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Fall Into Michigan’s Great Southwest

Posted By Millicent Huminsky, Monday, October 1, 2007
Updated: Wednesday, October 6, 2010
"How do you put the apples on the trees?” Margo Klug gets lots of questions from visitors to "Big Dan’s” Hartford farm, but this one asked by a five-year-old girl is still her favorite. "I knew she wanted to know whether we glued them on like the red paper apples on her kindergarten bulletin board or whether they were hung like Christmas ornaments,” Klug said. "So I explained, simply, how apples grow and that their stems held them on the branches until she picked them.”

Klug’s "Big Dan’s U-Pick’em” farm is one of dozens that opens its orchards and fields to visitors from neighboring cities and states. See what life on a working farm is all about. "Big Dan” pulls a hay wagon with his tractor through the orchards and to the pumpkin patch on the hill, while giving tips on which apples are best for eating or cooking and how to store them. He always stops at the highest point on his farm to point out the panoramic view of the countryside where jewel-colored trees can be seen for miles. Klug’s, like most u-pick farmers, encourages their visitors to taste-test the apple varieties. "It is the only way to decide whether you like the flavor and texture,” Margo Klug explained.

A few miles west of Klug Orchards Farm Market is Jollay Orchards in Coloma. This farm offers its own blend of family fun and education that can easily take hours to enjoy. They, too, use a hay wagon to tour visitors around their farm. Jollay’s grows pie and jack-o-lantern pumpkins and gourds in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes in their patches. "It is fun to watch children’s eyes when they discover our patch of white pumpkins,” Jay Jollay, owner of the orchards, said. "They wonder why they are not orange and get excited when we tell them how they can carve them into a ghost or paint them whatever colors they want to make goblins, witches, cats and monsters.

”After picking their apples and pumpkins, the hay wagon jostles down the path to a haunted house. Inside the darkened building, mechanically animated characters and recorded sounds provide ghoulish fun and surprises for ages 5 years old and up. The hayride proceeds to a corn maze that challenges you to find its way out — not an easy task when most of the stalks tower over the heads of even the tallest person. The reward for reaching the exit is a visit to Jollay’s farm market where bins and shelves brim with ready-picked fruits and vegetables. Choose an apple and dip it into a pot of warm caramel to coat it with your favorite toppings. Other farm fresh selections include apple pies baked in brown paper bags, cookies, warm apple dumplings, and cider.

Jollay and Klug Orchards are just two of the many farms in the region. Most u-picks are open daily through the end of October, although some farm stands stay open until mid -November. Hayrides, corn mazes and haunted houses are usually offered on weekends only.

Wine Lovers Raise Glasses to Revelry or Romance

Their bare backs and legs dripping with purplish-red juice and grape skins, five college-aged men look up with boyish delight from the huge oak vat of grapes. They have been stomping around this grown-up mud puddle, feeling the warm grape juice squirt between their toes and the pulp suck against their ankles. Not one mother reprimands them. In fact, the crowd is cheering them on to produce more grape juice than the other stomping teams.

Some miles away, a couple sits at a window-side table overlooking row after row of lush, green grape vines. Aware only of each other, they clink wine glasses and enjoy the shimmer of light through the golden-hued Tabor Hill Lake Michigan Shore Traminette. The wine’s melon bouquet with its touch of spice adds extra pleasure as they take their first sips. No one cheers. No one rushes the quiet conversation. It’s time to savor together.

A broad spectrum of activities awaits you in Southwestern Michigan’s wine country. The region’s temperate climate, buffered by Lake Michigan to the west, closely replicates the finest wine areas of France, Germany and California’s Sonoma Valley. Its award-winning Rieslings, Chardon-nays, Cabernet Sauvignons and Gewürztraminers are made from the best European grape cultivars by winemakers who have studied the works of Old World winemasters.

Perhaps the most valuable thing these winemakers learned from the Old Country is that their art is bottled hospitality. They warmly welcome visitors to tour their cellars and taste their wines, brandies, cordials, sparkling juices and specialty beers at no charge. Most have special events and festivals throughout the year.

A Wine Trail meanders its way through three counties with a dozen wineries highlighted along the way. Each winery has its own charm. Area winery tours are family-friendly and festivals offer activities for all ages.

Round Barn Winery & Distillery in Baroda is almost next to Tabor Hill. A distillery and brewery add cordials, brandies, and beer to the wine and juice list at the tasting bar. An historic round barn, hand-built by Amish craftsmen, holds special events and weddings. The winemaker offers classes each spring and fall to teach the art of white and red winemaking.

