Local winery joins in industry’s season kick-offPublished 6:04pm Monday, May 31, 2010
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
In southwest Michigan it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t take advantage of the summer months to hit the area’s wine trails, taste some of the regions best blends while soaking up the scenery of the state’s beautiful southwest corner.
Memorial Day weekend is a kick-off weekend of sorts for area wineries, shedding their off-season times of operation for summer hours and summertime events.
Hickory Creek Winery is just one of southwest Michigan’s wine producers.
Situated along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail in a classic-style red barn just between the northwest corner of Buchanan and Baroda (the winery’s official address is 750 Browntown Rd., Baroda), just off a dirt road surrounded by a sea of green, Hickory Creek’s small, intimate setting is a symbol of something that lies beneath the trend of taking an afternoon and seeking out and getting a taste of local wineries.
What lies beneath, as it happens, is a journey for those looking for a truly unique experience and an absolute adventure for the taste-buds.
Tasting room manager Rosemary Zirille says Hickory Creek’s “specialty is dry wines,” which “go better with food than sweet wines do.”
Hickory Creek makes more than a dozen wines, mostly white, including Zero Oak Chardonnay, Cab Franc Rose, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris as well as reds, including a Melange, Cab Franc Reserve and a selection of semi-dry and sweet white wines.
Unlike some wineries, where visitors can not only get a taste of all there is to offer but also get a tour of the grounds, Zirille says that because Hickory Creek is a relatively small operation in stature, tours aren’t a part of the overall experience.
“We have a small tasting room,” she said. “We don’t really do the typical tour.”
Instead, inside the tasting room a glass window stretches behind the bar to give patrons a peek at the barrels and behind the scenes.
The experience for visitors is no less sans tour. To hear Zirille tell it, Hickory Creek focuses on intimate setting and most importantly – the quality of wine.
Zirille describes Hickory Creek’s wines as “pretty upscale” and “extremely good dry wines.”
Its wine is available for purchase at the winery and at specific locations throughout southwest Michigan.
“We are (also) in a number of upscale restaurants in Chicago,” Zirille said.
Not bad for a winery that opened itself up to the region and the ever-growing Michigan wine industry just in August 2006.
Even with an economy that crippled a lot of areas of luxury and leisure – two words that could apply to businesses like Hickory Creek, which benefit not only from wine sales but the tourism industry – Zirille said the winery is “pretty busy most of the time,” and has remained that way.
“We have a lot of visitors from Chicago … a lot of repeat people,” she said.
That repeat business speaks to what lies beneath the art of wine tasting. With every season, every batch and every barrel, no two wines, no two batches or barrels can ever really be guaranteed to be the same time after time – meaning customers get a varied experience with every visit.
“We have a lot of people (come in) who have never been to a winery,” Zirille said. “We spend as much time as we can talking with them and answering questions. They get a very nice learning experience here.”
Hickory Creek produces 2,000 cases of its wine per year, utilizing what Zirille called a classic French-style method of winemaking. Since it began, in addition to operating its tasting room and seeing its wines featured on restaurant menus, Zirille says the winery is working to be a part of unique events like winemaker dinners and the handmade craft market coming up on Saturday.
“We have had a lot of people calling earlier this year,” Zirille said about the upcoming season. “We are a lot busier this year than we were a year ago.
“People are hearing a lot about Hickory Creek,” she adds. “And they keep coming back.”
One of the draws of tasting wines at the actual winery, Zirille adds, as is Hickory Creek’s case, is a chance to purchase wines that may not be available at local sellers.
“Not everything we have here is going to be in the wine shops to purchase,” she said.
So of those wines – is there a perfect bottle?
“I don’t know if there is such a thing,” Zirille said. “All of us that work here are asked ‘what’s your favorite?’ We don’t have one. Every year is different because it depends on the growing season.
The rain, the sun and the temperature are all factors in the flavor of each barrel and wine even “changes a little bit in the bottle,” she says.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Zirille says. “Because it just kind of evolves.”
It’s hard to tell if she’s talking about the winery or the wine itself.
All the more reason to rediscover Hickory Creek and other area wineries this season.