A Sommelier and the founder of Bottles Nation picks Michigan’s best wineries and a must-try bottle from each
By Nicole Frehsee Mazur
As the co-founder and lead sommelier of Bottles Nation, a Detroit-based team of sommeliers, beer, and cocktail experts that run tasting events nationwide, Michael Bottigliero is used to giving recommendations on everything from the perfect Chardonnay to what to sip with that juicy steak.
He’s a little less used to people inquiring about Michigan wine. “Everybody always looks at the epitome of wine in the U.S. to be the West Coast, but the quality level [of Michigan wines] is on par with a lot of the wines on the West Coast,” says Bottigliero, a veteran of Chicago’s restaurant scene who relocated to Detroit with his wife and Bottles Nation co-founder Blagica Bottigliero in 2020. “People don’t give enough credence to what’s going on in Michigan but the wine is legitimately pretty damn good. If you come here with low expectations, it’ll blow your socks off.” Here, he tells us about his favorite wineries in the state, and recommends a must-try bottle from each.
There are two main places you’ll see wineries in Michigan: the southwest part of the state, and around Traverse City. This family-owned winery located in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA (short for American Viticultural Area, a designated grape-growing region), has been around since 1984, and planted the first commercial crop of Cabernet Sauvignon — a red-wine grape — in the state.
UNCORK IT: 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon. “When Lemon Creek was planting grapes for making wine somebody told them, ‘Don’t bother making a cabernet sauvignon; you can’t do it here.’ But they planted them anyway — and made a cool-climate style that I really enjoy.
With three vineyards spread over 60 acres, Brengman Brothers is known for its wide-ranging lineup of wines, from Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc to Merlot and Petit Verdot. No matter which one you pick, there’s a single best way to consume it: on the winery’s gorgeous estate, complete with a modern, airy tasting room. “This is one place I’d definitely try to hit,” Bottigliero says.
UNCORK IT: Concrete Chardonnay and Barrel Chardonnay are both worth a try. “They make a fantastic lighter-style Chardonnay. There’s going to be less oak, and they get touched up by brand-new barrel aging to get a rounder creaminess factor.”
Planted in the late 1970s, MAWBY’s first vineyard is one of the oldest commercial vineyards in Michigan. The winery now grows grapes on three separate properties in Leelanau County, but it’s still known for churning out “the best sparkling wines this side of the Rockies,” Bottigliero says.
UNCORK IT: Talis, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Vignoles, and Pinot Gris Estate Field Blend that’s aged for a minimum of 36 months. “It’s high-quality and celebratory.”
Another winery in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA, the husband-and-wife-owned Domaine Berrien Cellars is one of the only wineries on this side of the country that belongs to the “Rhone Rangers” — that is, a group of American wine-makers that focus on creating wines with varietals from France’s Rhone Valley, including Syrah, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.
UNCORK IT: The Viognier and Syrah are “fantastic,” says Bottigliero, who points to the current vintage. “They’re great everyday-drink-ing wines.”
One of few Michigan wineries operated by a woman (Kasey Wierzba, whom we profile on page 30), Shady Lane Cellars has character: First, its tasting room is housed in a renovated, 100+-year-old chicken coop (there’s also an appealing outdoor space). Then there’s the regularly scheduled live music. Last but not least, there are the estate-grown reds, whites and roses that prove that Michigan’s climate can produce quality wines.
UNCORK IT: Franc ‘n’ Franc, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Blaufränkisch, and Merlot. “If you’re looking for that hallmark Michigan red, this really exemplifies it,” Bottigliero says. “It shows off the grapes that can flourish in a more northern part of the U.S. to create a fantastic wine.”
Aside from its swoon-worthy 160-acre estate, this winery just outside Traverse City has won international acclaim for its dry Riesling. But there’s much more to sample: “This is a huge winery with a big lineup that can hit on just about any palette,” whether you like dry, sweet, or fruity wines. And don’t forget about the Pinot Noir,” he says. “The climate has made the Traverse City area into one that can produce red wines of substance.”
UNCORK IT: A Capella Pinot Noir. “They make some really great pinot noir that’s more akin to the elegant style you’ll get out of Oregon versus California,” says Bottigliero, who particularly recommends the current vintage. “Anybody who’s a Pinot fan should try them.”