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Buchanan, Michigan in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA
In need of a quick weekend getaway this past spring, my husband and I found ourselves staying at the Hickory Creek Winery’s two-story farm cottage in southwest Michigan. Adjacent to the winery, which we had frequented several times under previous ownership, this was our first stay on the property. We arrived as the sun was setting to the west of the white farmhouse and the warm lights welcomed us from inside. It was a chilly evening, so we were happy to have a quiet evening indoors. We made dinner, enjoyed a bottle of Hickory Creek wine left by the proprietors and knew as the sun was setting, that we had found the perfect place to spend our weekend.
The following day, we tasted wines along the Lake Michigan Shore AVA trail. It was a relatively quiet weekend, before the warm-weather vacationers had descended, and we enjoyed several almost private wine tastings, met a few winemakers and of course filled the trunk with cases of our favorite bottles. Staying at Hickory Creek, we saved our tasting for the end of the day. Another couple was at the bar when we arrived, and the tasting room consultant welcomed us to join in a tasting. As introductions were made, we quickly realized that our host was Adam McBride, the owner and winemaker at Hickory Creek.
The Fellowship of Wine
Adam explained the tasting, which included 5 wines for $8 and about a dozen options from which to select. (We were staying at the guest house, so our tasting was complimentary.) As we made our selections – some white, some red, all dry – the other couple finished their tasting and we again found ourselves one-on-one with the winemaker. Adam deftly walked us through each wine, the wine making process and answered every question we asked, and from there the conversation and wine flowed. As frequent WineTravelers, this type of experience is easily our favorite and exactly what brought us to wine travel in the first place. Wine has a unique way of bringing people together and forming connections that inspire, teach, create a sense of community and in some cases even begin friendships. Such was the case at Hickory Creek Winery. When we left the tasting room, over an hour later (and after closing time!), I knew that Adam McBride and Hickory Creek Winery needed to be introduced to Wine Traveler and our followers.
Adam and his team at Hickory Creek Winery are passionate about wine, the Lake Michigan Shore terroir and its impressive possibilities, and most importantly, they are excited to share it with their visitors in an approachable, friendly and personal way. And we’re excited to introduce you!
Meet the Winemaker: Adam McBride
Winetraveler (WT): When was Hickory Creek established?
Adam McBride (AM): Hickory Creek began in 2006 with three partners, an Australian, a German winemaker, and a local farmer. I came across the sale listing in late 2016 and purchased the 38-acre farm, winery and cottage in September 2017.
WT: What are the factors that played into your purchase?
AM: I spent 2005 through 2007 living and working in Europe. I was based in the Mosel region of Germany, of course known for its winemaking, and was hooked by the way wine was the focal point of the community. I visited wineries and vineyards, helped with the harvest and began talking with the local winemakers. And just like that, a seed was planted. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
When I returned to the states, I began to look at land in western Michigan. Growing up in Michigan, I knew it had good soil, slopes and a beneficial proximity to Lake Michigan. I thought I would have to begin a vineyard from scratch, but then Hickory Creek came onto the market. On a cold January afternoon, I stopped in for a tasting and immediately knew it suited my taste for European-style wine (not to mention the setting was incredible). I made an offer, and after the sellers and I found a fast rapport, a deal was made. We have continued to work together through the transition. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, and now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
WT: What makes the Southwest Michigan corridor a good viticulture region?
AM: We’re about six miles east of Lake Michigan and within the Lake Michigan Shore AVA. The lake moderates the temperatures, so in the winter we’re five to 10 degrees warmer and in the summer, five to 10 degrees cooler. Much of the landscape offers slopes, many of which are south-facing, and good soil for noble grapes.
WT: What would you say to wine travelers that never considered SW Michigan as a wine destination?
AM: The region has many winemakers with a commitment to quality and a passion for strengthening the area’s reputation. Many people still associate Michigan, and southwest Michigan in particular, with fruit and cherry wines; and while fruit and sweet wine lovers still have plenty to choose from, the region is gaining notoriety for its European-style dry whites and reds made from vinifera grapes. You will find some beautiful dry wines here and as a region we’re excited to show them off.
WT: What is your winemaking philosophy?
AM: As a new winemaker, I try to make wines that I know I will enjoy, but that will also showcase southwest Michigan. I want to add to the reputation for high-quality wine made from vinifera in the region and I want to educate the American wine palate for what’s possible. Tasting a new wine is like seeing a new color for the first time and I’d love for everyone to have that experience.
WT: What is your favorite experience at the winery to-date?
AM: Now that’s hard to nail down! I do love the conversations I get to have in the tasting room and love to spend as much time as I can in there. I like to talk about wine in general and am passionate about what we do at Hickory Creek. Wine education is extremely important to me as well. I also love when guests teach me something new and the sense of community it creates. And I do enjoy opening a non-wine drinker to the experience, planting that seed. I want wine to be approachable and the experience people have here to be personal.
WT: What has been one of your challenges?
