Outsiders Shine a Spotlight on Fennville AVA Wines

When you want to experience the Fennville wine region — and who doesn’t all the time? — you now have more opportunities to enjoy its bounty as more restaurants and bottle shops outside the area continue to pour its praises.

Four friends toasting over drinks.

When Ellie and Pat Mullins moved to Southwest Michigan in 2010 from Northern California, his parents would throw an annual barn party at their farm, Middlebrook, in Three Oaks. Ellie recalls seeing James Lester, the owner and winemaker at Wyncroft Wines, about an hour north in Pullman, arrive with a load of wine from Wyncroft and its sister winery, Marland.

“It was reassuring to know real thoughtful wine was being produced here,” Mullins says. “It made me excited about the future of Michigan-produced wine.”

These days, the Mullins own Patellie’s Pizza in downtown Three Oaks. While Pat mans the pizza ovens, Ellie focuses her passion at P&E’s Bottle Shop around the corner. From Ellie’s years working in and around wine, she has developed a skill for spotting quality wine, often at reasonable prices, where she can introduce her customers to fabulous finds.

Harvesting grapes at winery
Harvesting grapes at winery

That includes what you can find just up the road in the Fennville AVA, and you’ll often see selections from Wyncroft and Modales at P&E. She recently threw a party in November of 2023 to celebrate the release of the Modales Nouveau, an homage to the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations that happen in France each year.

“It was something fun and different we could share with our customers,” she says, adding that she enjoys introducing local wines to people. She’s not alone. Vince & Joe’s, a gourmet grocer with two locations outside of Detroit, stocks a number of Fenn Valley Vineyards wines at its Shelby Township store, including the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Meritage.

Carl Brittingham, Vince & Joe’s wine and beer director, said these wines are showcased in an area of the wine shop with other Michigan wines and have a loyal following who come in and snatch them up.

Vineyards at sunset
Vineyards at sunset

This energy has made its way across the lake to Chicago, where a number of restaurants and shops stock Michigan wine. Legendary chef Charlie Trotter was known to include Wyncroft wines at his namesake restaurant, and today, younger chefs and restaurateurs are following suit.

At Nettare, a new restaurant and market in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, owner Conner O’Byrne said he enjoys introducing people to Michigan wine. Like Mullins, he promoted the Modales Nouveau with its dry, zippy, acid-forward palate — and people liked it.

“People have responded to it,” he says. “It’s been fun to use it as a gateway wine for people who were skeptical.”

Nettare highlights all things Midwestern, from the food to beer to the wine. Its market sells many of the wines featured on the wine list, which includes many from Modales, Wyncroft, and Marland wineries.

“Wyncroft and Marland are nice to have because they’re very traditional in what they produce,” O’Byrne says. “When you read Merlot on their label, it tastes like Merlot from France and meets people’s expectations of the wine.”

Group of friends walking in vineyard with wine
Group of friends walking in vineyard with wine

The conversation with diners then often turns to Modales because it’s doing cool, interesting things with wine, he says, adding that once people enjoy a bottle at dinner, they often buy another at the market on their way out. It’s that element of surprise these diners experience with the new wines that first caught Leah Matthews’ attention.

As a server at Daisies, an Italian-Midwestern restaurant, Matthews appreciated that the restaurant only sold domestic wines. Now, as wine director, Matthews has expanded the wine list to include many Italian wines but still features some from Michigan, including the Modales ‘Contact” and Marland Cabernet Franc.

“It’s so fun to introduce guests to these impressive wines from right here in our region,” Matthews said. “Propping up thoughtful winemaking by placing them on restaurant menus is a great way to show the public what Michigan has to offer. I think the sky’s the limit from there.”

As more people get introduced to these wonderful Fennville AVA wines at restaurants and shops and word continues to spread about the quality, the sky truly is the limit.

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