Wine country adventures and trips to the beach normally are mutually exclusive recreational diversions.
But they don’t have to be in Southwest Michigan, which hugs the shore of Lake Michigan and is home to more than a dozen wineries. That means you can savor award-winning wines by day, soak in the scenery, and then enjoy a spectacular sunset (Mother Nature permitting, of course).
There is no better place to experience a Lake Michigan sunset than the South Cliff Inn Bed & Breakfast, which is perched on a lakeside hill just a few blocks from downtown St. Joseph, Mich. The inn features seven rooms, each individually decorated with imported fabrics and specially selected furnishings.
Each morning, innkeeper Bill Swisher prepares a sumptuous breakfast, which typically includes an egg-based casserole, various baked goodies, fresh fruit, cinnamon-scented coffee and more. Although not mentioned in any literature for the inn, there also was a late-afternoon wine-and-cheese reception each day during our stay.
Swisher is a former restaurant chef and cookbook author, so he knows his way around the kitchen.
After breakfast, you’ll be ready for a nap. But avoid the urge, and head out to the nearby wineries, which produce a wide array of bottlings – from the vinifera wines we typically enjoy, to hybrid varieties developed for harsher climates, to sweet fruit wines.
Lemon Creek Fruit Farm has been growing some of Michigan’s best grapes for decades, and in 1984, Robert and Helen Lemon teamed with their sons to found Lemon Creek Winery. Today, the family farms about 140 acres of winegrapes and 60 acres of various other fruits, and makes a wide array of wines. The most unusual: a Cabernet Sauvignon ice wine.
Not far from Lemon Creek, in the town of Baroda, you’ll find the Round Barn Winery, home to a 1911 Amish round barn. The old saying, “There’s something for everyone,” certainly would apply here, as Round Barn makes 35 different bottlings of wine, 20 Brandies and even a seasonal selection of microwbrews. The French-style eau-de-vies are a specialty, but if Chardonnay represents the limits of your adventurous nature, Round Barn makes one of the best in the region.
One of Michigan’s better known wineries – Tabor Hill – also is nearby, and it’s a good place to visit in the early afternoon, after you’ve had a chance to walk off that big breakfast. The winery’s restaurant offers a menu that changes daily, and reservations are suggested. If you’d rather loaf than eat, the Grape Escape Lounge is a great place to sip a glass of wine while soaking in the vineyard scenery. Tabor Hill also hosts a number of special events throughout the year – from cooking classes to concerts – so call ahead when planning your visit.
A bit farther north in Coloma, Contessa Wine Cellars combines Old World charm with the best of modern amenities. The tasting room is reminiscent of an Italian villa, and the European-style terrace provides spectacular orchard vistas. Specialties of the house include a late harvest Riesling called Dolcezza d’Oro, a food-friendly Pinot Grigio, a tasty red wine dubbed Rosa d’Amore, and a sparkling wine named Notte d’Amore. Yes, third-generation winemaker Tony Peterson puts a lot of love into every bottle.
If you’d like to stay near the beach, the Union Pier area is home to a number of satellite tasting rooms. Silver Beach, the region’s most famous, is part of a county park at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, and features numerous live music performances during the summer months. The beach even served as inspiration for one of Lemon Creek Winery’s labels.
A walk along the shoreline in the early morning hours… a fabulous breakfast prepared by a noted chef… wines crafted by passionate vintners… romantic beach sunsets. It doesn’t get much better than a “wine vacation” in Southwest Michigan.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
South Cliff Inn
St. Joseph * 269-983-4881
Lemon Creek Winery
Berrien Springs * 269-471-1321
Round Barn Winery
Baroda * 800-716-WINE
Tabor Hill Winery
Buchanan * 800-283-3363
Contessa Wine Cellars
Coloma * 269-468-5534
St. Joseph * Michigan.org