St. Julian is Michigan’s oldest, largest and most awarded winery. This family-owned winery, founded by Mariano Meconi in 1921, is nestled in the picturesque fruit-growing region along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Today, grandson, David Braganini, has adopted the family tradition of wine making.
With a background brewing beer, Jim Wirsching-Neuser was immediately interested when his wife suggested that they create a wine with which to toast at their wedding in 2001. More than a decade later, the two have refined their winemaking processes and recipes to create an impressive selection of varietals using juices from wine grapes produced around the globe. Inside their tasting room, guests sample pours from each of the house-made wines, a selection which may vary according to the season and the sommelier’s ability to juggle. The elixirs may include a faintly tart blueberry pinot noir, dry Tuscan chianti, and Johannesburg riesling, which bursts with fruity notes before breaking through into a smooth dryness.
Nestled along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Fenn Valley Vineyards & Wine Cellar capitalizes on the water's air-warming capabilities, growing tender grapes and crafting them into award-winning wines. Their 20th annual Wine Festival takes place on the winery's expansive lawn under a 4,000-square-foot tent pitched for the occasion. Revelers deepen the connection between their ears, noses, and throats with classic rock courtesy of The Trace, traditional Mexican fare and barbecue chicken and ribs, and a palate-wowing library of wines. Guests equipped with a souvenir glass can catch a ride on a People Hauler and move between three tasting stations set up throughout the vineyard, choosing between multiple small tastes or one full glass of a Fenn Valley oeno-explosion. Reds include the delicately fruity capriccio and the more robust merlot, while whites delight with an apple-kissed riesling and an ice wine sweeter than a pineapple Gummi Bear hitting a half-court buzzer beater.
Wine-A-Palooza combines international wines with musical performance during a five-hour evening celebration. Attendees sample a selection of wines from around the world, testing their palate as they suss out the differences in each red and white. While sipping wines, they can also nibble on a variety of international dishes from the buffet. Live music fills the space with rhythms and harmonies, giving attendees a soundtrack to their wine tasting and purchasing experience.
Cherries from Michigan bedeck rainbow trout from a farm in Harrietta. Mrs. Dog’s Disappearing Mustard, from Grand Rapids, drapes across sausage made from lamb raised on a family farm in McBain. Though many of the ingredients at Bar Divani are local, the chefs draw culinary influences from around the world. They dunk Bay of Fundy salmon in walnuts and apple horseradish relish, and combine dollops of aged cheddar-cheese grits with small plates of cajun-spiced black tiger shrimp. The trio of lamb sliders prance through a range of flavors, from sweet cinnamon honey yogurt to pickled carrot and pistachio butter.
The earthy scent of simmering bourbon barbecue sauce suits the warmly hued dining room, where light dances off rich wooden accents. An illuminated wine cellar showcases 40 varieties, allowing patrons to find the ideal pairing for any dish or discretely cheat through the Wine Connoisseur Weekly crossword. Servers cut among bronze columns beneath exposed-brick walls, leaving a wake of aromas that hint at alligator and exotic grains of paradise as they visit curved booths swaddled in ornate fabrics.
Jaden James Brewery isn't the Bonga family's first foray into the world of sippable fermentation. In the same space where they now create specialty beers, they've spent years crafting wines from the fruits of Michigan's bountiful vineyards and orchards.
"So many people come for the wine, but we often get one half of a couple who says, 'I like beer,'" says Bob Bonga. The brewery's current selection includes a cream ale to be savored between bites of pretzels, a Russian Imperial Stout, and an oatmeal porter that Bob characterizes as "wonderfully dark, with roasted tones of chocolate and coffee." The juice of apples harvested in northwest Grand Rapids goes into hard ciders.
The family also prepares a short list of snacks for visitors. In the future, the Bongas may grow their menu further by distilling their own liquors.