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Three Tips for Making the Most of Wine Tours

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    Confession time: I don’t love wine. I almost don’t even like wine. (That’s profane, isn’t it?)

    The stunning view from the porch at Willow Vineyards (willowvineyardwine.com/)
    The stunning view from the porch at Willow Vineyards. (willowvineyardwine.com)

    What I do love, though, are wine tours. What’s the difference? Plenty. In addition to being about tasting different wines, wine tours are about people, places, and stories. Recently, I had the pleasure of taking a wine tour along the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. Not only was the tour amazing, it also gave me a chance to reflect on why I find these tours so enjoyable. I’ve distilled those points down so that you, too, can thrive on your next wine tour:

    1. Get Nerdy

    We’re all nerdy (i.e., enthusiastic) about something(s). Figure out what that means for you, and then focus on translating your tour into your own nerd-terms. For example, if you’re interested in how things work mechanically, take a close look– and ask questions about how the production equipment functions.

    I was lucky enough to be able to choose a tour with a theme– Wine Production and Barrel Tasting– that appealed to some of my nerd tendencies. Since I like to understand the “why” and “how” behind how things come to be, this tour was a perfect fit. I’ve been on plenty of brewery tours, which focus on equipment and production, but this was my first experience with something similar at a winery. My tourmates and I were able to learn about the craft and science behind each bottle of wine, and taste products in each phase of their development.

    1. Meet People
    Larry Mawby shows off a fancy wine keg.
    Larry Mawby shows off a fancy wine keg.

    As many of us know, adult sophisticated beverages act as a social lubricant. Use this opportunity to learn about the people around you. Everyone has a story to tell, including your tourmates. What’s their vocation? What about their avocation(s)? Why’d they choose the tour theme? The tour guide– especially if the guide is an owner or plays another key role with the vineyard and/or winery– will have plenty of stories to tell about whatever question(s) come to your mind.

    At our first stop, L. Mawby, the tour was led by owner/winemaker Larry Mawby. We learned parts of Larry’s story, but we also learned about bigLITTLE wines from co-owner Michael Laing. bigLITTLE is a small batch winery founded by Michael and his brother Peter who learned the craft from Larry and other local winemakers. The brothers produce their products at L. Mawby facilities, and are close with Larry.

    On this stop in particular, people were most interested in the personal stories of Michael and Larry, and the stacks of recyclable wine kegs in the facility. Miscellaneous, right? That’s the great thing about tours! The kegs are new and most of us had never seen one before, so we were enthralled. They’re great for distributing L. Mawby’s sparkling wine far and near, plus they cost only $18 and are recyclable. The only thing missing is the cork-popping sound. About that, Larry joked, “I’ve got an app for that.”

    1. Look Around
    Black Star Farms' Head Wine Maker, Lee Lutes.
    Black Star Farms’ Head Wine Maker, Lee Lutes.

    Vineyards and wineries are usually located in picturesque surrounds. Plus, they’re all probably doing more than one job. Observe and ask questions about the other work being done at the winery. For example, one of the locations we visited has been exploring brandy-making, which is produced by distilling wine. While we hadn’t gone into that particular tasting expecting to discuss spirits, we came to learn that some wineries are experimenting with brandy given the popularity of craft cocktails. (Afterward, we came back to the winery for craft cocktails…)

    At Black Star Farms, an absolutely gorgeous property in Suttons Bay, we came to taste wine at various stages of production straight out of the barrel. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, we also branched off into conversations about the restaurant’s top-notch kitchen, the old cheese cave out back, and much, much more.

    Wineries are so much more than wine! When you visit a winery, what do you notice? If you have a favorite winery, what do you like most about it?

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