When you hear the phrase “American wine country,” you probably think of Napa Valley. Maybe you think of California, in general, or the entirety of the west coast.
But boutique vineyards are popping up in regions throughout the USA. And some are about as far from California (in distance, in climate, and in personality) as you could possibly imaginable.
Traverse City is one of those new American wine regions. Located in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan, the greater Traverse City area has almost 50 different wineries, with a few new ones popping up every year.
Most famous for its annual Cherry Festival, full of contests, parades, fireworks, and a fair, Traverse City is an extremely popular weekend getaway. In addition to Michiganders, the city is drawing increasing interest from those further afield – especially during the summer. A combination of beautiful vineyard vistas, a preserved historic downtown area, world class dining options, and pretty white sand beaches all at a great value make Traverse City a welcome retreat from a hectic city life.
Even American celebrities love the region as an escape. Kid Rock owns a summer home nearby, as does Michael Moore. Amy Smart and Carter Oosterhouse have opened up a dog-friendly vineyard in Traverse City’s Old Michigan region, naming it Bonobo, and Madonna’s father owns Ciccone Vineyard in the Suttons Bay area.
The popular minibus winery tours will take you to Ciccone, or Bonobo, or any of the other almost 50 vineyards in the region. Though the tours range in price (starting around $40 per person), they all run a similar schedule. First, guests are picked up from their accommodation, and then taken to 4 or 5 different vineyards for tastings with a stop for about an hour at each, before dropping the guests (and any wine bottle purchases) back to their accommodation.
Some of the vineyards charge a small fee per taste, while most are completely free. You can elect to take a tour that features only free tastings, if you prefer, like I did at Traverse City Wine and Beer Tours. My recommended tour is called the Free Tastings Tour. In addition to regular vineyards, Traverse City also features Northern Latitudes distillery (free shots!) and Mawby sparkling winery.
Each stop on the minibus tour includes not only tastings, but a thorough explanation of the vineyard and its history, each wine, and suggested pairings. The tasting pours are generous, and after the first or second stop, it will soon become apparent why the minibus driver is so necessary.
Aside from the obvious attraction of wine tasting, Traverse City is quite the capsule city, with so many options for entertainment in a small space. If you get all wined out (is it possible?), you can relax at the sandy freshwater beach, take a catamaran cruise, or go shopping in the cute downtown area. Traverse City restaurants are low in price but high in quality (celeb chef Mario Batali summers in Traverse). It is fast becoming known as a foodie destination, even highlighted by USA Today. Whatever you choose to do is walking distance away, aside from the conveniently minibused winery tours.
Though maybe unexpected, I think “Michigan wine country” has a nice ring to it. And as my extensive taste testing has proven, Michigan wine is delicious. I may not be the most discerning sommelier, but I’d recommend a visit to Michigan wine country for anyone who likes an off the beaten track wine experience at a great value. With prices starting at $40 including transportation to several different vineyards and unlimited tastings, plus accommodation around $150 per night for a comfy Bed and Breakfast, and a stellar dinner around $30 (including a glass of wine), it’s a hard price to beat for a weekend getaway.
Have YOU ever been to Michigan wine country?