Talking Michigan Wines With Author Lorri Hathaway
Lorri Hathaway is co-author of the award-winning From the Vine: Exploring Michigan Wineries and The History of Michigan Wines: 150 Years of Winemaking along the Great Lakes. She is an active promoter of Michigan as a freelance writer, photographer, blogger and presenter. Get her books and learn more at deliciousmichigan.com.
We recently spoke with her about getting her start in wine writing and her favorite vineyards to visit in the state.
A Healthier Michigan: Why did you become interested in the history of Michigan wines, and how did you begin traveling the state for your books?
Hathaway: The traveling came first. When I first began to discover Michigan wine country around 2000, I was completely amazed at the beautiful landscape and great wines being produced in the state. I was even more amazed at the uniqueness of each winery and the easy-going environment of the tasting rooms, whether you know a lot about wine or very little about wine.
My friend, Sharon Kegerreis, and I thought the state needed a winery guide, and as we began to write one, we were inspired by the varying backgrounds of the winemakers. Our plan for a guide evolved into a coffee-table book that tells the winemakers’ inspiring stories. From the Vine: Exploring Michigan Wineries was released in 2007, and we were so excited that our first book won the Michigan Notable Book award!
In 2009, the Michigan Department of Agriculture hired us to research and document the state’s wine history. What we uncovered was a dynamic past spanning 150 years that surprised the industry. Shortly after, the History Press reached us with the idea of turning our research into a book. In 2010, we released The History of Michigan Wines: 150 Years of Winemaking along the Great Lakes.
Why do you think other people should focus on Michigan wines? Why are they special, and what sets them apart from the products of other states?
Wines from each region have their own uniqueness of flavor based on the terroir and climate in which they’re grown. In Michigan, we’re lucky to have Lake Michigan, which provides ideal growing conditions for grapes and other fruits due to lake effect. The eastbound breeze from the massive body of water cools the fruit in the summer and warms it in the winter.
Michigan wines are special because, similar to all wine regions, the flavor of our state’s wines are unique to where they are grown. A California Pinot Grigio, for example, is much different from a Michigan Pinot Grigio. Michiganders should focus on Michigan wines just like they should focus on all Michigan agricultural products. It’s fresh, we grow things well here, and it enhances our state’s economy.
How is Michigan fairing in the market compared to other states famous for their wine? Is there anything new, or up and coming in Michigan wine?
Amazingly, Michigan has a long history of winemaking. In fact, following Prohibition, we were ranked third behind California and New York; and just about a dozen wineries produced twice as much as our 82 wineries are producing today. Michigan is now ranked in the top 10 and is quickly increasing its vineyard acreage and wine production.
Michigan is quickly diversifying beyond wines with a recent increase in distilled products, especially brandies, and hard ciders, grappa, meads and much more. Ice wines are also fabulous and are expanding in Michigan, and, fortunately for us, there are very few regions that can craft the high-end product.
What has been your favorite personal trip or vineyard (or two or three)?
Each of Michigan’s wineries are unique, and I truly love them all for what each has to offer. Agricultural experiences, whether it’s a small cooking class or a large festival, can be found all over the state. Nine options throughout wine country are available for overnight stays in the vineyard, from small, cozy cabins to large commercial inns.
One of my favorites is Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula In Traverse City. A massive patio overlooking the bay is a therapeutic way to spend the afternoon. On Thursdays, the Jazz at Sunset event pairs wine and music with a beautiful sunset. After hours, you’re invited to help your self to wine tasting in the tasting room. And, in the morning, you wake up to a yummy breakfast.
Across the bay on Leelanau Peninsula, I love stopping at Black Star Farms, not only for great wine, but also for delicious Raclette cheese from Leelanau Cheese Company. Nearby, I’ll always have a soft spot for Ciccone Vineyards, where my husband and I were married. Vintner Tony Ciccone crafts great wines, and Tony and his wife, Joan, are always a great pleasure to see.
In Haslett, you’ll never want to leave Burgdorf’s Winery, a small little winery nestled into the countryside, where Dave and Deb make you feel like longtime friends.
But, really, each winery in Michigan is worth the visit, and each offers something different, whether it be the wine or the experience. ◊
Editor’s note: Hathaway is a friend of the writer’s parents.