Michigan Wine Series: Leelenau Peninsula Wine Trail

In my first post of this series, I stated that 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.  We started our Michigan Wine journey with the Old Mission Peninsula, now we move on to the Leelenau Peninsula Wine Trail. This trail is so large that they have divided it into 3 Loops.

Grand Traverse Bay Loop

  1. Black Star Farms
  2. Chateau de Leelenau Vineyard and Winery
  3. Ciccone Vineyard and Winery
  4. Mawby
  5. Rove Estate
  6. Shady Lane Cellars
  7. Two K Farms
  8. Willow Vineyard

Coming from Traverse City, The Grand Traverse Bay Loop is the closest.  These wineries are clustered close together and can be accessed quickly from Highway 22 which winds along the Grand Traverse Bay.  I have been to all of these wineries on multiple occasions except Rove Estate which opened in mid 2016 and Two K. Farms which opened in September of this year.  I will be sure to check them out on my next visit up.

Of the remaining 6 wineries on the list I am a big fan of both Black Star Farms and Mawby.  Black Star was one of my first Traverse City wine tasting experiences.  I love that place.  As a farm girl, I get excited by the sight when you first pull into the drive.  I refer to it as the great grape bowl.  The grapes grow in concentric rows up the sloped “bowl” around the property.  Next you approach the Bed and Breakfast, the Barns then the Tasting Room. The property is breathtaking.

They make a great variety of wines and brandies at Black Star Farms.  Traverse City is a big Riesling area and Black Star makes some pretty fine varieties like a Semi Dry and Late Harvest Riesling.  I also enjoy some of their table wines like Red House Red and Red House White which are very affordable at $11-$15 per bottle.

The Great Grape Bowl at Black Star Farms

Mawby makes sparkling wines in the cuvee style.  You might think sparkling wines means a fancy place, but that is not the case.  Grab a snack while you taste from either their Tasting Room or Patio bars.  Everything is very relaxed at Mawby.

Some of my favorite wines here are Fizz, Detroit and Sandpiper.

  • Fizz – just the right sweetness and very smooth
  • Detroit – sweet with floral aromas
  • Sandpiper – barely sweet with a little tartness

You can find some Mawby wines, like Detroit or Sex, in stores.


Bubbly tasting at Mawby

Note that Ciccone Vineyard and Winery is owned by Madonna’s family.  A lot of people stop here because they have heard this and are curious.  What you find is great high quality wines and a really nice staff.  They produce several estate wines in addition to award-winning Chardonnay and Malbec.  Wines are priced from $18-$40 per bottle.

Northern Loop

  1. Aurora Cellars
  2. Blustone Vineyards
  3. 45 North Vineyard and Winery
  4. French Valley Vineyard
  5. Green Bird Organic Cellars and Farm
  6. Leelenau Cellars
  7. Raftshol Vineyards
  8. Silver Leaf Vineyard and Winery
  9. Tandem Ciders
  10. Verterra Winery

If you are ready to venture off the main road there are many great wineries to discover in this loop.  Sadly, I have only visited 1/2 of these wineries.  That means there is plenty for us to explore next visit!  New places are always popping up.  Here are a few not to miss selections from this long list.

45 North Vineyard and Winery would be my very favorite on this list and perhaps on this peninsula.  The tasting room is very charming and the staff are always great.  I am absolutely in love with their Pinot Noir.  This is a bottle I will hoard if I have one on the shelf…. Sharing is overrated especially when it’s fabulous red wine.  My husband enjoys the Medium Sweet Riesling.  In the past we have also had a really good Gewürztraminer (not currently on their list).

45 North Tasting Room

Tandem Ciders would be next. You will know you are there when you see the barn with the giant tandem bicycle on the front.   The entire Traverse Bay Region is full of all varieties of fruit farms and Tandem taps into that market.  They produce their ciders using apples from several local growers.  Although Ciders aren’t my personal favorite, I like to stop out here when I am with a group.  It’s fun to mix up a wine tasting a little and try some ciders.  A crowd favorite is Smackintosh.  Stop in (if you can find them, lol) and do a quick tasting.  You can even grab a growler on the way out (I always keep an empty in my car, just in case).

Tandem Ciders

Blustone Vineyards is relatively new on this loop.  Even though the Winery is tucked away in the Leelenau countryside, it seems very modern with an industrial design.  Mark and I stopped in on a recommendation by my friend Tonya, and found it to be very delightful.  My take home that day was a crisp Pinot Grigio.

Sleeping Bear Loop

  1. Bel Lago Vineyard and Winery
  2. Chateau Fontaine
  3. Cherry Republic Winery
  4. Good Harbor Vineyards
  5. Laurentide Winery
  6. Amoritas Vineyards
  7. Boathouse Vineyards

The last loop is the furthest west in the area but worth the drive.  Chateau Fontaine is a hidden jewel.  It is by far my husband’s favorite winery from all 3 Loops.  He is a huge Riesling fan and likes theirs the best.   He never minds making the drive out to do a tasting and grab a few bottles.  I also have a favorite here which is the Woodland White.  This wine is made with a varietal that I am quite fond of Auxerrois.  I like the laid back atmosphere in their Tasting Room and browsing through their merchandise.  They have a nice selection of wine gifts and foods.

Chateau Fontaine

Make sure you venture over to Glen Arbor and stop at Cherry Republic.  It is a little commercial, but still a fun atmosphere.  Definitely kid friendly too.  They have a General Store, a Cafe with an Ice Cream Shop, a fudge shop and the Tasting Room which serves up samples of their wines and sodas.  My kids always loved their sodas.  They feature a Ginger ale, Root beer and Cherry soda along with several flavors blended with cherry.

Cherry is the theme here even for the wines.  Two that stand out to me are Abbondanza and Conservancy. Abbondanza is a softer off-dry blend of locally-grown tart cherries with Cayuga white, Muscat and Viognier grapes. It tastes like cherry vanilla wine to me.  Conservancy is made with Balaton and Montmorency cherries and bursts with bold cherry flavor.

Cherry Repblic – Glen Arbor

Final Thoughts

As you can see doing a wine tasting on the Leelenau Wine Trail is a big job.  It makes sense that they broke it up into 3 Loops. Not only will you be doing a tasting here, you will be driving along the bay and through some of Michigan’s prettiest countryside. Definitely plan a visit to this area and work a few wine tastings into your stay.

Tips for Wine Tasting:

  1. Visit 3 maybe 4 wineries…if you do more you get overwhelmed
  2. Arrange a Shuttle or a Designated Driver to be safe
  3. Pack Snacks or stop for a lunch break between tastings
  4. Bring some bottled water and make sure to drink plenty of it





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