When Julie suggested a wine getaway in Northern Michigan, I had no idea what to expect. I grew up in California, and my appreciation for the U.S. wine scene was fairly limited to my home state.
It was Traverse City Uncorked, though, and she insisted that the not-to-be-missed wine event was the perfect excuse for five best friends to plan a weekend away together in Northern Michigan. When I knew that everyone else was on board, I realized there was no way I could pass it up.
I met up with Julie, Kate, Emily and Sadie at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, where Sadie had booked us the Leelanau Suite. In addition to incredible views of Grand Traverse Bay and surrounding lush greenery, the suite had a full kitchen, dining area and fireplace. The other girls arrived before me, and had stocked up on snacks and a few bottles of bubbly from one of Julie’s favorite Traverse City wineries, L. Mawby. When I arrived, they were halfway through a bottle of the Green, a dry white sparkling wine.
I already felt out of my depth—I never realized there were so many types of sparkling wine—but one sip of this light bodied white with a crisp, refreshing finish and I knew that I was in for a wine weekend that would exceed all expectations.
Over cheese, crackers and catching up, the five of us split another bottle of L. Mawby, this time the Detroit, described as a “floral hip-hop diva.” The sweet, but not too sweet, fruit flavors perfectly complimented our snack of chevre and berries.
The sun stayed up so late that we lost track of time and didn’t even start making dinner until 8pm. Earlier in the day, Julie had picked up fresh, local ingredients for dinner, including some incredible olive oil from Fustini’s that we drizzled over our dish of pasta tossed with local veggies. For dessert, we enjoyed chocolate covered cherries from Cherry Republic, the perfect accompaniment to Black Star Farms’ Sirius Cherry Dessert wine.
I woke up the next day realizing that, since arriving in Traverse City, every single thing I’d consumed was not only incredibly delicious but also grown and/or produced in Traverse City. I was in heaven, and I couldn’t wait to spend a day exploring this abundant region.
But as we sat around drinking coffee, locally roasted from Higher Grounds Trading Company, we simply couldn’t settle on which wineries to visit. There were so many! We went back and forth, back and forth until ultimately Julie drew a line. She suggested we split the peninsulas—some of us check out Leelanau, some go for Old Mission. Everyone would buy a bottle of their favorite wine from the day, and we’d regroup for dinner and try the greatest hits. #genius. I knew she was my friend for a reason.
We were all excited to taste the wines and tour the wineries, and we decided to book a ride with Traverse Bay Tours so that no one would have to worry about driving. Kate and I set out toward Leelanau, promising to keep in touch over group text, of course.
Our first stop was Shady Lane Cellars. A boutique estate winery, they have an impressive selection of whites, reds and ciders. We started by tasting a few of the whites. My favorite was the 2014 Dry Riesling. It was fruity and delicate and not too sweet, which was perfect for me. Kate preferred the 2014 Semi-Dry Riesling. A slightly sweeter take on the varietal, the finish was still bright, clean and crisp. We were both impressed by the nuanced flavors of Riesling, having wrongly associated it with sticky sweet budget wines.
Next we headed to Chateau Fontaíne, and while I knew that we were in Michigan, I had the distinct feeling of being in France. Even in Napa, I’d never felt that way. Kate explained to me that it was probably because, like most wine regions in France, Traverse City was on the 45th parallel.
I was immediately reminded that I was in Michigan, and happily so, with my first sip of cherry wine.
At our next stop, 45 North, we got to try a cab franc blend for ourselves. This was my bottle— a little bit smoky with notes of tobacco, cocoa, and ripe berries, it was heavy enough to pair with a steak.
Kate found her bottle at our next stop, Boathouse Vineyards. With a beautiful covered patio and fantastic views of the lake, their tasting room was the perfect place to cap off our Leelanau tour. She bought a bottle of the Icebreaker Sweet Riesling, and while I was initially skeptical about a wine with the word sweet in the name, the apricot and peach notes were the perfect complement to the vanilla ice cream we had for dessert that night.
When we got back to the suite, the girls were prepping a Traverse City snack spread to pair with our wines. Kate and I contributed some cheese we’d purchased earlier from The Cheese Lady. With a fresh baguette and fruit, we were ready to start tasting our greatest hits from the day.
The first bottle was Sadie’s, the Arcturos Pinot Noir Blanc from Black Star Farms. A white wine made from red grapes, this crisp, lightly floral wine with a pinkish hue was a crowd favorite.
Next we opened Julie’s pick—a semi-dry Riesling from Chateau Chantal. She warned us that she couldn’t tell if she had fallen in love with the stunning views from the winery or the wine itself, but her concerns were quickly quelled once we tried this bright white. With a hint of sweetness and a gentle minerality, it was just the thing for drinking on a warm summer evening while making dinner with your gal pals.
Over the next several hours of eating and talking, we enjoyed the Pinot blend that Emily had picked up from Mari Vineyards, worked our way up to the robust red I’d chosen and, for the finale, poured small tastes of Kate’s Icebreaker. It was a lot of wine, but paced out with plenty of food it was a perfectly balanced way to experience the scope of Traverse City’s wine scene. I was already looking forward to the next day, when we’d lounge around the resort and indulge in some mani-pedis at the spa before heading out for an evening of Traverse City Uncorked events. I had to hand it to Julie, she really had found the perfect girls weekend getaway.