Wineries dot the landscape all throughout Southwest Michigan, but if you want to stay close to South Haven there are four unique vineyards close to each other. Spending a day exploring these family-owned wine producers will not only give you an idea of the excellent wines produced in this area, but also a chance to enjoy the beautiful farmland in between.
Fenn Valley Vineyards
We started out our personal wine tour at the oldest and most established of the area vineyards. The Welsh family who came from Chicago, took their time finding just the right land with the aim to grow world-class grapes. Their motto is: “The Lake Effect Everyone Loves,” which refers to the moderation of temperatures in winter and summer that close proximity to Lake Michigan offers. The 240 acre farm the family purchased in 1973 also had just the right sandy soil for the grapes they wanted to grow.
They started with hybrid grapes and experimented with many varieties over the years, slowly adding grapes until today along with initial hybrids, they grow Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Cabernet franc.
We opted for a wine tasting choosing five wines to sample in the rustic large tasting room with a long bar. Small plates of cheese and charcuterie are available for purchase, but crackers in between wines was enough to cleanse our palates. You can also purchase a glass of wine and sit in the dining area or outside. Five dollars for the tasting also gives you a discount on any wine purchased.
Tours are available throughout the year but Fall is when private tours happen taking guests throughout the property in specially designed wagons. Winemaker dinners are scheduled for November 2 and 9.
We had pleasant surprise when we came upon a brand new winery just down the road from Fenn Valley. Carol and Jim Gonzalez had officially opened their establishment just six weeks before our visit in mid August. They named it “Modales” which means manners in Spanish reflecting how they intend to operate—growing and caring for grapes in an environmentally responsible manner, carefully developing their wines and ciders and treating guests with respect and hospitality.
Located on their 76-acre farm is a tasting room and a 2800 square foot patio overlooking the vineyards. The wines can be sampled every day from 11 am to 6 pm.
The Gonzalez’ produce small batch, handcrafted, estate-grown wines. Their tasting room had yet to be opened , but tastings were offered in an outbuilding. We sampled five 1-oz. pours for $10, taking the wooden palate of tasting glasses out to the picnic table on the patio. Private tastings are available for $20. They also produce three varieties of hard ciders. Stay tuned for events as this brand new winery develops.
After a short drive 15-minute drive we came upon our third stop, Codgal Vineyards, another family venture owned by Jack and Deb Murdoch. The 80 acre land has been in Jack’s family since his grandfather Harry Codgal bought the land. Jack who grew up in Holland, Michigan, spent summers at the farm which over the years has grown fruit trees, vegetables, Christmas trees, asparagus and now grapes. The Murdochs have seven acres of vineyards operating now, with a plan to expand to 18 acres.
They built the tasting room out of cherry and maple wood harvested from the land and opened in 2014. We came upon the tasting room shortly after they opened, and now five years later the building has evolved to include an open porch with tables overlooking the open prairie and vineyards to sit and enjoy glasses of wine and small cheese and charcuterie plates. The tasting room is open from 12 to 5 pm every day and includes a small bar for tasting, along with wines and gifts for purchase. Music events are scheduled periodically.
We sat with a young couple we just met from Chicago who were enjoying their first trip to Michigan sampling a glass of Cogdal wine. The winery distinguishes itself with signature wines and eclectic wines like Charlie’s Bad Choice, a bourbon barrel aged wine and Maple Wine produced in collaboration with Ridley Family Sugar Farm. They donate $.25 of every bottle sold to local charities.
Just down the road was our final stop, an establishment we have been enjoying since it opened in 2007. Owner Bruce McIntosh bought the 102 acre farm as his retirement project. It started out as a fruit stand selling apples, peaches and pears. He had the notion that he might start making sweet cider, but then discovered hard cider and applied for his winemakers license in 1998. He was approved and then was required to have a building which he began in 2001. He built it to be reminiscent of an iconic farm house, with white clapboard and a wraparound porch, complete with rocking chairs and Adirondack chairs perfect for sipping cider on a hot afternoon.
While not a classic winery, McIntosh produces a variety of premium fruit wines which have earned many awards. But his focus in on Traditional Olde World Style Hard Cider both semi dry and dry, and iced apple aperitif. While the name of the winery is McIntosh, McIntosh apples are only one of five varieties of apples go into making the cider (Baldwin, Jonathan, Brown Snout, Bramley Seedling are the other four).
Tasting of fruit wines and ciders are available at the bar inside where you can also purchase gift items and snacks. But sipping the cold, dry cider on the porch is one of my favorite summer rituals. The winery is open through October, Monday through Thursday 11 am to 5 pm, Friday 11 am to 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm when you can also enjoy pizza with your pint. In November and December the winery is closed Monday through Wednesday, open on Friday for pizza and a pint, and on Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm.
About the Author
Nancy Backas has been writing, mostly about food, for more than 30 years. South Haven is a favorite place, and she and her husband Terry visit as often as they can. The rich food and art culture, along with opportunities to explore South Haven's magical natural surroundings is what draws she and her husband to SoHa. She looks forward to sharing her South Haven discoveries. And, while they currently live in Chicago, with moving plans in the works, South Haven will soon be their new home.