Northern Michigan wine touring in the fall. October brings a dazzling proliferation of fall color and the peak of grape harvest in Northern Michigan wine country, with its twin pleasures of sipping great local vino and gawking at fiery maple trees along the wine-tasting route of the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas near Traverse City. Join us as we sip riesling and cabernet franc under soaring barn beams or at tables tucked into cozy stone corners while we explore five of these captivating tasting rooms at Northern Michigan Wineries.
Two Lads Winery, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City
The Two Lads tasting room is a slick outpost of modernity hunkered among vineyards and vistas on the eastern edge of the Old Mission Peninsula. Walk through the embellished steel doors and you’ve entered a hip wine temple of dark poured concrete, brushed metal and copious glass, which pulls in the crazy blue refractions of October light on East Bay. There is an undeniable contagion of Third Coast cool manifested in the artsy fixtures, branded merchandise and the wines themselves: ripe, modern and showy. Two Lads has worked hard to gear their tasting room spirit toward democratic discovery as tasting room manager Stacy Duncan and her staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic without being pretentious. Two Lads offers your first two tastes gratis and charges $5 for the entire line-up. October visitors to the tasting room can expect pinot grigio, riesling and possibly chardonnay from the 2010 vintage, as well as a cabernet franc/merlot blend from 2009. With harvest in motion expect to catch a glimpse of winemaker Cornell Olivier stooping among the vines, shears in hand waiting for his cab franc to peak.
Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City
The Brys family has cultivated a textbook wine country immersion with their expansive tasting room on Old Mission’s appropriately named Blue Water Road. Sculpted brick arches, dark glossy hardwood embellished with carved grape clusters and blazing chandeliers invoke polished, Old World elegance as backdrop to their flight of varietal bottlings. Walter and Eileen Brys’s niece Judy Shaughnessy runs the tasting room, promoting engagement with the wines and the spirit of the landscape while educating guests on the processes of grape growing and winemaking. Five dollars will get you a branded glass and a choice of five wines to taste, full glasses of wine are available for those inclined to linger, as is the hedonistic ice wine and cheesecake pairing. Brys has created a substantial following for their wine club, which gives members access to early releases, small lot bottlings and discounts on wine and branded swag. The Brys also see their role as ambassadorial, offering visitors insights on the local wine and food scene.
Forty-Five North Winery, Leelanau Peninsula
Harnessing the essential friendliness of life Up North, Forty-Five North’s tasting room is set in a modern barn of exposed beams, blond wood and corrugated steel fostering happy, clattering acoustics and plenty of space to sip and mingle. With bocce courts and communal sitting areas, the atmosphere is relaxed and inviting, catering to tasters at all levels of experience. Visitors can sample nearly 25 bottlings of vinifera and fruit wines. Tasting room manager Channing Sutton likes to emphasize that Northwest Michigan is a world-class wine destination, keying her guests into the nuances of vintage variation and a sense of the efforts behind each bottle. Forty-Five North offers three complementary pours and a tasting flight of five wines with a Grocer’s Daughter truffle for $5 in addition to cheese or chocolate pairing flights. Tasting room staffers are informative and interactive, putting aside posturing and pouring out the fun one glass of peach crémant at a time. Guests are invited to take their glasses and stroll through the vines, pet the dogs and absorb the color-splashed hillsides of Lake Leelanau.
Circa Estate Winery, Leelanau Peninsula
Circa proprietors Margaret and David Bell have created a plush wine sanctuary amid the drumlins of the Leelanau Peninsula. The sensually wine-centric space is suffused with live music and casts its spell in soft light, richly upholstered couches and polished mahogany. Circa offers a seasonal rotation of small plates to complement their bottlings, which range from the aromatic off-dry Improvisation to dry and boldly structured blaufrankisch and cabernet franc. The vibe at Circa is heavily experiential, inviting each guest to pursue dialogue with the wines based on personal sense and subjectivity; nobody will tell you what you are or aren’t tasting. Three dollars will score you a triumvirate tasting of pinot grigio, chardonnay a choice of Requisite or Improvisation; premium pours are $2 and include cabernet franc, Mosaic, an intense white blend crafted from dried grapes or Seduction, Circa’s new red ice wine. Circa also hosts culty extra-curriculars like vinyl night on October 14th, where guests sip vino and spin records from six until ten in the evening.
Look for: Seduction (blaufrankisch ice wine) Contact: 7788 East Horn Road, Lake Leelanau, 231.271.1177, circawinery.com Hours: Monday thru Thursday, Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Shady Lane Cellars, Leelanau Peninsula
Shady Lane’s tasting room could have been pulled straight from the earth with its vaulted beams nested in a beautifully crafted stone building. Winemaker Adam Satchwell crafts inviting, contemplative wines, and this spirit translates to the tasting room as well. The stated focus at Shady Lane is to take the pressure out of tasting and create a space where blaufrankisch and pinot noir can resonate with each individual palate. Presentation of the Shady Lane bottlings is friendly and straightforward, stressing the spirit of cool climate winemaking and its place at the dining table; savvy oenophiles can also engage the tasting room staff in an informed discussion about elevage or specific vintage conditions. The first taste is free, and $3 will buy you an additional five pours from Shady Lane’s lineup of white, red, rosé, sparkling and dessert wines.
Look for: 2010 Franc & Franc, 2010 Pinot Noir Contact: 9580 Shady Lane, Suttons Bay,
231.947.8865 Hours: Monday thru Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
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