WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | JOSHUA NOWICKI
Good news: The artisans who inhabit the Makers Trail in Southwest Michigan are just as welcoming in the wintertime as they are in the summertime! At roughly 40 establishments — from New Buffalo in the south to Watervliet in the north — proprietors who are passionate about their craft enjoy sharing their products year-round.
During these colder months, the atmosphere is more laid back, with events, live music, and even some outdoor seating. The makers also host creative activities such as unique festivals, yoga classes, art and film exhibits, book discussions, and games — there’s something for everyone.
Extensive, diverse libation options include local hand-crafted beer, wine, and spirits, as well as many tasty and unique nonalcoholic options like craft root beers and sparkling juices.
Specialty ice wines can be found at several locations along the trail, as well. Created with frozen grapes, these beverages seem appropriate for warming up winter outings. Another tasty seasonal option is the mulled cranberry wine offered by The Lazy Ballerina Winery. Or enjoy a glass of Barrell Rouge, a red wine aged in oak barrels at the winery and then finished in bourbon barrels at Journeyman Distillery, another Makers Trail destination.
Food options are often locally sourced and include pairings tailored to beverages: savory cheeses or smoky grilled meats, full course entrées from pizza to perch, and desserts such as hand-dipped chocolate.
In addition to appealing to the palate, the Makers Trail is a visual treat in wintertime.
“The views are still gorgeous along the Makers Trail,” states Lauren Kniebes of the Lazy Ballerina Winery. “Snow-covered trees, sand dunes, and an iced-over Lake Michigan are a beautiful sight.”
Stroll among Victorian-era buildings that are home to art, theater, and museum venues along the trail. Watch the sunset over the lake at Grand Mere Inn or dine while overlooking a snow-covered vineyard at Tabor Hill.
Enjoy beverage samples at the architecturally stunning round barn — originally constructed in Indiana in 1912 — amid acres of vineyards at the Round Barn Winery, Distillery, and Brewery, iconic home to handcrafted spirits, brews, and wines.
The Livery Brewery in the Arts District of downtown Benton Harbor is another destination housed in a significant architectural structure. Over 100 years old, this is a former horse livery.
“We’re known for the summer season, so many visitors think our region’s appeal ends there. Not true! Southwest Michigan can be enjoyed in all seasons,” stated Kelly Vega, manager at the Livery Brewery.
For example, indoor activities in the Upper Livery entertainment venue include live music every Friday and Saturday night featuring local, regional, and national talent of all genres on the intimate stage. The Livery also presents weekly Open Stage Nights and Team Trivia. Monthly events include Community Nights, where portions of proceeds are donated to local nonprofits, and the Earthwork Music Sunday Showcase where “music meets activism.”
On December 9 and 10, the Livery hosts its 11th Annual Holiday Bizarre – deliberately billed as an especially “bizarre” holiday shopping experience! Shoppers can browse among two levels of gifts made by local artisans while enjoying a local craft beer.
Another unique event presented by the Makers Trail this winter celebrates the leap year on February 29. The Winter Delights Festival opens at 1:00 pm and continues through the evening, with food, craft beers, crisp ciders, local wines, and shopping at a carefully curated pop-up artisan market at The Mendel Center.
Nonstop live music will fill two stages. The all-ages Mainstage lineup includes Six Appeal — a world-renowned vocal ensemble — the musical duo The Reminders, and JigJam, a multi-award-winning quartet from Ireland. The Grand Upton Hall Taste Faire & Stage presents headliner Bryan Lubeck. All-Access tickets include $10 in beer, wine, and cider tastes.
Visits to the Makers Trail in winter are made even more enticing by the Makers Trail Flight Crew Passport, a program of the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council that offers prizes to frequent visitors. Participants can obtain a Flight Crew Passport at participating destinations, collect stamps at each location, and eventually earn a free Flight Crew T-shirt, hoodie, or one of five grand prizes. Visit MakersTrail.org for a complete list of participating venues. The participation deadline is April 30, 2020.
Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council
2300 Pipestone Road, Benton Harbor
(269) 925.6301, SWMichigan.org
The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College
2755 Napier Avenue, Benton Harbor