Explore the wineries of St. Clair County

It doesn’t take a flight to Napa to experience the best of what wine has to offer. From chardonnays to rosés, people can kick back with an old favorite or try something new at the number of wineries located in St. Clair County.

Just like the drinks they serve, these locally-owned businesses are one-of-a-kind. With every location comes a unique atmosphere, origin story, and an array of palate–pleasing beverages.

Green Barn Winery

Green Barn Winery is located at 775 Wadhams Rd. in Smiths Creek, Michigan.

One of the county’s longest-standing wineries, Green Barn Winery in Smiths Creek was established in 2012 by Becky Wrubel, a wine enthusiast and clerk for Kimball Township.

When Wrubel began her operation more than a decade ago, she had no idea that Green Barn wine would one day be shipped nationwide. In fact, Wrubel and her husband, Mike, never expected to create a winery at all.

Shortly after their wedding in 1981, Wrubel discovered an allergic reaction to sulfites, a common preservative used in winemaking. After spending several years studying at Michigan State University, her husband learned to make wine without sulfites, offering pain-free wine for Wrubel and anyone else who suffered the same allergy.

“It's a big deal. We ended up sending wine all over the United States because there are not many wineries that do it,” she says. “There are some that say they do it, but it's not truly done naturally, the way that we do our batches.”

Along with its wine-making process, Green Barn is also known for its grapes, which are grown on Wrubel’s family property in southeastern Michigan, a rare crop for this corner of the state.

“It has to do with the winds off the lake,” she says. “My grandparents actually started grapes on our property in the late 1950s. I always remember my grandma saying, ‘If you take care of the grapes, they're going to take care of you.’”

People in St. Clair County might be familiar with Green Barn from its regular presence at the Vantage Point Farmers Market in Port Huron, but Wrubel says there’s even more to see at their barn–and–mortar, located at 775 Wadhams Rd.

Something Wrubel hears from most of her customers is how comfortable they find Green Barn to be. She says Green Barn is a place where anyone can walk in and find something they’ll enjoy and describes their atmosphere as laid back. There’s no pressure to ‘know it all’ when it comes to wine, she says.

To learn more about Green Barn Winery or for current hours, visit greenbarnwinery.com.

TwoRivers Winery

TwoRivers Winery is located at 218 S. Water St. in Marine City, Michigan.

In 2021, husband and wife team Julie and Dave Swantek went from wine-making hobbyists to business owners.

A dental hygienist by trade, Julie Swantek has always had a passion for wine. After years of experimenting with her own blends at home, Dave Swantek says that interest continued to grow eventually leading them to open TwoRivers Winery located at 218 S. Water St. in downtown Marine City.

TwoRivers Winery offers more than 88 blends of wine and hard cider, all developed by owner Julie Swantek.For the Swanteks, sharing wine with customers is also an opportunity to educate, whether they’re serving long-time wine lovers or those trying it for the first time.

With what Dave describes as a highly experienced and friendly staff, he’s confident that anyone who walks through the door can find a wine they love.

“We wanted to make it a good, comfortable atmosphere for anybody that walked in the front door, that they wouldn't have to be intimidated by not knowing wine,” he says. “So we'd like to introduce a lot of people to wine.”

Visitors will find more than 88 blends of wine and hard cider at TwoRivers, all developed by Julie Swantek. Just in time for a warm Michigan summer, Dave Swantek says his wife started experimenting with wine slushys, their most popular being the ‘Bomb Pop.’

Another summer specialty added to the TwoRivers list is a blend Julie Swantek calls ‘Shipwreck,’ which contains flavors of mango and jalapeño. But of course, Dave Swantek says there are a number of traditional blends to choose from as well.

The winery’s interior carries a warm and rustic ambiance and guests have a great view of the St. Clair River.

“It creates a great environment to sit down and relax,” he says. “Because relaxing by the water is proven to put years on your life, what better way than to put wine and water together?”

TwoRivers does not offer a food menu, but patrons are welcome to bring food to enjoy. To see current hours and product offerings, visit 2riverswinery.com.

