Drive up M-22 between Traverse City and Suttons Bay, and you’ll find yourself in a hive of winemaking. Seven wineries clustered on the hilly banks of West Bay within two miles of each other make this a wine taster’s playground. Start in downtown T.C., where you can sample Murmur, a beautiful summer blend crafted by winery Left Foot Charley. Find the slick tasting room on the grounds of the vibrant Village at Grand Traverse Commons. The rustic tasting room at Shady Lane Cellars was once a fieldstone chicken coop and is now home to a dynamite semi-dry Riesling. There’s more great Riesling a minute away – head inside Chateau de Leelanau’s tasting room in a big brown barn for their award-winning sparkling version.
Drink in the sweeping hilltop views at Willow Vineyard and Ciccone Vineyard, and then taste Willow’s premium Chardonnay and Ciccone’s Bordeaux blend, Dolcetto. L. Mawby Vineyards (named in 2005′s The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages, by Paul Lukacs) specializes in sparkling wines, with tantalizing labels like Talismøn and Sex. Over at the estate of Black Star Farms, try ice wine, distilled spirits and fruit wines like cherry and pear. The unoaked Sur Lie Chardonnay is also fantastic. Farther inland at Boskydel Vineyard, Leelanau’s vineyard-planting pioneer Bernie Rink serves up his trademark no-muss, no-fuss attitude and time-tested table wines like the local favorite de Chaunac.
North of this cluster of wineries, Raftshol Vineyards pours a nice Chardonnay at its low-key tasting room. At its gorgeous new digs in Omena, Leelanau Cellars has a seemingly endless list of wines to sip, including the citrusy Vignoles Select. Cross the northern tip of the peninsula – a patchwork of farms, vineyards and waterscapes – to Gill’s Pier and its award-winning Riesling and Merlot, as well as a semi-sweet Houdek Dunes Whitewater that benefits the local land conservancy.
At the very tip of the peninsula, drink up a delicious panorama of Lake Michigan at Cathead Bay in Leelanau State Park, via M-22 and M-201 north of Northport. Before you hit these windswept dunes, fill a knapsack with calzones from Eat Spot in nearby Northport (25 Mill St., 231-386-7536). Turn down Densmore Road and strap on your walking shoes – there’s an easy half-mile hike through a dense forest of beeches, maples, oaks and pines to the beach. Paradise.
Where to stay:
The Vineyard Inn, north of Suttons Bay, is set on the shore at a sign that marks the 45th parallel. Your balcony or patio is the perfect spot to sample a bottle. Breakfast is fresh fruit tarts and gourmet coffee in the inn’s sunny bistro. (1338 N. Pebble Beach Rd., off M-22, 231-941-7060, vininn.com)