43.2756° N, 82.6210° W
Port Huron, Michigan
Thumbs Up Wine Trail
By Patti Samar
There’s an alcoholic beverage that is making its mark on the economy in the state of Michigan.
And if you are thinking that alcoholic beverage is beer, that might not be entirely wrong, but the alcoholic beverage that is making a name for itself in the state of Michigan is wine.
The Blue Water Area is now home to a state-designated wine trail. The state of Michigan in December formally approved the Thumbs Up Wine Trail that begins in the northern Thumb of the state and extends south through both Sanilac and St. Clair counties, and ending in Macomb County. Currently, there are 13 wineries on the trail.
Though wineries have not been uncommon in the state, many underestimate their economic impact, especially with all of the media buzz about microbreweries in recent years.
Charles Ruthruff, owner of McCallum’s Orchard and Sandy Shores Winery in Jeddo, is interim president of the newly established Thumbs Up Wine Trail. Ruthruff said when the state approached area vintners and asked if they would establish a nonprofit wine trail to help attract tourism into the Thumb, it was a no-brainer.
“It wasn’t funded by the state, but they wanted to do something to promote tourism in the Thumb,” he said. “We know that people are driving to other parts of the state to enjoy wine trails and we knew that there would be support for a wine trail here.
“Once we talked as a group, we wanted to get the word out that there are wineries up here. It took a full year to file the paperwork with the state.”
The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council — which was established by the state legislature — provides the official wine trail designations. There are currently eight state-designated wine trails.
Said Ruthruff: “Wine sales consistently have increased in double digits. It’s currently up about 12 percent.”
Why visit a winery?
Ruthruff said his customers are curious and want to learn more about the wine they are drinking and how it should be paired with food.
“The customers want to know what the winemakers are saying about their pairings with food,” Ruthruff said. “We understand flavor. Our job is to let you know there are choices.
“You can always get wine from a store, but if you want to talk to the winemaker about pairings, they come to us.”
Ruthruff noted that wine is only one piece of the economic puzzle. “We are a growing state,” he said. “We are growing the actual product here. That makes our wine truly a Michigan product.”
Furthermore, said Ruthruff, Michigan growers export “tons and tons of grapes and other fruits for the production of wine in other states.”
Members of the Thumbs Up Wine Trail have been very supportive of one another and see the establishment of new wineries as an enhancement to the wine community and not competition.
“Each winemaker has their specialty and they are all different. For example, I do all fruit wine,” said Ruthruff, who noted, in contrast, that Blue Water Winery and Vineyards of Lexington specializes in blending.
The newest member of the Thumbs Up Wine Trail is 3 North Vines of Croswell. Owner Kristi Nichols-Shopbell opened her winery in September 2014 — seven years after she and her husband first purchased their Croswell farm.
Nichols-Shopbell said that the other members of the wine trail have helped spread the word about her business.
“They are really awesome,” she said. “They pulled me in when the wine trail was starting to form.”
Though summer is their busy season, most area wineries have some winter hours or are willing to open by appointment. Nichols-Shopbell said she is not maintaining regular hours during the off-season, but is willing to open her tasting room on very short notice. “Give me a call and give me a half an hour and if I am able, I will open,” she said.
While Nichols-Shopbell is just learning the ropes as she begins her second season of wine making, more experienced vintners like Ruthruff are already looking ahead to a new challenge. Ruthruff has plans to expand his offerings with the purchase of a distillery which will allow him to create spirits.
Additionally, there are other business endeavors that become possibilities at a winery. Ruthruff noted that they are quickly becoming popular party and wedding destination locations.
For more information about the Thumbs Up Wine Trail or the hours when the wineries are open, contact the individual wineries listed below.
Superior Lakes Hand-Crafted Mead & Wine
36241 Jefferson, Harrison Twp. 48045
Filipo Marc Winery
39085 Garfield Rd., Clinton Twp. 48038
223 S. Main St., Rochester 48307
Westview Orchards Adventure Farm & Winery
65075 Van Dyke, Washington Twp. 48095
134 W. St. Clair, Romeo 48065
Blake’s Ciderhouse and Winery
17985 Armada Center Rd., Armada 48005
3 North Vines
5940 Peck Rd., Croswell 48422
Dizzy Daisy Winery
1288 Crown Rd. Bad Axe 48413
Blue Water Winery & Vineyards
5475 N. Main, Lexington 48450
Sandy Shores Winery
5697 Harris Rd., Jeddo 48032
Green Barn Winery
775 N. Wadhams Rd., Smiths Creek 48074
Sage Creek Winery
80890 Main St., Memphis 48041
Washington Street Wine House
50969 Washington St., New Baltimore 48047
Please note: Many wineries are open limited hours during the winter months. Please call in advance for times. Many are willing to accommodate last-minute visitors given some notice. Call for more information.