One of life’s best gifts is a chance to sit and sip a glass of wine while looking at a great view. It’s in those moments that I sigh and think, “This is how to live life.” I absolutely love visiting vineyards and sampling wine. (I mean, who doesn’t?) I love almost everything Michigan has to offer, so I was so excited to visit her wine country.
I can’t think of a better view than a vineyard sloped on a hill with the sun hitting the grapes and in the background, you can see a lake peek out. If you like that view, you’ll love Michigan wine country. These views reminded me of the Niagara-on-the-Lake trail, which seemed like a very similar wine trail to the one in Michigan. There were similarities in climates, wine varieties, views and weather.
I’ve been wanting to experience Michigan’s wine region for a long time. I’ve tasted some local wines when visiting Michigan, but I haven’t been to a Michigan winery to experience a full tasting or tour. We were excited to visit Mari as we’d read it had the feel of an authentic, Italian winery.
When we arrived at Mari, we were impressed by the beautiful view of the 60 acre vineyard in the foreground with the lake in the background. The place was very busy, as we arrived during peak season on the weekend. For a table, you’ll need to reserve a table ahead of time or wait in a queue. They also had an open area outside where you could purchase one glass of wine and walk around the premises.
Due to Covid, the winery tours didn’t include a typical wine tasting, but we were able to purchase a glass that we could walk around the tour with. We ended up purchasing a glass we were able to sip as we toured the grounds. To be completely honest, one of the best things about a wine tour is getting to taste the wines at the end. I didn’t mind booking a separate tasting, but it’s a bummer they weren’t allowed to include them together like a typical tour and tasting.
Our guide showed us the outside vineyard, and shared a bit about how the wine was made. She told us a story about when the owner first purchased the grape plants, he had his friends and family (who didn’t know what they were doing) help with the planting as they were on a time crunch. It ended up producing a very interesting variety.
The vineyard owner, Marty Lagina, is an explorer starring in the History channel’s show The Curse of Oak Island. The vineyard is decorated with many things that reflect his explorer’s heart. There are many architectural features that highlight Michigan wood and natural materials. When you first walk in the main part of the building, there is a hanging knight’s chainmail. It seemed like such an odd thing to hang in an Italian-themed vineyard, but it pays homage to Lagina’s explorations around the globe.
The vineyard is named after Marty’s Italian grandmother, Mari. On the tour, you can see photographs of Mari as well as some of her primitive wine-making equipment and reminisce about what it would be like to make wine in Italy so many years ago. We were also shown where the wine goes from barrel to bottle.
The tour starts in the downstairs area where the tasting occurs, then you take an elevator up to where you can see some of the wine production. You get to see the equipment where they crush the grapes, then you see the large equipment used for the fermentation process.
In the same room, you can see the equipment used for bottling. There is one wine that they produce that is carbonated, and since they don’t have the equipment on hand to bottle it, they work with a nearby vineyard, Bonobo Winery. Our guide told us that a lot of people would assume these wineries are very competitive with each other. However, they feel more like neighbors who support one another and help each other be successful. It sounds as though everyone is dependent on one another to survive.
Our guide said one of the best times to visit the vineyard is during harvest. You can actually book a tasting in the interior room that gives you a view into the bottling room. She said it’s very active in October and is a great time to come back.
We walked down to the basement to see where the barrels were stored. Each barrel is labeled so you get to see the different varieties that they will soon have on their shelf. I was interested in the unique architectural aspects of the space. At the back of the basement, there are large wooden doors with a window that shows you the vineyard. Although we didn’t see it when we were there, apparently the doors open up and have a spectacular view of the summer solstice.
Overall, the vineyard tour was a great way to see the entire space, and take a look at how wine is made on the Old Mission Peninsula. If you’re like me, you might be wondering how wine can even be made in Michigan. Michigan isn’t known for its temperate climates and sunny days. It doesn’t seem like a place to have a bustling wine country. Apparently the water that surrounds the peninsula actually helps to regulate the temperature and provide a more predictable environment for wine-makers. This was similar to what we hear when visiting some of the wineries in the Niagara Falls wine trail. Although it seems counter-intuitive, there are some benefits to the colder temperatures.
So how was the wine? Well, most of their reds were sold out. Reds are my favorite so this was a bit disappointing. It is obviously a very popular place to come! However, we tried some very good whites and even a Rose. My favorite was the Savignon Blanc. It was light and fruity, and exactly what you’d want from a summer wine.
I also liked the Pinot Grigio, which is typically always my favorite white. If you aren’t a huge wine drinker, it’s hard to go wrong with a Pinot Grigio. It’s a great go-to, and Mari’s Pinot Grigio was good. To me, a Pinot Grigio should taste like a burst of fruit in my mouth. It should blow your mouth up with pear, apple, and citrus and feel like you’re biting down on a cold granny smith apple. With this Pinot, you could taste the notes of citrus. I still think the Sauvignon Blanc was more flavorful than the Pinot, but I enjoyed the flavor of both.
The 2019 Troglodyte Rosso was the only red available to try. It was OK, but didn’t have any distinctive tastes that made it stand out. It was more bland. When I taste wine, I expect to taste the grape type, and have hints of specific fruits or herbs (ie grapefruit, or apple, or hints of oak). I like to taste something distinctive. This wine didn’t have enough going on for my taste. My guess is that some of the reds that are sold out are the best, and unfortunately, we didn’t get to try any of those.
I’m not normally a Riesling fan because they’re way too sweet for my taste. There were a few Rieslings we tried that weren’t so sweet, and were actually pretty tasty. Tasting more like a sweeter Pinot Grigio. Our server recommended one that wasn’t too sweet, and I was happy she did because I wouldn’t have ordered it otherwise. I still wouldn’t buy a bottle of Riesling, because it’s not something I enjoy.
I feel like most people when they try wine for the first time, gravitate toward Rieslings because they’re sweet. I think it’s important to try a variety of wines and see which ones you personally like. I didn’t know that I hate sweet wines until I tried a few of them, alongside drier wines. To me, it tastes like grape juice and if I’m just going to drink grape juice, I can save myself some dollars and get a juice box. Maybe you’ll discover that you like Pinot Noir like me. The tasting is supposed to help you learn which wines you like and which ones you don’t like. I will often still try ones I don’t like to see if I still don’t like them. (And yes, I still don’t like Rieslings.)
Overall, we had a great experience visiting Mari. The experience made Michigan wine country comparable to visiting wineries in California or Niagara-on-the-Lake. There were a lot of places to stop on the trail, so you can make a full day or even weekend of it. It was a beautiful landscape, wonderful servers and the wine wasn’t too bad, either!
If you want to visit Mari Vineyard, here are a few tips to get the most out of your experience:
- Reserve a tour in advance. The tour costs $30 a person, and does not include a wine tasting (due to Covid). All the tours we saw going on were private. It didn’t look like they were doing any in large groups. It was amazing to get a one-on-one tour.
- Reserve a tasting. When we booked the tour, we also booked a tasting for the following hour. Our tour was at 4pm, and our tasting was at 5pm. It was almost perfect timing.
- Be prepared to share your space with a lot of people. This was one of the busiest wineries I’ve been to. I know it was peak season, but the parking lot was almost full, as was every table, and the queue for even putting your name on the list was about 10-12 people long.
- Purchase a glass of wine for the tour. We were glad he told us we were allowed to sip wine while walking around. There is just something not right about smelling and staring at wine bottles and barrels without having something to drink.