. While this family-owned winery sources its grapes from Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region, it produces all its wines in a century-old building. You can observe production by looking over the railing and watch what’s happening in the cellar below.
The name pentamere means five oceans and refers to the Great Lakes, where Michigan touches four of the five. You’ll find the maritime theme running throughout the names of its wines, with offerings like Channel Marker Two, Lady of the Lakes, and Wings of Wind, perhaps a nod to sailboats.
One of my favorites at Pentamere is the Midnight Plum. It’s a sweet fruit wine that smells like the taste of a summer plum. It has the flavor of ripe plum with a gentle zip and long finish. Pair this with smoked pulled pork with barbeque sauce.
Pro Tip: Pentamere batch size is a few hundred gallons and offers new releases frequently. So, if you enjoy a particular wine, buy it when it’s available as it might not be on your next visit.
6. Flying Otter Vineyard And Winery
Located in Adrian, Flying Otter Vineyard and Winery grows hardy cold-climate varietals. For example, in whites, you’ll find LaCrosse, LaCrescent, Frontenac Blanc and Frontenac Gris, St. Pepin, and Brianna. The red varietals include Marquette, Frontenac, and Petite Pearl. It focuses on sustainable vineyard practices that require a significant amount of hand labor.
The premium wines aged in oak barrels are my favorite. The 2018 Fusion, aged 22 months in used bourbon barrels, gives the wine a complexity I enjoy.
Flying Otter’s fun name comes from the owner, Bob Utter’s interest in aviation and his last name, which means Otter. Flying Otter features live music evenings on Friday and Saturday.
Pro Tip: To learn more about wine and food pairings, check out the Recipe Tab on its website, which offers a section on Food and Wine Pairing 101.
7. Lone Oak Vineyard Estate Winery
Located on Ann Arbor Road, off Interstate 94 in Jackson County, Lone Oak Vineyard Estate Winery is southeast Michigan’s largest and oldest commercial vineyard. It grows 12 European varieties on its 25-acre estate, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Pro Tip: While the winery isn’t open for tastings and live events due to COVID-19, you can call the winery to arrange a “no-contact” sale.
While you’re sampling some wines along the Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail, why not visit some of Michigan’s interesting towns: