Head Up North for grape nirvana.
By Lynne Konstantin
Napa is nice, but we’ve got Michigan.
More than 100 wineries nestled among 15,000 acres of scenic vineyards dot our mitten’s landscape, making Michigan the fourth-largest grape-growing state. Of those 100, more than three dozen are in Northern Michigan. And while we have no problem with sipping a locally made red at a farm-to-table restaurant, why not go straight to the source for a deeper understanding of what pleases your palate.
The first experimental vine plantings took root in the 1960s and ’70s, when it was discovered that the state’s unique glacial soils make it ideal for boutiques and finishes. Those first plantings have grown into a paradise for both connoisseurs and the curious that includes long-standing industry stalwarts alongside innovative newcomers.
Most of Northern Michigan’s wineries are spread out in the neighboring areas of LEELANAU COUNTY, OLD MISSION PENINSULA and TRAVERSE CITY — making self-guided driving tours (with a designated driver, of course) a gorgeous way to get to know wineries while exploring the area’s charming towns and pristine beaches, rolling hills, lush forests and acres of farmland, meadows, orchards and vineyards.
Here is a hit list of some of our favorite spots to sip in the region:
Extending 30 miles from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula into Lake Michigan, the LEELANAU PENINSULA (the “little finger” of Michigan’s mitten; leelanauchamber.com) encompasses the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and strings together picturesque towns and spectacular sightseeing along Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. The scenic drive along M-22, which hugs Lake Michigan’s shore and wanders through Suttons Bay, Omena, Northport, Leland and Glen Arbor, is dotted with wineries (and is summer home to celebrity chef Mario Batali). Within the peninsula are three LEELANAU PENINSULA WINE TRAIL LOOPS, including Sleeping Bear Loop, Northern Loop and Grand Traverse Bay Loop.
Make your home base at BLACK STAR FARMS (blackstarfarms.com) in Suttons Bay, part of the Grand Traverse Bay Loop. Here, you can spend the night in the luxe Grand Red Inn (overnight stays include a full gourmet breakfast and a bottle of house wine) nestled below a hillside of vineyards and overlooking barns and pastures. The popular 120-acre agricultural destination offers artisan cheese, specialty goods and, of course, wine, including sparkling, fruit, Sirius dessert and ice wines. Visit tasting rooms in Suttons Bay, Old Mission or the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.
With vines first planted in 1973, L. MAWBY VINEYARDS (lmawby.com), also in Suttons Bay, has grown to cover 18 acres and includes fine traditional sparkling wines, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.
Part of the Northern Loop and located directly on the 45th parallel, FORTY-FIVE NORTH VINEYARD (fortyfivenorth.com) in Lake Leelanau serves popular wines like 45 Red and Peach Cremant in a post-and-beam barn tasting room. Opened in 2006 on 100 acres — protected from development by the owners’ partnership with the Leelanau Conservancy — the winery actively farms 35 acres.
In the Sleeping Bear Loop, CHATEAU FONTAINE (www.
chateaufontaine.com), whose name pays homage to the French immigrants who settled in the Lake Leelanau area, was founded in the 1970s on a former potato farm and cow pasture. Today, it serves sophisticated wines, including chardonnay, merlot and gewurztraminer.
In Cedar, BEL LAGO VINEYARD AND WINERY (bellago.com) grows more than 100 varieties of wine — including rare auxerrois, siegerrebe and cayuga white — on 37 acres overlooking south Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan.
OLD MISSION PENINSULA AND TRAVERSE CITY
The OLD MISSION PENINSULA juts northward from Traverse City between the arms of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, on the globe’s 45th parallel, ending at Old Mission Point. Moderated by the surrounding waters, the peninsula’s climate helps prevent frost during the growing season and is home to eight distinct wineries (download an Old Mission Wine Trail map at wineriesofoldmission.com).
Start your tour with a stay at GRAND TRAVERSE RESORT & SPA (grandtraverseresort.com). Spanning 900 acres in the Northwoods of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula on the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, the resort is centrally located at the base of the Leelanau Peninsula’s east side and just 10 minutes from Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport.
It offers overnight stays and tour packages with BOWERS HARBOR VINEYARDS (bowersharbor.com). Once a horse farm, the rolling 43-acre estate offers spectacular views and proximity to Lake Michigan for ideal conditions for growing Vindifera grapes. Bowers Harbor grows grapes for more than 25 different wines to taste and tour, including pinot grigio, riesling, methode champenoise sparkling wines and more. Sample a sip, a glass or a flight.
Also along the Peninsula is the state-of-the-art 2 LADS WINERY (2lwinery.com) in Traverse City, where sustainably grown cool-climate reds, sparkling wines and small-batch whites are the specialties.
Established in 1974, CHATEAU GRAND TRAVERSE (cgtwines.com) in Traverse City was the first winery established on Old Mission Peninsula, the first commercial vineyard in Northern Michigan to grow vinifera grapes and helped put Michigan on the map for world-class wines. Stop by for their riesling, chardonnay, gewurztraminer, gamay noir and more. NS