By MIKE NORTON After three years as a late August event, the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival will now kick off Traverse City's summer season on Saturday, June 30. The popular festival feature tastings & full glass pours from 27 of the region's best wineries paired with food for purchase by celebrated local chefs, seasoned with a diverse slate of musical performers and an exhibition and sale of artworks by some of the region's best painters, potters, weavers and other artists. It takes place at one of Traverse City's most scenic venues: the wide tree-shaded lawn of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons - a former mental asylum whose tawny castle-like buildings are now being redeveloped as the hub of Traverse City's bustling culinary scene. Festival organizer Andy McFarlane says the change of dates has breathed new excitement into the annual celebration. "You wouldn't believe the energy and the level of participation we're seeing," he says. "On the old date we were competing against the beach and everybody was exhausted - but now we're the kickoff celebration for summer in Traverse City. Without a doubt, we are going to blow all our previous attendance figures away."
- Having fun at the 2011 TC Wine & Art Festival
The festival's 2012 musical guests are headed up by national recording artists Rusted Root, a Pittsburgh fusion band famous for their blend of acoustic/rock styles and a percussion section strongly influenced by African, Indian and Latin sources. Rusted Root has sold more than three million albums worldwide. Other acts on the program include Ann Arbor-based Orpheum Bell, Canadian artists Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk and Traverse City's own The Naughty Neighbors - all Indie bands whose blending of styles and influences makes them difficult to classify, but easy to enjoy. Since its inception, the festival has also built itself around local visual artists, inviting a wide range of them to exhibit and sell their work during the event. This year, organizers are working with ArtCenter Traverse City, the local artists' collective, to select a suitable slate of exhibitors. Over the past decade, Traverse City has acquired a sudden reputation for its fresh, imaginative cuisine and its excellent wines. In recent years the region has been attracting and retaining a great many talented young chefs. Some are recent arrivals, and an impressive number are graduates of Traverse City's own Great Lakes Culinary Institute. Recently, superstar chef Mario Batali touted Traverse City in Bon Appetit saying "The food scene has really exploded in the region. It's very cool. The chefs involved in the scene celebrate what's here; they're not trying to be anything they're not. Now people are coming for gastronomic tourism." But the original spark was undoubtedly provided by the area's wine industry. Renowned for their natural beauty, the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are bathed by cool waters that protect them from early frost and extend the fall harvest season by several weeks. As a result, their vineyards have become world contenders, outscoring California and even European labels in major international competitions for the clear, fresh taste of their wines, which hold their aroma and fruit flavors much more faithfully than those grown in hotter climates. Notable for Rieslings, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios, Traverse City area vintners are even receiving high praise for their red wines. Each peninsula is a distinct wine appellation area with its own growers' association and separate promotional events. Wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula, a roughly triangular land mass along the Lake Michigan shore, are represented by the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association (www.lpwines.com). Those on the narrower Old Mission Peninsula, which runs for 20 miles up the center of Grand Traverse Bay, belong to Wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula (www.wineriesofoldmission.com). It was the Leelanau winemakers who first saw the potential of a festival to showcase local wines and foods on the picturesque Commons grounds. They quickly secured the participation of their Old Mission colleagues and a good selection of local restaurants, artists and musicians. "The Traverse City Wine & Art Festival offers everybody a chance to raise a glass of wine and toast another great summer in Northern Michigan," says McFarlane. The festival will be held June 30, 2012 from 3-10 p.m. Tickets are limited and can be purchased for $20 per person. Ticketing and other detailed information can be found at www.traversecitywinefestival.com .
- Photo by Harts Photos