Midwest Winery Tour Companies Spread
Anecdotal evidence suggests that during the last few years the number of winery tour companies across the Midwest has grown, reflecting general growth across the Midwest wine industry. In the first installment of a series, Midwest Wine Press will profile winery tour companies doing business in our region. We’ll focus on what they look for in the wineries they visit and what they aim to give their customers.
Wine Touring in Michigan
Grand Traverse Adventure Company is a dramatic name for winery tours, but it was founded by a world traveler who’s ventured from Cambodia to Scotland. And also to France, where he got hooked on wine.
Bob Lovik ranks visiting wineries as one of his top five cultural experiences. ‘Anytime I visit a
vineyard where the culture, history and appreciation of wine are held in high esteem it’s always a special experience.” He says on his website.
It’s the Illinois native’s second full season in the winery tour business, which he runs solo from Traverse City, Michigan.
When he first moved to Michigan a few years ago he was taken aback by how advanced the wine culture was and by the number of quality winemakers. ‘And now over the past couple of years you can tell that people are really eager to learn and improve the experience in their tasting rooms for people visiting and they’re really eager to improve the wine that they’re making and they’re very passionate about getting the word out, that Michigan wine should be on the table!”
“Michigan wine should be on the table!”
Bob Lovik, Grand Traverse Adventure Company
When he’s selecting winery stops for his tours of the Leelanau or Old Mission Peninsulas, customer service ranks very highly. ‘We visit the tasting rooms where they really go above and beyond to explain the wine,” he says, ‘And really make it a great experience for the people on my tours.”
He takes small groups – 12 is the absolute maximum – and he’s been booked every weekend since the first weekend in April. During June, he started mid-week tours.
To drink himself, Bob prefers red blends made from Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir grapes that grow in the Grand Traverse area. Some of his favorite dry reds are made by Brys Estate Winery on Old Mission Peninsula and Forty-Five North Winery in Leelanau County.
He says there’s lots of other good stuff around too. ‘The late harvest Rieslings are world class, that’s probably what northern Michigan is known for. Also the Chardonnays, the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blancs are dynamite. There’s a lot of high quality wines being kicked out that’s for sure.”
Rates: Grand Traverse Adventure Company, public wine tour cost, $55 per person
Wine Touring in Wisconsin
Heather Harrison – who also writes for Midwest Wine Press – has always made a point of visiting
wineries when she travels, so starting a wine and beer touring company as a side business made a lot of sense.
A little over a year ago she started Midwest Winery Travel and then expanded to include brewery tours, and then came up with Wisconsin Wine & Beer Tours .
Based in Milwaukee, Heather selects wineries for her tour stops based on their proximity, how much the wines might appeal to either her, or her customers; and, their customer service.
‘I want the staff to be friendly, it’s often nice to have the owners involved in the tastings and talking about how they got started and what direction they’ve gone in the wine making,” she explains.
Heather also makes sure the wineries she visits are genuinely local. ‘I try to get the real, local wines made by people here from fruit and grapes in the Midwest.”
Often the biggest take-away for her customers after a wine tour, she says, is how easy it is to get away from it all. ‘It feels like this experience that can shift them so easily out of their normal routine.”
‘It [touring wineries] feels like this experience that can shift them so easily out of their normal routine.”
Heather Harrison, Wisconsin Wine & Beer Tours
Heather prefers to have ready-made groups of 8 to 15 on her tours and it the moment does up to four tours per month — but she’s planning to ramp that up soon.
Generally she keeps her wine and beer tours separate, but one of her future plans is combine them and include a visit to a local cheese factory.
Heather says she is very open to all wines and varieties but generally prefers dyrer wines. Wollersheim Winery’s Prairie Fume – a semi dry white – comes to mind as a wine she’s been drinking lately and enjoys.
Rates: Wisconsin Wine & Beer Tours, call 414-614-9643
Wine Touring in Southern Illinois
Concern about drink driving was a main motivation for Charlie and Jan Campbell starting a winery tour company. ‘Our personal experience visiting the wine trails and realizing that you visit a winery and you sample and you drink a glass, and you go to a second one, and a third one – you have no business driving.”
See related story: Are Wineries Neglecting an Important Message?
The Campbells have been visiting wineries themselves since the first ones opened in Southern
Illinois during the early 1980s. They started their own wine tour company, SI Tours in 2009. It’s a husband and wife team, but they make use of up to four drivers from time to time.
Customers can choose the wineries they’d like to visit or the Campbells can help select a suitable route from about 30 local wineries, based on proximity to the pick-up location.
In the course of an average week they’ll do up to three tours and they’ve had bookings since the beginning of the year. Charlie and Jan enjoy their work and tipsy passengers don’t get on their nerves. ‘I’m sure it would be [annoying] for some people but it doesn’t seem to bother us,” he said.
When he’s relaxing Charlie prefers a semi-sweet wine. ‘A Traminette or something like that.”
Rates: SI Tours Wine Trail, Up to 12 People, 3-5 Wineries, Approx 6 Hrs, $85 per hour