Fall Events Turn Local Vineyards Into Outdoor Destinations
Fall brings hard work to Grand Traverse–area vineyards. It’s harvest time. But the season also brings special events, which in turn attract wine lovers, gourmands, the about-to-be married and even hikers and runners to celebrate the year’s bounty.
Wineries across the region are increasing their efforts to become popular destinations. Some two dozen vintners participate in the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, which holds events such as Harvest Stompede in early September each year. There’s a race followed by the more laidback pleasures of wine and food.
The same group organizes The Hunt for the Reds of October on weekdays through October. The emphasis here is obviously on red wines, and that’s not by chance: It challenges the long-held notion that Northern vintners have to focus only on cool-climate white varietals. The Hunt for the Reds of October shows that locally produced, high-quality red wines are here to stay. It’s a popular event that benefits the American Red Cross. Tickets can be purchased at Boathouse Vineyards, Chateau Fontaine, French Valley Vineyards, Ciccone Vineyards, Verterra Winery, Leelanau Wine Cellars, Rove Estate or the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail office, 10781 E. Cherry Bend Road, Studio 1, in Traverse City.
The first two weekends in November, Leelanau Wine Trail wineries hold a Toast the Season, a tasting, touring and dining celebration of the upcoming holidays. Ticket holders travel from site to site, enjoy food and wine pairings and in the process gain a sense of the size–and quality–of this region’s vineyards. As an added bonus, special tickets are available for designated drivers. Contact the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail Office for information.
A fall visit to any vineyard should include the simple pleasure of a stroll through trellised, mature, well-tended, Old World–like rows of ripe grapes. This experience often evokes strong feelings, whether in Southern France or Northern Michigan. It’s a special moment—one that combines nature’s promise with the realization of just how much labor the vine-to-wine cycle involves. More than ever, wineries here are offering guests this close-up perspective.
Visitors to Bowers Harbor Vineyard, for example, can enjoy a mile-long interpretive trail with a stunning view of West Grand Traverse Bay and beyond. The easy trek through the rolling hills is open to the public during vineyard hours—even when snowshoes replace hiking boots—but it’s best to call ahead, since farming activities occasionally shut the trail. Special events at Bowers Harbor include Sunday FUNdays, Sunset Yoga in the Vines and Dining in the Vines. Check out the website for details.
WaterFire Vineyard, a relative newcomer on Torch Lake, is another good example of a local vineyard that encourages customers to get a sense of the history and beauty of the region by taking a stroll through the property. Winemaker and co-owner Chantal LeFebvre takes it one step further by occasionally offering cooking lessons. Again, it’s best to check their website for details. Recent offerings include a demonstration of how to make kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha. Chantal and her husband (and co-owner), Mike Newman, also enjoy explaining the sustainable farming practices used at WaterFire. This fall, they plan to release their 2016 Dry Riesling.
Forty-Five North Vineyard offers a different twist to recreation-minded wineries with its hilly, three-mile-long Vineyard Trail. It’s an attractive feature—one that makes mountain biking in summer and cross-country skiing, fat-tire biking and snowshoeing in the winter all part of the visit. But it’s also about the wine: Forty-Five North promises at least two fall new offerings: a Reserve Pinot Gris and a Reserve Riesling. “We’re also very excited about another thing: making craft ciders,” says Tasting Room Manager Tom Balazs. “We’re making six types of ciders, everything from dry to sweet and maybe two that have hops.” Eventually, the ciders will be available at local grocery stores and wine retailers.
Laurentide Winery has a new events patio—but the big news this fall is the unveiling of a new product: an oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc they call Fumé Blanc. Initially, the Fumé Blanc will be available only to wine club members, however it will be on sale to the general public beginning October 28. “We’ve had Sauvignon Blanc since 2011,” says co-owner Bill Braymer, “but this takes it to another level.”
Shady Lane Cellars hosts short and longer tours through its expanding vineyards, plus music on the patio and yoga on the tasting room terrace. “We are very excited to announce a series of regular, private, hosted tasting and tour experiences,” says General Manager Rick DeBlasio. “They offer a great opportunity for guests to enhance their experience with us.” The tour and tasting sessions include a leisurely walk through the vineyard (weather permitting) and a discussion about Shady Lane Cellar’s vineyard practices aimed at raising the quality of handcrafted wines. Shady Lane also holds wine and cheese tastings and more extensive “vine to wine” tours.
Shady Lane Cellars: 9580 E. Shady Lane, Suttons Bay; 231-947-8865; ShadyLaneCellars.com
Annual passes are available for all Leelanau Wine Trail events, including Sips & Soups (January), Taste the Passion (February), 3 Small Plates (April and August), Spring Sip & Savor (May), Harvest Stompede (September), The Hunt for the Reds of October (October) and Toast the Season (November).