Feb. 24 2010 12:00 AM

Cider mill serves fall fun for all ages, tastes

In my last column, I focused on fun and affordable wines for tailgating and game watching parties. But what about the non-football crowd looking for fun weekend activities this fall? If you have never sampled the tasty wines, spirits and hard ciders being made in this region, spend an afternoon expanding your vinous horizons at Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery and Cider Mill, just north of St. Johns.

For more than a century, five generations of the Beck family have been pleasing mid-Michigan palates and providing family fun at Uncle John’s.

Although the winery is a more recent addition to the operation, ever-affable co-proprietor Mike Beck has already been elected president of Wine Michigan, the association representing virtually all Michigan wineries.

Beck is a tireless advocate for the continuing development and enhancement of tree-fruit-based hard ciders, and he has walls of awards to prove his success. These refreshing, carbonated beverages include apple cider made from estate apples; thirst quenching semi-dry pear cider (perry) from West Michigan fruit; apple cherry cider, featuring Michigan cherry juice; and a seasonal, barrel-aged apple cider.

Uncle John’s also has its own distillery, allowing it to produce estate-made apple vodka, oak-aged apple brandy and dessert wines fortified with spirits distilled onsite.

The warm, inviting wine tasting room features an extremely friendly staff and truly surprising array of grape, fruit and honey wines (mead), dessert wines and wine-themed merchandise. Fruit for the grape wines is grown primarily in southwest Michigan and the Leelanau/Old Mission Peninsula appellations. Currently, 21 wines populate the list, with juice to suit virtually any palate. Fans of dry wines can sample Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Fruit House White (a blend of Chardonnay, Vignoles, Pinot Gris and Riesling) and Fruit House Red (Syrah and Chancellor).

Semi-dry offerings include Riesling, Pyment (a blend of Traminette and honey) and Franc-N-Berry (Cabernet Franc and blueberry).

Sweet wines include Riesling and a variety of fruit-based wines, such as blueberry, cranberry, cherry, pear, peach/honey and apple.

Dessert wines are fortified with the house brandy made from the same fruit. Remember the Concord grape juice you enjoyed as a kid? Now as a grown-up you can taste it as a wine. There is even a sparkling Harvest Peach.

Kids and adults can also enjoy traditional cider mill activities and aromas, as wells as caramel apples, fudge, freshbaked pies, donuts, pastries, jams, salsas, barbecue sauces, jerky, and, of course, fresh cider. Fall attractions include a corn maze, hayrides, pumpkin picking and train rides.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through December. Uncle John’s is closed during winter months, so enjoy the fall season while you can.

For more on Uncle John’s, visit www.ujcidermill.com. For more on Wine Michigan, visit www.WineMichigan.org.)

In Vino Veritas.

(Michael Brenton is president of the Greater Lansing Vintners Club. His column appears monthly.)