When you think of Michigan, you might picture a beachside cookout with craft beer on the shore of one the 4 Great Lakes that shares a coastline with the state. Maybe you picture boating with a brewsky among the waves of one of its 11,000 inland lakes. Michigan’s love of creating fabulous seasonal and year-long pub drinks at its world-class breweries has even garnered it the moniker ‘The Great Beer State.’ The city boasts 13 breweries and several festivals centered around its best in class suds, including The Traverse City Beer Week and Microbrew & Music Festival.
Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll discover that you’re just as likely to find a vintage glass of one-of-a-kind wine as you are to enjoy a bottle of pale wheat ale or imperial stout. The up-and-coming Traverse Wine Coast is home to nearly 40 wineries, thanks to a stroke of geological luck that it shares with some famous wine regions of Europe. Not to mention an expert group of innovative farmers, cultivators, and producers who love creating prestigious wines that add a singular culinary ‘spark’ to this food-friendly region.
A Unique Twist on Classic Winemaking
Midwest Magazine has named Traverse City among the Top Five Food Towns for two years running, and this genuine love of creating spectacular food and drink is part of the reason why the region has produced such a wide variety of internationally-acclaimed wines for pairing. The unique geographical conditions are another factor in the region’s success. Many of the vineyards front to the 100 miles of coastline that make up Traverse Wine Country’s two main peninsulas: The Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. Lake Michigan and the bay both offer a protected environment for the grapes to grow, and cool air and nutrient-rich soil add to the high-quality yields.
In fact, The Traverse Wine Coast is situated on the 45th parallel, which is exactly the latitude at which the world-renowned Bordeaux and Piedmont districts of France and Italy sit. This ideal locale has created a thriving center of viticulture, with nearly 13,000 acres of grapes and proud bragging rights as the 5th leading grape producer in the United States. The area’s top selections include Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, as well as Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Grigio. These premier Northern Michigan wines can be easily recognized by their well-balanced, fruit-driven flavors that are crisp and clean, allowing for the perfect pairings with a diverse range of culinary dishes.
The Vineyards of Traverse City
‘Must See’ Vineyards of the Old Mission Peninsula
Chateau Grand Traverse
Just eight miles north of Traverse City sits a world of its the Chateau Grand Traverse Estate. It is Northern Michigan’s oldest winery, having opened its doors in 1974. Sitting on 122 prime acres of land, the winery has its own contemporary wine tasting room and production facility. Visitors here are among the lucky ones to taste the superbly-blended MichMash line that’s only available in-state. You can also enjoy the O’Keefe family’s generosity with a free wine tour of the vineyards and winemaking facility, including a presentation of the growing and production process from ‘vine to glass.’ Their mouthwatering house-made delicacies include smoked paprika almonds and hand-crafted crackers with fresh fig jam.
The vineyard also boasts a 6-room Inn where you can take in amazing views of the rolling vineyards, Traverse Bay sunsets, and the beautiful Bowers Harbor Park. The vineyard’s generosity continues with a complimentary bottle of their finest signature wine for overnight guests on a private balcony surrounded by serene woodland landscapes.
Michigan native, engineer, and Oak Island star Marty Lagina was determined to plant “grapes that wouldn’t grow” in the region to create wines that honor his Italian heritage. Successfully cultivating the Old World varieties of Sangiovese and Nebbiolo grapes took lots of hard work, some innovative technology, and a bit of a rebel spirit, but today you can literally enjoy the ‘fruits’ of his labor with his award-winning lines of Pinot Bianco and Merlots blends.
Mari Vineyards offers you the chance to take a tour of the 3,000 square-foot wine cave that’s buried 10 feet underground as you hear the inspiring true story of the vineyard’s signature ‘Row 7’ origins. They also offer a newly completed, two-tiered tasting room that provides three unique seating options including an outdoor patio. Here you can savor an incredible selection of their citrus, berry, apple, peach, nut, and chocolate-infused selections. The vineyard sits on 60-acres of breathtakingly scenic land and is conveniently located just off of the main thoroughfare of Center Road.
