Wineries thrive in the Upper Peninsula

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan may not be a destination for wine tasting like the fabled Leelanau Peninsula. However, the U.P. does have a lot to offer, whether it's outdoor recreation, fall color tours or craft beer. So the next time you're up here on business or leisure, be sure to check out the wine tasting rooms and wineries that the U.P. has to offer.

One of these rooms won't even take you off the beaten path or down a two-track. It's located along U.S. 2 in Manistique. The Mackinaw Trail Winery's Manistique tasting room is located at 103 West Lakeshore Drive, next to the marina in Manistique. The tasting room offers a chance to sample fine wine, cheeses and even listen to music on the weekends.

The Mackinaw Trail Winery was opened in Manistique in 2005. Owners Ralph and Laurie Stabile have labored hard to bring the taste of exquisite wine to the U.P. and beyond. They currently distribute to almost 40 retail outlets in the U.P. and more than 50 in the Lower Peninsula.

Ralph Stabile says getting into the wine business is no day in the park. He emphasizes the capital outlay involved in getting started, and says it costs up to $40,000 just to buy product (for instance, grapes, if you're not growing your own, which they currently don't) and packaging, i.e., bottles and labels.  Needless to say, it can take a number of years to start turning a profit.

Stabile says an old timer in the wine making industry told him seven years is the magic number in the wine making business, meaning you can expect to start seeing growth and a profit by the seventh year--and the man was right on with his assessment.

In fact, Mackinaw Trail Winery, now in its eighth year, has outgrown its location in Manistique and now operates out of a location on 28 acres south of Petoskey, where he says they will start growing their own grapes.

Fortunately, the Stabiles have ties to the U.P., since they own a home up here, which means they'll keep the wine tasting room next to the marina open for folks who are inclined to stop by for some bubbly.

Drive further west on U.S. 2 and you'll run into Northern Sun Winery in Bark River.

Dave and Suzie Anthony have taken on the challenge of growing good wine grapes right here in the chilly U.P.--and they've been very successful.

"After four years of trial and error I started figuring out what I was doing, even getting a little cocky" says Dave Anthony, who runs this estate winery with his wife, Suzie.

The Anthonys have had to do their homework to come up with grape varieties suitable for our harsh Upper Peninsula climate, where temperatures can hover around minus 20 below on a regular basis in the winter and late spring frosts can threaten an entire crop.

Anthony used the help of the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University to steer him in the right direction, or rather to the right grapes.

Anthony says a man named Elmer Swensen, who died in 2004, was a pioneer in developing cold hardy grapes for the University of Minnesota. Anthony has enjoyed the fruits of Swensen's work. He now grows three hardy French grapes on about an acre of land on his farm in Bark River.

"The fruit produced by these new grape varieties will put our area on the map as a wine growing region. The grapes are that good," says Anthony. They've used these grapes to create fine wines including Marquette, LaCrescent, St  Pepin,  Leon Millet and Rose.
Like most wine tasting rooms, Northern Sun Winery is also a destination. The wine tasting room is a Mediterranean-style cottage close to the 3.5 acres of vineyard and more than 3,000 trellised grape vines. Visiting the farm where the grapes are processed for wine will provide not only the ambience of a tasting room but the experience of visiting a vineyard. Northern Sun Winery is located at 983 10th Rd in Bark River.

Yes indeed, fine wine right here in the U.P. And who said Italy is the only place to find quality wine?'

Neil Moran is a copywriter living in Sault Ste. Marie.
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