As pandemic restrictions ease, more and more wineries are opening their doors to tours and tastings. For many, the biggest challenge now is safely handling the number of people who are itching to get out, have fun and enjoy wine.

Last month, we spent a few days in Michigan and took an afternoon to enjoy some old favorites in the southwest portion of the state and try a couple new ones. We write often about how closely wine is associated with memory, but almost always in the context of how the taste of wine connects you to memories you already have. But this is a two-way street: Re-visiting a wine you haven’t had in years is like meeting up with a beloved old friend you haven’t seen in ages. You are reminded of the little things you thought you had forgotten, whether it’s the way she laughs or the way Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages always has hints of cherries, and you remember there are so many reasons they mean so much to you.

So when we had a chance recently to visit wine country in southwest Michigan, we looked forward to new discoveries – the number of wineries there has exploded in recent years – and we also looked forward to reconnecting with some old friends, at least in terms of wine.

Whenever we’re in the Berrien County, Mich., we always stop at Domaine Berrien Cellars. Years ago we fell in love with its St. Vincent Wine, made from an obscure American grape named for the patron saint of wine. The winery isn’t currently making St. Vincent, per se, but it is using the grape for its Pink Satin rosé.

This trip, like all the others we’ve made to Domaine Berrien, didn’t disappoint. The winery is a member of the Rhone Rangers, which is dedicated to promoting American Rhone varietal wines (wines made from the same grapes that flourish is France’s Rhone River Valley). Domaine Berrien is just one of two wineries outside California to be a member of this organization, and its wines show off why it is a member of this prestigious group.

Our next stop was Lemon Creek Winery, another usual stop for us because we are big fans of its Kerner, a semi-dry German white wine. Lemon Creek has switched its tastings from an individual selection format to pre-selected wine flights. This is becoming more common at wineries to reduce contact between staff and guests and minimize the potential for contamination from pouring various wines into the same glass. The day we were there was gorgeous, and our table in the shade of a giant tree made the wines even better.

Several years ago, we happened upon Hickory Creek Winery. At the time, the winery was primarily producing wines for the Chicago restaurant market, and the wines were easily among the best we’ve had in Michigan. Since then, the winery has changed hands and the focus is now on selling locally and from the tasting room. Fortunately, the quality of the wine hasn’t declined; in fact, it may be even better than the last time we were there.

One of the great things about visiting small wineries is you can often find the winemaker themselves behind the tasting counter, and that was the case at Hickory Creek. There’s no better way to get to know a list of wines than to listen to the person who is involved in every step of the process, from planting and pruning vines to harvest and into the bottle.

We spent some time talking to owner Adam McBride, who spent two years in Germany’s Mosel Valley and studied at the Napa Valley Wine Academy before purchasing Hickory Creek. His focus is on quality European-style wines, and his passion shines through his wines. You won’t find the usual suspects here, with a Gruner Veltliner, Marquette Nouveau and Cabernet Franc on the wine list. Even with a Merlot on the menu, it is not your typical Merlot. This one is what Merlot is meant to be: opulent, jammy and a hint of vanilla.

At Baroda Founders Wine Cellar we found a laid-back tasting room where the Ramones’ “I Wanna be Sedated” was playing in the background and the wines and their names came with stories. The winery’s founder, Leonard Olson, has a long history of making wine in Michigan, as he opened the wildly popular Tabor Hill Winery in 1972. If you need a good reminder that wine should be fun, not stuffy, Baroda Founders is the place to be.

Also on this trip, we stopped at the Lazy Ballerina Winery tasting room in downtown St. Joseph, Mich. If you are a fan of wine slushies (and we know many of you are), this is your place. This is a winery that knows its audience and aims to please. Be sure to give the Anniversary Bubbly a try – that was our favorite.