There is collective breath-holding taking place today with vintners at Traverse Wine Coast. But the hopes are high that the 2020 vintage could be a good one. Maybe, even a great one.

Bottling of some white wines will be happening soon, while the red wines could be several months away. Still, winemakers say the signs are good. “We’re feeling optimistic about the wines in general, both for whites and reds,” said Lee Lutes, Black Star Farms winemaker. Lutes will admit he’s never comfortable forecasting wine quality before they make it to the bottles. But he sheds some caution looking at last year’s vintage. “We’re seeing wine quality that could be on par or better than the wines we’ve made over the past five years.”

Two people drinking wine at Bonobo Winery in Traverse City, Michigan.

Winemakers credit last year’s weather for their optimism. The wine grape growing season started a little slow with a cool spring, but much of the summer was warm and dry, with rain at the right times. The quantity of the wine may be down, but they expect the quality of the wine will be up.

“It may be too early to tell,” said Shady Lane, general manager Rick DeBlasio, “It was a promising year, and we expect good things.”

Traverse Wine Coast is a collaboration of about 40 wineries from the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in northwest Michigan. They represent the largest collection of winemakers in the Midwest. Like all businesses, they are coming off a challenging year with hard lessons learned during the pandemic. Despite the challenges, the wineries say they learned some good lessons last year that will help them navigate this year.

“It forced us to look more at the customer experience,” said Jenna Veiga, marketing manager for Mari Vineyards. “With fewer people in wine tasting rooms, we created more of an intimate experience. We’re moving from a turn-and-burn experience to one where you sit back, relax, enjoy, and learn about the wines. Take your time and take it all in.”

Winemakers say they also see that using a reservation system for winetasting could be a practice started last year that will continue for a long time. “We want people to plan ahead and create a more meaningful experience,” said DeBlasio.

Overall wineries are also optimistic about travel to northwest Michigan. They feel there is a pent-up demand for vacationers since people have been forced to hunker down in their homes. They will be looking for a safe place to get away and escape. They believe wine tours can be on top of their travel plans. “I think it’s going to be one of the busiest summers we’ve seen up here — maybe ever,” said DeBlasio. “There’s more of an emphasis on regional travel.”

“Everybody is hungry to get out,” said Veiga. She expects to not only see more travel from visitors around the Midwest but to see more people from places like Texas, Florida and the Carolinas.