Driving Time: 3 hours, 53 minutes
Distance: 216 miles
The word “pioneer” has an almost romantic and adventurous sentiment attached to it. Pioneers were early settlers, folks who embarked on a new life into an unknown land, men and women who were strong and tough and creative. Early pioneers of the industrial age brought forth new inventions and methods, including the horseless carriage and the assembly line.
Yes, Michigan has seen its fair share of pioneers, from explorers to miners to farmers to tycoons. Much of the early settlement of the state, before it was even a state, occurred in the southeast region. And it is well known that many inventors made their start in that region, as well.
The Pioneer Wine Trail is so named in recognition of the region’s long history. Even though southwest Michigan and northwest Michigan get most of the acclaim for wine, the southeast region has its fair share of wineries that are ready to share the nectar of the gods. We do not explain every winery in the region in this driving tour, just some of the highlights. As always, if you are planning on wine tasting, have a designated driver. Note, wine tastings at many, if not all, establishments have been suspended due to the pandemic; however, you can try all sorts of wine by the glass or pick up a bottle.
Stop #1: Flying Otter Vineyard and Winery, Tecumseh
This family operated vineyard is a favorite in southwest Michigan. Founded in 2005 by the Utter Family and its first harvest conducted in 2007, Flying Otter is named for the owner’s love for aviation and for the fact that their Swedish family name, Utter, means “otter.” The outdoor pavilion and tasting room is seasonal and reopens in May, but there is always someone at the vineyard. Just give them a call to discuss and request their wine. You can even arrange to pick it up curb-side.
Stop #2: Cherry Creek Cellars, Brooklyn
Do you love Old World style wines? Or do your taste buds prefer fun and fruity? You’ll find it all at Cherry Creek Cellars, which is located in an old school house. With a menu that also features hard cider and a café utilizing local ingredients, this winery is a must-stop. The Burtka’s, owners, come from four generations of passionate home winemakers, but it wasn’t until 2003 when John and Denise decided to make winemaking into a career. They’ve never regretted their decision. The vineyard uses hybrid varietals, which are cold-hearty and old-world style. They also contract with growers across Michigan for other varieties.
Cherry Creek is open year-round, complete with fire pits and patio heaters (first come, first served) and igloos (by reservation). Wine and food is also available for pick-up.
Stop #3: Lone Oak Vineyard Estates, Grass Lake
Touted as the region’s oldest and largest commercial vineyard, you’ll appreciate the selection at Lone Oak Vineyard Estates. The view of the rolling rows of vines is enough to transport you to another place and time. The wine selection ranges from cabernet sauvignon to Riesling, from dry reds to dessert wines. There are 12 European grape varieties in all. There is a pergola and desk as well as an indoor space for wine tastings and live music. *Temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Please visit the website for up-to-date information regarding making a visit. In the meantime, you can order wine for pick-up.
Stop #4: Burgdorf’s Winery, Haslett
Burgdorf’s Winery is proud to call itself a “garagiste” winery. What exactly does that mean? Well, for Deborah and David, the dream started – and continues – in a vintage three-car garage. Everything from wine production to wine tasting occurred in this space. But now the garage where it all started is mainly for tastings, as wine production has moved to a new, upgraded facility. This couple is creative with their spectrum of wine offerings as well as on-site events including a Winter Wine Experience. Burgdorf’s is considered a Truly Michigan winery, meaning the wines are produced from 100 percent Michigan-grown fruit. For dog lovers, you might consider the Hanky Panky, which is named in memory of the winery dog, Hank.
Stop #5: Northville Winery and Brewing Company, Northville
Grateful Dead vibes reign at the modern, yet relaxed Northville Winery and Brewing Company. There is plenty of outdoor seating at picnic tables if you can’t find a spot inside the red barn. Choose from beer, wine, or hard cider, all made by this establishment. A distillery is in the works. All grapes and apples are bought from the west side of Michigan, and every bottle is filled and labeled by hand. Pick your poison, and have a great time!
Stop #6: Green Barn Winery, Smiths Creek
You can’t miss the curb appeal of the green barn in Smiths Creek, nor can you avoid the impressive lineup of vintages – all of which are sulfite-free. As the only winery in St. Clair County, Green Barn Winery is a family friendly, fun place to stop for a fresh glass. You’ll feel right at home and even a bit on the wild side when you “saddle up” for a beverage or two. The gift shop carries an assortment of goodies, from pickled foods to fudge to popcorn to wine glasses to bottle holders.