“The best wine educator is a corkscrew and an open mind.” ............ James McMillan
Proving the Notion Wrong

There is a commonly held notion about Midwestern wineries, and it goes
something like this:

1) They do the best they can with what they have.
2) They don’t have much.
3) They make some decent white wine, but not red unless they “import” their grapes from other states (read that to mean California or Washington) because it gets very cold and snows a lot where they’re at..
4) They make a lot of fruit and sweet wine. That’s what the “red hat ladies” want and they have to stay in business after all, but “serious” red wine is not to be found there.

The problem with such notions is that if we accept that one of them is true, we tend to believe all of them are true.  And if we hear one of them repeated often enough, we accept all of them as fact.  It is true, for example, that the Midwest gets snow. It gets cold too. It is also true that most wineries, of course, will do their best with what they have. Why wouldn't they?  As for fruit and sweet wines, wineries making such can be found in all 50 states.  I suggest that if you don’t like sweet or fruit wines, you don’t buy them. 

But if you want to disavow yourself of any wrong assumptions you may have cluttering up your potential wine IQ, I suggest you taste some wine from Domaine Berrien Cellars of Berrien Springs, Michigan. I came across this gem of a winery recently while doing a section of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Lake
Michigan Shore is a recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area) by the way, which should tell you something about grapes from this area.  You might also want to get out the old family globe, or just trust the map here. You’ll notice that much of Michigan lies between 42 and 47 degrees latitude, the same areas as that for Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone in France. And as rivers in Germany and other bodies of water near France, Italy and other countries benefit conditions for grape growing, Lake Michigan (a substantial body of water) benefits this area of Michigan Shore.

I was initially attracted to this winery by its use of the word “Domaine.”  It gave me hope that a Midwestern winery using such spelling would be inclined to try to produce "old world" style wine. I was delighted to learn that they didn't just try, they succeeded!  Blended and varietal wines made from estate grown Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Verdot are available along with whites Pinot Gris, Viognier, Marsanne, Sauvignon Blanc and the famous Midwestern Traminette (a cross of Joannes Seyve 23.416 x Gewurztraminer. You don’t need to know all that; only that it tastes like Gewurtz). And there are others.

Grapes Are Estate Grown
I enjoyed the 2011 Lemberger (a late ripening, red wine grape popular in Central Europe and elsewhere) with its taste of plum with toasty over tones and a spicy, dry finish.  The 2009 Pinot Noir offered cherry, black currant, soft mocha and forest floor. I learned Domaine Berrien uses Dijon clones 113, 115 and 777  (which I seem to consistently enjoy) along with a Swiss clone “Mariafeld” for their Pinot. The Pinot is aged 12 months in French oak and bottle aged an additional 30 months before release. Not only is the wine impressive, at ARP of $15.50, it’s a bargain.

The winery began in the early 1990s and only opened to the public in 2001. Domaine Berrien enjoys the respect of other growers along Michigan Shore and word has gotten out beyond the area that this is a winery committed to making quality “old world” wines at value prices.  

Some of Domaine Berrien’s wines are being carried in the Chicago area, but I recommend you visit the winery. The tasting staff is friendly and very knowledgeable.  You can taste several wines, leaning about each, and enjoy looking at the beautiful rows of grapes.  Depending upon where you live in the Chicago area, the drive to Berrien Cellars is about 2 – 2.5 hours.  And if you’re visiting Saugatuck or Holland, you’re only about an hour away. I’ll be writing in the coming months about some of the wines I particularly enjoyed. But in the meantime, keep an open mind and make the trip to Berrien Spring Cellars yourself --- but don’t worry about the corkscrew. They’ll keep one handy.

……………………… Jim
** Follow me on facebook for tips on wine & food pairings,

Domaine Berrien Cellars
398 E Lemon Creek Rd
Berrien Springs, MI 49103
PH: 269-473-9463

* If you prefer an overnight stay, click on hotel info on when routing your trip. There are several wineries in the area.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for saying so, Tony. Credit goes to Domaine Berrien Cellars because they're the ones doing the really hard work. Me? I just write about it. You may enjoy my Facebook page (Wine Mizer) where I post mini reviews and other bits almost daily.