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SAVOR Vine and dandy, Checking out Michigan wineries
DISH Weekly Dining Guide Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Michigan is known for various things, from cars to apples to Wolverines ( the ones from the University of Michigan, not the large, ferocious weasels—or the comic-book character, for that matter ).

However, the state is becoming a nirvana for oenophiles—a point that was recently made abundantly clear during a media trip to southwestern Michigan to check out a few wineries ( and breweries ), courtesy of Moersch Hospitality Group.

Moersch owns several wineries, including Round Barn Winery ( 10983 Hills Rd., Baroda, Michigan; ), Free Run Cellars ( 10062 Burgoyne Rd., Berrien Springs, Michigan; ) and the renowned Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant ( 185 Mount Tabor Rd., Buchanan, Michigan; ).

Round Barn Round Barn Brewery & Public House ( the media group's first stop, at 9151 1st St., Baroda, Michigan; ) offers a wide variety of hand-crafted IPAs, ales, stouts, Randall infusions and small-batch, experimental beers ( such as a batch featuring blood orange and jalapeno ). Led by five brewers, Round Barn Brewery produces three year-round brews, several rotating and limited beers and 24 seasonal brews offered at various times frames throughout the year. Flights are available, and Public House offers some intriguing dishes, including turkey-and-smoked gouda sandwiches, blackened catfish po'boys and the pork-topped Squealin' Hawaiian pizza.

From the brewery, it was on to the winery—which has an Amish round barn as its centerpiece ( founded on the religious theory that, with a round barn, devils and demons have no corners in which to hide ). Round Barn Winery offers 26 varieties ofwines including dry, sweet, sparkling, fruit and dessert wines. ( The tart Farm Market Cranberry, when coupled with a splash of vodka, is absolutely outstanding. ) However, there are more than drinks here at this picturesque site ( that hosts its share of weddings and other gatherings )—there's now a Round Barn food truck with offerings such as Mexican sweet-corn hummus, street tacos and baked mac 'n cheese. ( Also, for those who might need that extra push to visit this spot, Round Barn Winery has restarted its annual "Jammin' in the Vineyards" live music series—complete with the new Weekend White Sangria Party. )

Free Run is a boutique winery that's advertised as "a playground to explore for both our winemaker, Brian Carlson, and Executive Chef Ryan Thornburg"—which means that patrons benefit in a variety of ways. This spot ( which focuses on items with connections to the Lake Michigan shore ) seems to offer more whites than reds ( which is fine with me ), and the menu conveniently lists which items are dry and which are sweet; I could drink the Pinot Blanc all day. Thornburg, who joined the team in 2016, oversees culinary items such as the addictive everything bagel-and-smoked salmon deviled eggs, and the wild mushroom-and-muenster cheese strudel. The only downside is that the hours are a bit limited ( at least by Chicago standards ): Free Run is open April through October on Thursdays at 2—7 p.m. and Saturdays—Sundays at 12—7 p.m.

And, last ( but certainly not least ) was Tabor Hill—a sprawling venue ( 25 acres ) that houses vineyards, a tasting room and a restaurant. Tabor Hill Winery produces more than 150,000 gallons of wine sold in the tri-state area, offering 30 varieties of dry, semi-dry, sparkling and dessert wines. ( The winery blends have been around for 50 years, as of 2018. ) Weekendtours of the vineyard are available in the spring, summer and fall. As for the restaurant, Thornburg applies a masterful touch to a menu ( filet mignon; veal osso buco; arborio rice-crusted calamari ) that matches ( or surpasses ) most of the places here in Chicago.

By the way, there's certainly space here to makea couple other recommendations: The Mason Jar Cafe ( 210 Water St., Benton Harbor, Michigan; ). A bustling space that serves breakfast all day ( its hours being 7 a.m.-3 p.m. during the week, and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekends ) as well as some enticing lunch items, Mason Jar also features several art spaces from which people can purchase pieces. If you're in the area, it's a can't-miss place.

And as for a place to stay, the Inn at Harbor Shores ( 800 Whitwam Dr., St Joseph, Michigan; ) is pretty charming—and all of this fun is just a few hours away from Chicagoland.

Special thanks go to Moersch Hospitality Group as well as Carol Fox & Associates for arranging this trip.

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