Happy Trails: A Toast to Tasting Tours of NW Michigan
Not far from Michiana, dozens of wineries dot the hilly, picturesque landscape between Lake Michigan and the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay. If you haven’t yet discovered these gems in Northwest Michigan’s crown, it may be time to head up north for a wine trail adventure.
With their unique microclimates, Michigan’s Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas are ideally suited to produce grapes for wine, especially cool-climate varietals. Riesling is king of the vineyards here, but other whites, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer, as well as reds like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir, have taken root here as well.
What makes growing conditions on the two peninsulas so favorable? Soil conditions are one factor, as well as deep surrounding waters that moderate temperature fluctuations in spring and fall, intense sunlight in summer that compensates for a shorter growing season, and heavy snow cover in winter that insulates the vines.
The Leelanau Peninsula is home to the largest and oldest wine trail in Michigan. What started in 1980 with just four wineries now encompasses 25, all under the umbrella of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association (LPVA). LPVA has grouped these into three mini-trails for easy touring: the Sleeping Bear Loop, the Northern Loop and the Grand Traverse Bay Loop.
The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (affectionately known as WOMP) are all within a few miles of each other. Comprising nine wineries at last count, the oldest is Chateau Grand Traverse, founded by Edward O’Keefe Jr. in 1974.
All of the Leelanau and Old Mission vineyards and wineries are located on or near the legendary 45th parallel, which runs through some of the world’s most renowned wine regions, including Bordeaux in France, Piedmont in Italy and the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Like wines from those regions, wines from Northwest Michigan compete with the best on the world stage.
Wherever your tour takes you, you will be treated to stunning vineyard, garden, countryside or water views. Gather around a cozy fireplace in winter or relax on an outdoor patio in the warmer months. And if, in the course of tasting, you discover a wine that you would like to get to know a little better, you can buy it by the glass or bottle to enjoy on-site, perhaps with a plate of local cheese or other wine-friendly bites. Many wineries also produce local sparkling wine, ice wine, brandy and cider. Tasting fees depend on the number and type of wines tasted, and sometimes include a souvenir glass good for future complimentary tastings. Come up and toast to Michigan wines with your northern neighbors!
Ready to hit the happy trails? Make sure to check out our sister publication, Edible Grande Traverse, to learn more about the best local food and drink in lower Northwest Michigan.