AM: For Hickory Creek, we’re small-scale, meaning around 500 liters per each wine in production, so our challenge is to keep that production meeting demand. In 2017, I had 18 tons of fruit, wine in every tank and 1,000 cases, but it still wasn’t enough to meet the demand. So, as we move into the next several years, our goal is to increase our inventory by adding more equipment, tanks and increasing our bottling capacity. We’d love to get to 1,500 or 2,000 cases of production. And we want to make sure we retain the ability to keep our tasting experiences personal as we grow. That sense of community is what we’re all about.
One more challenge, we’d love to have that July traffic in January!
WT: What grapes do you grow on the property? And where do you source the others?
AM: Right now, I have two acres of Chardonnay. My goal is to increase my vineyard by another three acres for a total of five with a mix of vinifera and hybrid grapes. I can harvest about three tons per acre, so by getting to five acres, we could be at about 80-85% estate grown under current production levels.
I do also purchase grapes from local sources. Every bunch is hand-selected and picked whole-cluster, most within a 10-mile radius of the winery, and all within the local AVA. Our farmers are amazingly talented and the vineyard crews are some of the hardest working people I’ve come across.
WT: What has been the best wine/vintage under your ownership?
AM: Well, for vintage it would have to be the only one under my ownership – 2017. But as for my favorite wine, well, that’s like asking me which one of my kids is my favorite. Each one has its own story and unique memories behind the winemaking. That said, the Pinot Gris is our most popular with our customers this year. It’s made in traditional Pinot Gris style found in the Alsace region of France in which the fruit hangs a little longer. Unlike a Pinot Grigio, which is typically light-bodied and fresh with a higher acidity, the Pinot Gris has more of a mouthfeel with a thicker body and notes of spice.
Our Viognier is also showing well this year. With only six weeks on oak, this noble grape presented with a textured mouthfeel and good acidity on the finish. This is my first experience with Viognier as a winemaker and I am excited about the room it allows for creative license. In this sense, it can be treated like a Chardonnay – oaked, unoaked or even with malolactic fermentation.
Speaking of Chardonnay, this year’s production holds a special place in my heart as we had to stomp it out the old-fashioned way – by foot! It’s a long, but great story I can share with you in the tasting room.
WT: What advice would you give those traveling to the region for wine tasting?
AM: Be open. Try something new – something you’ve never had or maybe never heard of before. If you only like red wines, try a white. A sweet wine lover? Try a dry vinifera wine. It’s your time to experiment. Think of it like going to an art museum. Would you walk in to see your favorite artist’s few paintings, look at nothing else and leave? Of course not. You’d likely take the time to explore many different artists, perhaps even lingering with a new style or medium. So, when you are wine tasting make it an experience and I think you’ll find the art too.
WT: Describe a tasting at Hickory Creek. What can a visitor expect?
AM: We treat our visitors to a tasting at the bar. We offer 5 wines for $8 and they can choose from 13-14 different wines. We walk each guest through the tasting menu and then let them choose their experience. We cater to many different tastes including dry and off-dry wines.
The tasting will be led by myself, (I’m in the tasting room every weekend and often throughout the week – typically 4 or 5 days a week), or one of our wine tasting consultants each with a mastery of our wines and the winemaking process. They know their stuff and are passionate about our craft.
We also offer wine flights for guests interested in taking the tasting outside and sampling on their own.
WT: Does Hickory Creek welcome groups to the winery?
AM: We do. For groups of eight or more, we ask that they make reservations. This ensures we have the staff and space available to make for a great experience. Our groups are welcomed into our barrel room and led through a guided tasting by one of our tasting consultants. Groups are often poured the same five wines, but if we’re slow, or have a lot of bottles open, we often share a few extras, or something off the group menu. It’s always a lot of fun.
WT: What kind of events do you host at the winery?
AM: Wine education is important to me, so we’re always offering something whether it’s a WSET certification course through the Napa Valley Wine Academy, or a winemaker and chef pairings dinner.
We held our first winemaker/chef dinner in June and paired each of our 2017 releases with a dish prepared by a former Chicago-based chef who now runs The Peasant’s Pantry here in Baroda. Since we share the same 42nd parallel as Barcelona, each of the dishes were Spanish-inspired and matched phenomenally with the wine. In fact, and I’ve tasted each of these wines millions of times, and this was the best they ever tasted. The way they paired with each course was incredible.
WT: Do you have a wine club or sales to the public?
AM: We offer both. Our wines are available for purchase in the tasting room and our wine club is free to join. We have three levels – a 3-bottle, 6-bottle or 12-bottle membership. Members commit to making a purchase twice a year at either a 10, 15 or 20 percent discount. In addition, tastings are free for our members and their guests. The wines do have to be picked-up in the tasting room or shipped within the state of Michigan. Although we are going to soon have a shipping license for Illinois as well!
WT: Are you also a WineTraveler? If so, what’s your favorite destination outside of home?
AM: I am a WineTraveler. I do find it hard to beat a glass of house wine from a carafe in a café in a remote part of France. There’s just something so authentic about it. But I also love Port in Portugal, tasting wine in Napa and the Pinot Noirs of the Willamette Valley. I love to taste wines close to their source, and it just so happens that wines are produced in beautiful places.