And if you’ve tasted that wine, you may have a very specific idea of what wine from the Traverse City region is like: sweet. Too sweet. Cloyingly sweet. But as it turns out, there’s so much more to the area’s wine with award-winners spread throughout the Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas – two areas that are quickly becoming foodie hotspots thanks to great chefs, a growing farm-to-table movement, and a proliferation of excellent breweries.
>> Read more about breweries in Traverse City
While some of the wines just weren’t there yet (if they’d been a small child, you’d have patted them on the head and said, “oh, how cute. Nice try”), a select few were on par with anything coming out of California or Washington. The rest, well they fell somewhere in the middle. Still, for the incredible scenery of northern Michigan – soaring pine trees, sandy beaches with crystal clear water, and towering sand dunes – as well as the excellent, locally-produced cuisine on offer, Traverse City is well worth a trip for a wine-tasting weekend. If you’re headed “up north” to taste the local bounty and want to do some wine tasting on your trip, here’s what you need to know.
There are two distinct wine regions near Traverse City. There’s the 19-mile long Mission Peninsula, stretching north of downtown, which is home to 7 wineries. And there’s the Leelanau Peninsula to the west, with 18 – and counting – wineries spread over a larger area. With two days, it pays to divide your time between the two. You can pick up maps at the Traverse City CVB which is located right downtown.
Old Mission Peninsula
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On the Old Mission Peninsula, start at the top, at Two Lads. Though I wasn’t much impressed with their wine, the tasting room, a bright modern building at the top of a hill, is worth a look. From there head south to Chateau Chantal for a complete contrast – a new building made to look old, styled after a French Chateau. The winery serves an excellent selection of wines in their airy tasting room, but be sure to take your drink out to the patio for views of the bays on both sides of the 3-mile wide Peninsula. (Tip: You can also stay the night at this romantic 11-room B&B.) Next up with be Bowers Harbor and Brys Estate, both family owned and the latter boasting a patio with lovely vineyard views and an excellent (and award-winning) Pinot Noir.
From there, head to Chateau Grand Traverse, perhaps one of the most well-know of the area’s wineries as well as the oldest and largest, which also has its own inn. Finally, stop at the small red-roofed 1896 schoolhouse that houses the Peninsula Cellars tasting room for a sip of their light and refreshing Old School White. There’s one last winery on the Peninsula – Black Star Farms – but they have another, better location on the Leelanau Peninsula so if you are heading there as well, save your visit.
The Leelanau Peninsula wineries are about a 30-40 minute drive from downtown Traverse City. Here you’ll find 18 varied wineries spread across a larger area.
For a single day’s exploration, start at Black Star Farms, just south of Sutton’s Bay. The sprawling property feature a charming inn, a cafe, the tasting room, and several pastures in which the farm’s horses roam. The farm also produces Leelanau cheese, which you can sample as you taste their wines and delicious sparkling cider.
If you prefer a bit of bubbly, don’t miss the next stop – L. Mawby. Producing small batches of methode champenoise sparkling wines, L. Mawby is one of the best wineries on the Peninsula, and has the awards to prove it. In both the 1997 and 1998 World Wine Championships, L. Mawby’s Cremant Brut and Talisman Brut won silver medals. In the small, rustic tasting room, guests are offered two wines for tasting free of charge of paid ($5-$8) tasting flights of 2 or 3 sparkling wines accompanied with cheese or pate and crackers. As you make yo
Downtown Traverse City
If you don’t want to drive, you can still have a mini wine-tasting excursion in downtown Traverse City. Black Star Farms has another outpost at the Traverse City Commons, as does Left Foot Charley, a shop that specializes in fantastic hard ciders (as well as great wine).
Tips for wine tasting in Traverse City
- Be sure to pick up a map or print one off from the internet. It’s easy to get around but some wineries are located off the main road and may be more difficult to find.
- If you’re headed to the Leelanau Peninsula, consider driving out to Empire Beach, a secluded sandy beach on the far west coast, or to Sleeping Bear Dunes, before circling back.
- Start your tastings at the winery farthest away and work your way back. If you plan on hitting multiple wineries in one day, have a designated driver, book a tour, or share tastings with a friend so you drink less. Be sure to stop for lunch and don’t drive drunk!
- For total wine immersion, stay at one of the wineries that also have inns, like Chateau Grand Traverse or Chateau Chantal (at the latter, guests have access to the tasting room 24 hours a day!).
- During summer, most tasting rooms are open 10-6 or 11-5 7 days a week. In winter, many have limited hours, so check the websites before you plan your trip.
- Costs for wine tasting vary from free to $5 per person so bring a bit of cash and, if you’re on a budget, plan to share at the pricier places. Only a few serve food but many patios with great views, so pack a picnic lunch.