One of the many interests that my husband, Dan, and I share is a passion for wine. Pinot grigio, riesling, cabernet franc, shiraz, merlot, port – you name it, we’ve probably tried it. While I must admit that Dan is much better at the actual art of tasting wine – with an uncanny ability to discern the individual flavors that contribute to a particular vintage – I am nevertheless an avid wine lover. Although I might not always be able to differentiate between plum and cherry, oak and coffee, I sure as heck know what I like – and don’t like.
Given our mutual interest in wine, we were thrilled, earlier this week, to explore Michigan’s Traverse City area, a region that has slowly won acclaim for its grape growing and wine production. Surprising as it might seem for those more familiar with California’s Napa Valley, Michigan is an ideal place for vintners, vineyards, and viniculture. Two of the state’s most celebrated regions – Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula – lie north of Traverse City, on either shore of the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. The reason for the success of wineries in this region is fourfold: The sandy soil, hilly terrain, moderate temperatures, and lake-effect snows nurture the grapes and protect the vines during the winter.
On Monday, we decided to visit the Leelanau Peninsula, which lies northwest of Traverse City. Our first stop was Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. Although Cherry Republic doesn’t have a vineyard of its own, its intimate tasting room offers cherry-influenced wines produced especially for sale at the Republic. While neither Dan nor I is a fan of fruit wines, we thoroughly enjoyed our laidback experience at Cherry Republic’s Stomp House, where we were able to sample (for free) as many varieties as we desired. My favorites were the cherry white wine (made from pinot grigio), cherry spiced wine (perfect for the winter holidays), and sangria (a blend of cherries, pineapple, lime, and lemon).
Afterward, we headed to Black Star Farms (10844 E. Revold Rd.) in Suttons Bay. A complex that includes a vineyard and winery, a creamery, and a bed-and-breakfast, Black Star actually charges for its tastings, but we were nonetheless curious about its offerings. In the end, I wasn’t enamored of the reds I tried, but I did enjoy the sparkling white wine and late-harvest pinot gris that I sampled.
On Tuesday, we toured the wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula. Our favorite stops were Chateau Chantal (15900 Rue de Vin), where I relished the Tonight and Celebrate! champagnes, and
Peninsula Cellars (11480 Center Rd.), situated in a converted one-room schoolhouse built in 1896. Not only are Peninsula’s wines quite good (like the 2006 Gewurztraminer), but the winery also has a more relaxed, fun-loving vibe than many of the others in this region. After all, staff members celebrate their schoolhouse history by writing lines like “I will only drink good wine!!! I will only drink good wine!!!” on the chalkboard and naming some of their wines clever things like Detention and Homework.
Since it would have been impossible to sample all of the more than 25 wineries that comprise the Grand Traverse Bay region, we were grateful for our abbreviated trip into wine country. If nothing else, it inspired us to (finally) take a wine-tasting class together. Perhaps then, I’ll learn to do as real wine connoisseurs do and spit out each sip before I'm tempted to swallow. The way I gulp it down now, I can’t usually visit more than two wineries in a row before feeling the adverse effects of such a haze-inducing hobby – if you know what I mean.
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