Looking for something to do to keep you warm while we're in the grip of winter? You might try taking a quick trip to Michigan's Lake Shore Wine Trail.
Just about two hours from the suburbs, the trail contains more than a dozen wineries stretching along Lake Michigan from Union Pier to Saugatuck.
Michigan Lake Shore Wine TrailLemon Creek Winery
533 E Lemon Creek Road, Berrien Springs, Mich., (269) 471-1321, lemoncreekwinery.com
Baroda Founders Wine Cellar
8963 Hills Road, Baroda, Mich., (269) 426-5222, founderswinecellar.com/index.php
Round Barn Winery
9185 Union Pier Road, Union Pier, Mich., (269) 469-6885, roundbarnwinery.com
St. Julian Winery
9145 Union Pier Road, Union Pier, Mich., (269) 469-3150, stjulian.com
More information: Michigan Lake Shore Wine Trail map, lakemichiganshorewinetrail.com/trail-map/standard/2.html
We visited four great wineries on our trip, which we booked through LivingSocial so we had a designated bus driver.
The first, Lemon Creek Winery in Berrien Springs, offered a nice variety of wines, plus an excellent gift shop with some very friendly dogs.
The staff was friendly and knowledgeable in the low-key tasting room. The Grands Lacs Blanc ($12 a bottle) was my favorite by far. And they offer a very serviceable '10 Gewürztraminer at $15.
Next on our stop was the Baroda Founders Wine Cellar in Baroda. The highlight of the day was a tour by founder Leonard Olson. Brace yourself: A tour by Olson isn't like your common winery visit. Be prepared to be entertained with Olson's stories about Mike Ditka, Jesse Jackson, President Gerald Ford and the chancellor of Austria.
Beyond the entertaining stories, Olson can teach you pretty much anything you want to know about wine during the short tour while he serves wine right out of the barrel.
What do the legs of a wine indicate? (Legs are the streaks on the sides of a glass after you swirl it). The longer the legs, the better the wine. Why else do you swirl wine? To release all the flavors and aromas. I'd tell you what he thinks about synthetic wine corks, but this is a family newspaper. You'll have to go see for yourself and learn how he puts a little "sunshine" in your wine.
My friends favored the Baroda reds; I found the Ice Wine to be among the sweetest I've tasted and couldn't pass up bringing home some bottles of Luce del Sol, which Ford did serve in the White House.
Our tour took us to neighbors Round Barn and St. Jullian wineries in Union Pier.
In case you're tired of wine, Round Barn also includes a beer tasting room and several bourbons, whiskeys and vodkas. Their Weekend White was a solid, smooth white wine, but their DiVine vodka and bourbon were the real standouts. DiVine is one of only four vodkas in the world made from grapes. The bourbon, which was smooth with just a hint of rye, is aged for three years in charred oak barrels.
Next door, St. Julian's tasting room staff was excellent at choosing tastings to match our palettes (especially my friend Debra). Their chardonnay was perfect for those who aren't a fan of a heavy, oak finish. And their Traminette is a unique blend of mango, peach and apricot flavors. Their sangria, merlot and cabernet sauvignon were also a favorite.
St. Julians' tasting room also offers a wide variety of specialty salsas and dips. It's well-worth the trip to do some sampling.
Wineries along the Michigan South Shore are ideal places for both the educated and uneducated. The prices are reasonable (most tastings are in the $5 range), the wines are good and the staffs friendly. Even better, the atmosphere is casual so you can focus on the wine and relaxing rather than swirling and swishing like an expert.
• Our LivingSocial deal cost $75 dollars each, which included transportation, tastings at all four wineries and lunch at Baroda Founders.