Karma Vista Vineyards in Coloma has its winery and tasting room atop one of the highest hills in Berrien County. In addition to the breathtaking view, visitors will enjoy the fine European and American-style wines, breads and cheeses; and gifts for all occasions.

Lemon Creek Fruit Farm & Winery in Berrien Springs has an historic vineyard that William Lemon started 150 years ago. You want to have time to visit the fruit farm, too, before you leave. A stop at the tasting room as well as selecting farm-fresh produce makes for a well-rounded visit. They also are one of the few makers of Ice Wines.

St. Julian® Wine Company in Paw Paw is the oldest and largest winery in Michigan. Its founder named the winery after the patron saint of his birthplace, Faleria, Italy. Like other area wineries, it offers European-style fine wines as well as unique and refreshing fruit blends. St. Julian is a past recipient of the coveted Tasters Guild Winery of the Year Award.

Tabor Hill Winery & Restaurant in Buchanan, is one of Michigan’s most renowned wineries. Tabor Hill was the first winery in the state to grow European grape varietals such as Riesling and Chardonnay; the first to bring in French expertise to make dry, sparkling wines; and the first to open a restaurant that has since earned critical acclaim. The tasting room and gift shop offer an extensive wine list, including several national and state medalists.

Domaine Berrien Cellars in Berrien Springs is nestled on an 80-acre fruit farm. Sixty acres of tart cherry orchards have been converted to high quality wine grapes and Niagara juice grapes. The vineyard master tries new techniques, such as special trellising, shoot positioning, and cane laydown to produce quality wines for the enjoyment of their customers.

Unwrap a Classic Christmas

Kids scramble out of cars, tromping through new-fallen snow. Their voices echo over the hills and through fields of lush-green pines, spruces and firs. Trees stand firm in neat rows, the snow clinging to their branches reflecting the dying light of the day. Children disappear between them, anxious to find just the right one. "You can hear them. ‘How about this one?’ Or, ‘I found one!’” said Char Bishop, owner and operator of Yule-Tide Acres in Berrien Center.

Millions of Americans also love Michigan Christmas trees. According to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, Michigan’s annual harvest is over 6 million. Michigan Christmas trees not only decorate the homes of Michigan and U.S. families, but also several foreign countries.

The season is filled with classic Christmas activities — from horse-drawn sleigh rides to finding unique gifts to cutting your own Christmas tree.

At Yule-Tide Acres, many visitors love to grab a saw to cut their own tree. They also enjoy other holiday treats: sipping free hot chocolate and cider and shopping for Christmas gifts.

Visitors come from all over, Bishop said. One couple even hauled their tree all the way back home to Florida after visiting area relatives for Thanksgiving. Wherever folks come from, she said they all enjoy the slower pace.

In Galien, Pinecrest Farms owner Richard Soper has been growing Christmas trees for over 25 years. He has seen generations make the experience a tradition.

Soper’s family has made finding the right tree a tradition. During busy times, up to 14 family members pitch in by giving horse-drawn wagon rides to the fields and helping visitors. With nearly 4,000 trees to choose from, you are sure to find the perfect one. Visitors also enjoy free hot chocolate, find gifts and get fragrant handmade wreaths, swags and centerpieces to decorate their homes.

The best time to get a tree? Most farms are open the first day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Attractions such as hay wagon rides are usually offered on weekends.

In Dowagiac, Traditional Trees grows a wide variety of Christmas trees — Douglas, Fraser, Concolor, and Balsam Firs and Colorado Blue Spruce. Owners Charles and Earline Jones let visitors take wagons out to find their tree and bring it back to the processing facility. There they can have it mounted on what Charles calls their "10-second stand.” They bore a hole in the center of the trunk with a special bit and fit the tree onto a spike on the stand. "It’s very popular,” he said. Visitors warm themselves by the cheery wood stove, drink hot, spiced cider and find handmade wreaths, garland and boughs. Also enjoy the season by shopping without the crowds, downhill and cross-country skiing or just strolling along a snowy nature path.

For more information, please visit the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council online at or call 269-925-6301.

Photo credits: All photos in this article were courtesy of Ken McKeown, except the grape photo, courtesy of St. Joe Today

Tags:  Jolly Orchards  Klug Orchards  Michigan  Southwest Michigan 

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