Belle River Winery

Belle River Winery is located at 2405 Arlington Rd. in Columbus, Michigan.

Another husband and wife team, Robert Cowan says he and his wife, Hannah, took an unexpected dive into the world of wine, for the sake of their son’s health.

“We've been open since last March, it took us two years to open,” he says. “I'm going to say about three years ago, we found out our little boy Mikey is autistic.”

After starting the search for behavioral therapy for their son, the family quickly realized that they'd need to bring in another stream of income to make ends meet. Plans to establish Belle River Winery, located in Columbus, took off from there.

“I made that first phone call to an attorney and just started,” Robert Cowan says. “So it was, and it's been, a journey.”

After a few bumps in the road while trying to find a building to house the business, the Cowans commissioned their newly-built structure at 2405 Arlington Rd. and opened their doors to the public.

With a maximum capacity of 25 people, the winery is a more intimate space for tasting. In addition to their many wine blends, Robert Cowan also produces a selection of meads for their menu made using honey raised on the Belle River property. He also distills rum and brandy, offering options for non-wine drinkers as well.

Robert Cowan says the winery has been able to sponsor a local family in need of autism treatment. Since opening, their family discovered their youngest son is also autistic and they say the winery has become as much a place of connection for the autism community as it has for wine enthusiasts.

“We've had meetings in the winery where we've had parents of autistic children, where we kind of mentor them as far as resources,” he says. “Here's where you can go, how you can tell the difference between a good autism center and a bad autism center — those sorts of things.”

In the coming years, Robert Cowan hopes that he and his wife can open more locations, taking them one step closer to their goal of opening an autism resource center for their community.

Currently, the patio is set up for summer weather, but as temperatures drop several space heaters will be added to make the space comfortable for year-round enjoyment.

To see more of Belle River Winery’s offerings and events, visit facebook.com/BelleRiverWine.

Vinomondo Winery

Vinomondo Winery is located at 4505 Lakeshore Rd. in Fort Gratiot, Michigan.Although a nearly two-decade-old operation, Vinomondo Winery in Fort Gratiot is a relatively new venture for husband and wife owners Brett and Jackie Scharnhorst, who purchased the business nearly a year ago in September 2022.

The couple were longtime patrons of Vinomondo and, after hearing the previous owners were retiring, they decided to keep their favorite establishment going themselves, with a few unique additions.

“To the best of my knowledge, Vinomondo is the only winery, at least in the thumb region, but quite possibly in all of southeastern Michigan, that allows customers to come in and bottle their own wine,” Brett Scharnhorst says.

Customers doing their own bottling can either purchase a full batch (28 bottles) or a split batch (15 bottles) of their favorite blend. The Scharnhorsts order all the necessary materials, and after about a two-month fermentation period, customers are called in to start their bottling process.

“It just makes for a very fun, social atmosphere,” he says. “I think that's one of the things that has really been an endearing, and enduring, aspect of Vinomondo.”

Another first for Vinomondo, the Scharnhorsts have also developed a series of proprietary blends along with a selection of in-house brews for customers who prefer hops over grapes.

With one fully indoor and one partial outdoor tasting room, Vinomondo can host visitors year-round. But regardless of the season, Brett Scharnhorst says the winery’s welcoming and open atmosphere is sure to make customers feel at home.

As people continue to be bombarded by the hundreds of labels they face at the local grocery store, it’s important to the Scharnhorsts that customers find what they like at Vinomondo. Their number one rule: try before you buy.

Located at 4505 Lakeshore Rd., the winery is open Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Learn more about Vinomondo Winery and its offerings at vinomondowinery.com.
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Read more articles by Riley Connell.

Riley Connell is a graduate of Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She's a frequent visitor to the Metro Detroit area where she was raised and in addition to her work with The Keel, Riley is a full-time reporter with the Cadillac News as well as a contributor to The Keel’s sister publication, Epicenter Mt. Pleasant. When she isn't writing, Riley enjoys spending time outdoors, painting, antiquing, and trying new foods.