Karen and Liz on one of the Trails at Old Mission Point Park


I’m a sucker for a good fall weekend. The weather can be cold, wet and miserable for weeks on end, but give me two straight days of sunshine, and all is forgiven. Especially when all that beautiful warm light is illuminating fields of crimson sumac, stands of brilliant yellow aspens and entire cliffs of oaks in warm shades of red, pumpkin and gold.

Autumn seemed to be at the height of its glory around our house this past weekend. On Saturday, after getting some of our end-of-summer chores out of the way, we treated ourselves to a long hike on the upper trails of Old Mission Point Park, near the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula. Most people know this park for its handsome little 1870 lighthouse, but it’s also home to more than 500 acres of trails that wander through a fascinating variety of terrain.

There are shady coastal forests of hemlocks, steep bluffs covered with ferns, bright upland woods of beech and maple, broad meadows where old cherry orchards are being reclaimed by aspen, elm and chokeberry, and high ridges where you can glimpse the dark blue of Grand Traverse Bay, and the smoky purple hills of the Leelanau Peninsula. The high country here is rich in wildlife; we’ve seen deer, coyote, fox and rabbits, and birds too numerous to mention.

My kids grew up with these trails pretty much in their backyard (lucky them!) and they know them at least as well as I do. It was great fun to wander around up there with Karen and Liz, hanging back to use them as models in some of my  photos and catching up to find out what they’d been talking about while I was lagging behind. Did you know that new-fallen leaves smell like butterscotch?

These days, of course, the Old Mission Peninsula is known for its lovely wineries – but there are even more on the other side of the bay, on the Leelanau Peninsula. Last week, thanks to a visit from wine writer Marcia Frost, I had an opportunity to reacquaint myself with some of the wines they’re making over in Leelanau country, and I have to admit that I was deeply impressed by what I found -- especially among the reds. I can still remember when wine writers would grudgingly admit that our Rieslings and Chardonnays weren’t bad, but would insist that no vineyard this far north would never produce a decent red wine.

Not so, mes amis, not so. These cab francs and pinot noirs are really getting good: complex and rich and deeply satisfying. And I’ve been paying so much attention to the vineyards in my own neighborhood that I’ve overlooked the fine work the winemakers on the other side of the bay have been doing lately.

Fortunately, the fun-loving folks at the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners have devised a free event this weekend designed especially to help us deepen our appreciation for their red wines. In fact, some of us may even decide to submerge ourselves in the subject.  It’s called The Hunt for the Reds of October, and what it means is that 12 of the Leelanau wineries will be offering free samplings of their red wines.

“From the vineyard managers to winemakers to cellar masters, I think we’ve all developed methods that are allowing us to make the best reds possible on the Leelanau Peninsula,” says Ryan Sterkenberg, owner of Gills Pier Winery.  ”Of course, having three straight outstanding vintages in 2010, 2011 and 2012 doesn’t hurt a bit, either.”

Interested in knowing which wines we’re talking about? Fortunately, the LPVA has provided a helpful list:

Bel Lago will be pouring their 2010 Tempesta: a perfect storm of a select harvest of robust grapes from an excellent growing season. Cabernet Franc, Regent, Dornfelder, Lemburger, and other carefully selected varieties were aged 18 months in American and French oak barrels to create this richly flavorful, complex red wine.

Black Star Farms offers their Vintner’s Select: a merlot-based blend of select small lots with unique characteristics. This premium dry red is full-bodied with rich dark fruit flavors that are complemented by hints of cocoa and spice. It is reminiscent of a Bordeaux-style blend and pairs well with robust meals including braised meats, stews and rich sauces.

Chateau de Leelanau will pour their 2011 Hawkins Red: Elegant and smooth, this light bodied red has an unbelievable strawberry nose and finishes with a dry peppery kick!

Chateau Fontaine will pour their 2011 Woodland Red: A blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah with aromas of rich, ripe fruit, nuances of blackberry and plum; the taste is luscious raspberry and pepper accented with soft tannins.

Ciccone Winery will offer their Due Rossi, a 2011 NEW Release! Blend of Marechal Foch & DeChaunac. This hearty semi-dry blend exhibits rich ripe flavors of plum and blackberry with a touch of pepper in the finish.

Forty-Five North offers their 45 Red: A blend of 35% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon & 30% Pinot Noir, aged in French oak for 11 months. Notes of blackberry and dark cherry with soft tannins up front and bit of spice.

Gill’s Pier will be pouring their 2010 Estate Cab Franc/Merlot: A French barreled, full-bodied Bordeaux style wine with deep flavors of black currant and raspberry with a hint of mint. Excellent finish. Extended cellaring option of 5-15 years.

Good Harbor will pour their Collaboration: A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, Chambourcin, Dechaunac. First the dark fruit aromas will catch your attention only then to be surprised by the cocoa and cedar nuances that follow. If it’s possible to be bold and elegant together, this wine has achieved just that.  A rich, dry, complex wine.

Good Neighbor Organic will pour their Black Velvet: smooth, yet light bodied with 12.5% ABV, and just a hint of pepper.

L. Mawby offers a red disguised as a white, our Blanc de Noirs, from Pinot Noir. Enjoy this imposter as your search for red reds continues.

Longview Winery’s 2008 Barrel Reserve Cabernet Franc spent 18 months in French oak barrels and 2 years in the bottle. The reward for patience is clear – a ruby red, mouth filling and full-bodied red wine displaying blackberry, plum and spice with hints of vanilla and cocoa.

Verterra will pour their 2011 Reserve Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in French and American Oak hybrid barrels.

Sound good? I agree. Down periscope! Prepare to dive!