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By Laura Matney

Plan a trip to Michigan wine country

Wine country is no longer limited to Napa Valley. Regional winemakers are becoming well known and popular. The state of Michigan is a wine region gaining a reputation for well-crafted wines and winery visit experiences.

What makes Michigan wine

Michigan has 121 commercial wineries. The state is tenth in wine production and produced more than 2.3 million gallons of wine in a year. Three types of grapes grow there. Vinifera varieties, which include Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Franc; hybrid varieties, which include Vidal, Chambourcin, Marechal Foch and Vignoles; and native varieties, which include Concord and Niagara. These grapes make everything from dry to sweet wine, ice wine, sparkling wine, fortified wine, fruit wine and fruit brandy.

The state's lake effect protects the vines and prevents early bud break – which prevents damage from frost and can extend the growing season by several weeks. The cool environment produces balanced wines that are clean and crisp. The harvest season begins at the end of August for the Southwest region and can extend all the way into November in the Northwest region.

Five trails to choose from

Michigan's wine country is broken up into five different wine trails. Along these trails, you can spend several hours to several days exploring the wineries and many other local attractions. Take some time to discover which unique trail will make the perfect trip.

Bay View Wine Trail is on the shores of Little Traverse Bay and the inland lakes of Northwest Michigan Wine Region. The area boasts a variety of old world wine and new grape varieties.

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail winds along the resort communities of Lake Michigan. Each winery and tasting room is unique and with more than 20 to choose from the wine tour has something for everyone.

Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail is the perfect place to find cool-climate wines. This trail divides into three separate mini trails to make exploring a breeze. Choose from Sleeping Bear Loop, the Northern Loop, and the Grand Traverse Bay Loop.

Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail supplies not only wines but scenery with lakes and Hidden Lake Gardens along the way. There are plenty of places to stop for antiquing on the trail as well.

Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula sits between the arms of Grand Traverse Bay. There are seven wineries to choose from here, and it is an ideal place to try Michigan's ice wines.

Planning a visit

No matter what part of the country, it helps to plan ahead for a winery visit. Take a look at the winery website or brochure to see if reservations are needed. As the area grows in popularity, space can be limited. Make sure to research any special events happening at the winery. Some have live music, tours during harvest season and more.

Make sure to designate a driver or, to ensure everyone can have fun, check out the different transportation opportunities like a winery tour bus or private driver. When at a winery, be a considerate guest. A few things to consider: don't wear strong scents, as they can interfere with the way wines taste; do ask questions about the wines but don't monopolize the conversation; and be open minded to trying a new wine.

Moderation is key when visiting wineries. Keep the number of stops manageable – not more than three or four in one day. It is also a good idea to plan tours and a lunch stop into the day to ensure longer breaks between tasting. Drink plenty of water, as well, to stay hydrated during the day.

Consider purchasing wines before leaving. Taking bottles home can be a fun way to remember the trip. It can also be fun to host a group of friends at home for a wine tasting – introducing more people to a new region.

Although it's less well known than Napa Valley or some other areas along the Pacific Coast, Michigan is an excellent place to find well-crafted regional wines. Plan a visit and spend a few hours or a day visiting the wineries and taking in each unique flavor.

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