My husband and I have been wine tasting in Michigan for over 20 years. Wine Tasting is a fun way to try different things you might not have otherwise. It helps you to develop and expand your pallet.
I like mostly dry wines and my husband likes semi sweet and fruit wines. When we go wine tasting, we purchase a bottle we really like at each stop along the trail. Putting together a box of wine this way is like filling a treasure chest one doubloon at a time. Since we only go a few times a year, we hoard them like treasure too.
Michigan is the perfect place for wine tasting with around 150 wineries and over 3,000 acres designated for commercial wine grape growing. The state has several distinct wine growing regions that have formed into their own Wine Trails.
One of our favorite places to wine taste in Michigan is the Traverse City area. There are many wineries close together in this part of the state. Rolling hills and lake breezes along with an abundance of other local fruit crops make the area perfect for wine making. TC has two main wine regions The Leelenau Peninsula Wine Trail and the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula. Both of these Trails are extensive.
First of all, I suggest having a designated driver or hiring one of the many local van services that will do the driving for you. It’s nice if you go to an area with a lot of wineries if you are able to spread your tastings out so that you only visit four wineries each day. If you do more than that, your palate starts to get confused and so do you. I like to mix it up and go to a different combination of wineries each time we visit. That way there is always something fresh and new to try the next time we come. Sometimes I will even just run in and buy a bottle (or two) of a long standing favorite as we are driving by a winery we know well.
Today I am going to focus on The Old Mission Peninsula, which is centrally located and easy to get to from almost anywhere in the TC area. The peninsula divides the East and West Bays of Traverse City so you have beautiful panoramic water views from any direction along your drive. There are wineries scattered along the way. It’s best to pick up a trail map (you can get one literally anywhere) and have a plan before you start.
There are 2 main roads on the Peninsula, Center Road/M-37 that goes right up the middle or Peninsula Drive which takes you up the western edge along the bay. Most of the wineries are more easily accessed from Center Road, but you should go up one way and come back down the other. Completely different view points.
We usually like to drive toward the top of the peninsula then work our way back down toward TC. I suggest you start at 2 Lads Winery If you do, take a moment to enjoy the gorgeous bay view from their hilltop parking lot. Their tasting room has an Urban Industrial feeling created by using modern fixtures, clean lines, and high ceilings with visible duct work. They make beefy reds, classic whites and a a few sparkling varieties. My husband is a fan of their Riesling while I enjoy the Cab Franc Rose and Pinot Grigio.
Another winery we like to stop at on Old Mission is Chateau Chantal. Like 2 Lads, the Chateau is perched on a hill top. You wind your way up the drive surrounded by beautiful rows of grape vines through a massive estate with a very impressive tasting room and deck. They even have a Bed and Breakfast on site. I find it best to get there early as they get very crowded with wine tour bus traffic later in the day. They offer a very large list of wines, ports, bubbly and even cider. There is no way that I could pick a favorite wine here, but two I really enjoy are their Pinot Grigio and the Cerise which is a cherry port. My husbands favorite is their Riesling (he is a Riesling kind of guy).
Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery is another good choice on this peninsula. The first thing you notice as you approach the tasting room are the beautiful mahogany wood doors. The wood and brick are carried throughout the interior design creating a classic elegance. Their list is filled with high quality, well crafted and perfectly aged wines. Therefore, expect a shorter list with slightly higher prices. I am very fond of their Pinot Noir and their Gewuztraminer Reserve. While there, take a walk through the “Secret Garden” or relax outside in one of their Adirondack chairs.
If you want to find Hawthorne Vineyards, take Peninsula Drive. You will have to keep your eye’s peeled for the stack of 3 yellow wine barrels that marks the end of the mostly hidden drive. Keep in mind when planning your visit to Hawthorne Vineyards that they close the tasting room during the winter months. My favorite wine there is their Barrel Reserve Auxerrois. I really like that grape and they have not blended with other varietals (which other wineries often do).
Chateau Grand Traverse is one of the oldest wineries on the peninsula. I find it to be a bit more commercial than most of the rest of the wineries on this trail. They have a large enough production to ship to stores throughout the state. Chateau Grand Traverse offers a wide variety of wines at very affordable prices. Although you will find some “Reserve” level big reds and plenty of Riesling, they produce a lot of wine blends or wine and fruit combinations. I found a good Pinot Noir Rose last time to bring home in my box of treasures.
Many of you are familiar with Carter Oosterhouse from HGTV. A few years ago, he and his brother Todd opened Bonobo Winery on the Old Mission Peninsula. The winery has a patio with a spectacular view of Grand Traverse Bay. I recommend enjoying a glass of wine on the outside after your tasting. You can also order light nibbles inspired by Mario Batali. Ok, you have heard me talk about loving the Pinot Noir Rose’s but they make my favorite (to date).
Peninsula Cellars is located in an old One Room School house. Everyone who visits loves the Hot Rod Cherry for both it’s bold cherry flavor and fun flame stripe design on the bottle. I prefer the Old School Red which is just a good red table wine. They also make a very nice Barrel Aged Chardonnay. Some wineries can be a bit stuffy when you are tasting, but the people who work here are customarily down to Earth and very friendly. I really like the relaxed environment.
Other Area Highlights
If you get the chance, stop for lunch or dinner at the Jolly Pumpkin located on Peninsula drive. They serve both their own Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak beers in addition to an extensive menu. The food is top notch! Wonderful gourmet pizzas and hearty entrees. One of our favorite snacks there is the pulled pork nachos. Definitely enough to share!
If you travel all the way to the top of the peninsula you can explore the Old Mission Light House or the Old Mission General Store. Along with a lot of charm and nostalgia, you will find an eclectic selection at the General Store including cold drinks, barrel pickles, pastries and unique deli foods. You can enjoy your snack on their front porch while playing a game of checkers.
The Finish Line
The Old Mission Peninsula is a great place to explore. In addition to stunning water views you will find rolling fields of grapes and beautiful fruit orchards. Go with your favorite someone or a group of your besties. Even if you don’t do any wine tasting, take the drive anyway! You won’t be disappointed.