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A wine country weekend close to home: Southwest Michigan's vineyards boast variety — and a cute new B&B

Lori Rackl, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Travel News

"Sometimes I take baths because it's hard to drink wine in the shower."

This maxim hangs on the wall near the cedar tub in my room at Among the Vineyards, a bed and breakfast where the shoutouts to grown-up grape juice are as plentiful as misplaced beverage containers on the set of "Game of Thrones." (The B&B's Wi-Fi password? "Drinkwine.")

Each of the four rooms at this new B&B -- it opened less than a year ago in the heart of southwest Michigan's wine country -- is inspired by wine from a local producer.

My room, Traminette, is a nod to the Gewurztraminer hybrid grape that goes into vivid blue bottles of a semi-sweet white made at Gravity, a nearby vineyard and winery. The other three rooms, occupied on this particular weekend by well-behaved attendees of a bachelorette party, have similar origin stories tied to wineries just a few miles away.

That's the beauty of this place: Lots of vineyards and wineries are just a few miles away. And that's why Barb Antonucci, a gregarious nurse in her mid-50s, decided to start a B&B in this fertile corner of the "fruit belt," where she grew up.

"Back when I was a kid, there were only a couple of wineries here," Antonucci said. "Now, it's booming -- 12 wineries and tasting rooms within 5 miles of us."

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I managed to hit just about all of them on a recent long weekend in wine country, in the Midwest version of Napa Valley.

Before you wine snobs pshaw the notion of "Midwest" and "Napa Valley" co-existing in the same sentence, take a few swigs of Dablon's 2015 Estate Red Blend or Domaine Berrien Cellars' 2016 Crown of Cabernet, and then we'll talk.

"There's a misconception out there that we can only make rieslings, and that's not true," said Kathy Sturm, executive director of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, a collection of 18 wineries spread across the American Viticultural Area, or AVA, of the same name. The group's biggest event of the year, the 14th annual Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival, was scheduled to take place June 15 at scenic Warren Dunes State Park.

Lake Michigan Shore is the largest of the state's five distinct AVAs, stretching from the Indiana border north to Fennville and east to Kalamazoo. The protective "lake effect," mineral-rich soil (thank you, glaciers) and other factors all make up the special sauce that renders this region hospitable for growing a surprisingly wide variety of grapes. Winemakers are increasingly capitalizing on this versatility. They're producing a diverse range of offerings -- available in an equally diverse range of tasting rooms -- and debunking the notion that the vino here is about cloying sweetness and fruit that belongs in pie, not a wine glass. Now I sound like the wine snob.

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