It’s still (technically) summer, but the fall months are definitely upon us. Why don't we celebrate rather than lament the change of seasons with a trip to a nearby winery — and a swap of your cold beer with a tasty glass of red or white? You don't have to travel far to sample the many varieties our region offers.
Visiting one of these pleasant-and-often-scenic spots is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, whether you make the trip for this reason alone or include it as part of a weekend away. What follows is just a handful of places to try (we encourage you to research more — there are so many more), along with some recommendations for satisfying eats to enjoy before or after your visit.
Contessa Wine Cellars
Where: 3235 Friday Rd., Coloma
When: Open seven days a week, noon-5 p.m., the whole year 'round
How Much: $5 per person tasting fee
At Contessa Wine Cellars, you'll feel transported to another era in a thoroughly modern way. Enjoy a selection of wines in a tasting room that feels like an Italian villa, with views of orchards just outside. If you feel inspired by the scenery, sample one or all of Contessa's fruit wines: offered in black raspberry, blueberry and cherry.
Continue with the Italian theme (albeit a much less fancy version) at DiMaggio's Pizza & Burgers, where you can gorge yourself on tasty lasagna, meatballs, spaghetti, and of course, some delicious pizza.
White Pine Winery and Vineyards
Where: 317 State St., St. Joseph
When: September-December hours are noon-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon-6 p.m. Friday and noon-5 p.m. Saturday
How Much: Call the tasting room at (269) 281-0098 to find out fees
With a name inspired by West Michigan's natural beauty, White Pines is a place you'll want to check out if you take your wines as seriously as they do. The owner, Dr. Dave Miller, is a wine specialist with more than 30 years of experience. With PhD work focused on "grapevine photosynthesis, carbon partitioning in grapevines and, grapevine and vineyard productivity," he's also served on many wine-making councils and lectured on horticulture and wine-making at MSU.
If you’re feeling hungry after your stop at White Pine, The Ideal Place is a good bet. You'll find an eclectic menu featuring oysters, fish, pasta and more. And if you didn't pick up any bottles at White Pine, you might find some of their wines on the bar list.
Lemon Creek Winery
Where: 533 East Lemon Creek Rd., Berrien Springs
When: Call (269) 471-1321 for hours
How Much: Tasting fees vary
This family owned and operated winery is a place with quite a history — and lots of space. Established in 1855, its farm boasts 150 acres of vineyards and 21 different wine varietals. In addition to all kinds of reds, whites, dessert specialty wines, it also sells seasonal fruit (you'll find grapes and apples this month). And if you're in search of celebration, visit on Sept. 6 and experience the 19th Annual Harvest Festival. Taking place from noon until 6 p.m., this event features wine tasting, live music and grilled food. Not far away is Baguette de France, a good locale for a pre-wine-tasting lunch of sandwiches and sides.
Karma Vista Vineyards
Where: 6991 Ryno Rd., Coloma
When: Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays; closed Tuesdays
How Much: Tasting fee is $5 for six samples; refundable after purchase of six bottles.
Karma Vista (literally) spells out what it's all about: "the great things that happen from the little things you do" and "view from a distance; horizon; perspective; vision." It's a feel-good winery with a picturesque setting and knowledgeable staff. Take a look at the wine titles and you can tell the people running this place like to inject a little fun into their wine-making process. There's Starry Starry White (a semi-sweet white blend of Riesling and Vidal and Seyval grapes), Razz M'Tazz (full of raspberries and great for mixing) and much more.
End your day and begin your night at The Friendly Tavern. There's plenty to choose from (and share) on the menu, which offers American pub fare like burgers, soups, salads and sandwiches.
12 Corners Vineyards
Where: 1201 N. Benton Center Rd, Benton Harbor
When: Call (269) 927-1512 for seasonal hours
How Much: $6 for five tastes
Started by a small group of Michiganders with an enthusiasm for the uniquely ideal wine-making conditions that West Michigan provides, 12 Corners sits on a hill overlooking 30 acres in Benton Harbor. Visit the website to find out about upcoming events. If you're interested in hosting one of your own at the Riverstone Room, call 'em up to find out about rates and availability.
If you leave 12 Corners feeling like you just can't get enough, join one of the two wine clubs they offer, and receive monthly shipments of up to three bottles. On subsequent trips, consider checking out their Grand Haven and South Haven tasting rooms.
Stop in at the Mason Jar Café for a pre-booze brunch and try the stuffed French toast. Or if you're feeling more virtuous, order the gluten-free zucchini waffle.
Where: 3768 Chicago Dr., Hudsonville
When: Hours of operation: Monday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Wine tastings: Monday-Thursday, 3-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.
How much: five complimentary pours at the bar; 2 oz. pours for $2 each
Hudsonville Winery makes more than 30 wines available on-site, but the beverage offerings don't end there. Co-owners Ron Snider and Steve Guikema also own the on-site Hudsonville Pike 51 Brewery, which features 15 craft beers on tap.
A weeknight visit has its perks, too. Thrift Store Trivia takes place on Mondays from 7-9 p.m. Bring up to five friends for your team and play to win prizes from the winery and other local businesses. Pours are $1 off.
No need to go elsewhere if you're looking for a bite to eat. This winery features a limited-but-unique menu, offering such diverse fare as handmade potato skins, Italian spring rolls and a pulled-pork barbecue sandwich.
Sushi Bar Opens at the Downtown Market
Look no further for the perfect drop-in lunch spot, right in the middle of gourmet foodie delights. On July 30, Sushi Maki opened in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market (435 Ionia Ave. SW), adding to an already diverse culinary scene that offers everything from crepes and curries to tacos and seafood.
While there are plenty of sushi spots in the city, ranging from your standard take-out joint to fine dining restaurants, Sushi Maki is sure to become a new favorite. Most importantly, the fish is fresh and delicious. It's beautifully presented in such a way that you can tell the chefs really love what they do. (And they care to ask if you love what they've made for you, too). Last but not least, it's affordable, with a lunch special at three rolls for $12 or two rolls for $8.
Sushi Maki also serves sashimi, a green salad and a pretty spectacular seaweed salad. They've got Japanese sodas and mochi. Sit right at the bar or make your way up to the market's rooftop while it's still possible to bask in a balmy afternoon.
If you decide you love what this place has to offer and want to share, ask about their catering services. And if you're elsewhere in Grand Rapids and find yourself craving Japanese, check out Fuji Yama on East Beltline. It's owned by Shun Chen, one of Sushi Maki's co-owners.