‘Must See’ Vineyards of Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
The husband-and-wife team, Susan & Bill Braymer, have taken a lifelong passion for visiting some of the country’s most epic vineyards and turned it into a world-class boutique winery on the shores of Lake Leelanau. Named after the glacier that helped form this grape-loving landscape over 10,000 years ago, Laurentide Winery focuses on fabulous food pairings with its distinct selection of 14 varietal wines, including the region’s first estate-grown, award-winning Sauvignon Blanc.
Here you’ll find amazing culinary creations paired together with Gold Winning blends such as the 2018 Harvest Stompede Sausage, Peppers, & Onions with 2016 Emergence White. Besides their family-style fireside or outdoor patio tastings at their on-site facility, the dynamic duo also gives educational tours of the vineyard and have an attached public wine library that’s open to everyone. Visitors can also take in the captivating artistic displays spread throughout the winery that help supports the local artistic community. Laurentide is part of the ‘Sleeping Bear’ Wine Loop that starts at southern Lake Leelanau and runs north across the namesake Bay.
You can enjoy a taste of Michigan’s ‘other’ prize-winning fruit-forward artisanal drink at this unique stop along the North Wine Loop that showcases some of the region’s most acclaimed hard ciders. Tandem Ciders was born out of a cycling trip across England taken by another husband and wife team, Dan Young and Nikki Rothwell. The couple fell in love with the country’s amazing apple concoctions. With a focus on supporting regional growers, all their fruit is locally sourced, and the rustic-style tasting room is housed in a big white barn that encourages community socializing.
Tandem’s signature ciders feature a diverse array of top regional apples including Red Delicious, Cortland, Rome, McIntosh, Granny Smith, and Winesaps. Ciders such as the ever popular ‘Smakintosh’ and British-inspired ‘Scrumpy Little Woody’ are served up fresh with a tasty menu of eclectic area favorites, including the Black Truffle Fromage Blanc, Raclette Cheese Fruit Plate, and the ever-popular Pickled Eggs with a side of Great Lakes potato chips. Tandem’s fun community vibe encourages camaraderie and helped win it a spot on this renowned Midwestern wine trail.
Most Popular Wine Tastings & Festivals
The wineries of Old Mission Peninsula and nearby Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail each feature many popular tastings that showcase fresh and fabulous regional and international food and wine pairings along with fun social scenes. Winter Warm Up takes place each January along the Old Mission Peninsula and features unique wine and comfort food pairings from 9 vineyards, plus a commemorative souvenir mug. Leelanau Peninsula answers back in February with its winter wine tasting extravaganza, Taste the Passion, which includes 40 tastings for just $40. In June, Old Mission helps kick off summer with Rosé Between the Bays showcasing a diverse range of delicious pink wines.
One of the best things about the region is the fun wine-centered festivals that occur throughout the year. The most famous of these is the month-long Traverse City Uncorked that includes an incredible array of special tastings, tours, and springtime celebrations in May. Late June sees the launch of the Traverse City Wine & Cider Festival at the historic Village at Grand Traverse Commons, where great music, spirits, and artistry mix in a vibrant celebration of the creative arts. September’s ‘Harvest Stompede’ features a fun-filled vineyard race followed by wine and food tastings at 22 Leelanau Peninsula wineries, where owners have been known to throw in a few extra complimentary tastings! True to its reputation as a foodie paradise, Traverse City has created a celebration that features a friendly competition for the best wines and most beloved comfort foods at November’s Great Mac N’Cheese Bakeoff.
With most wineries open year round, The Traverse Wine Coast makes a spectacular destination for wine, food, and cider lovers alike. Whether you’re looking for a romantic wintertime getaway or a singular summertime sojourn, consider a journey into the land where the lakes conspire to create some of the most exceptional wines on the planet.