Traverse City Wine Tastings


Over Memorial Day weekend, my fiancé and I went up to Traverse City to visit some friends who had moved up there in February.  Although my fiancé might disagree, I really didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect once we were up there.  I was looking forward to seeing Chris and Elitza’s new home, as I had seen some of the gorgeous views overlooking the bay from their front porch, but otherwise I was envisioning just kind of a chill Memorial Day weekend.  While we hadn’t planned to, we were impressed enough with what the Leelanau Peninsula had to offer that we ended up buying ALL the wine for our upcoming nuptials.

I had heard rumblings about how the Leelanau Peninsula had become home to some vineyards, but I really didn’t have a clue as to just how far the wine of this region had come in the last few years.  Thanks to Chris and Elitza, we had a great time exploring a few of their favorite wineries and tasting what the peninsula had to offer…and we ended up buying ALL THE WINE and more.

Since I knew we were going to be in and out of several places, I wanted to travel pretty light with my camera.  I decided to go with my 50mm f/1.8 and an old 24mm f/2 manual focus lens.  I knew the 50 would let me do anything I needed to do, but if we were going to be in a small place I thought the 24 would come in handy.  My only reservation was that it’s an old, old lens and probably wouldn’t do well on a D800.  Oh well – I figured this trip would be a good place to experiment and this wasn’t a paid gig, so I wasn’t out anything if the shots were less than perfect.

Our first stop was at Tandem Ciders, a place that make a very tasty hard cider.  We had 4 varieties and after  a very exhaustive tasting session (by exhaustive, I mean crowded and delicious) we decided to buy a bottle of the Pretty Penny and the Scrumpy.  The latter of the two, I am forgetting the full name, and it is not on the normal list of featured ciders.

Our next stop was at 45 North which proved to be our most indulgent stop.  One of the things people say about the Leelanau Peninsula is that it’s really hard to produce a good red wine.  The good people at 45 North have come up with a variety that defies this saying.  Veronica and I tried the 45 Red and were impressed with the smooth, oaky finish of the wine.  It may not be for everyone, but given the outdoor wedding in the woods we’re having next month, we felt it was perfect…and we bought 4 cases.

The sign and tasting room at 45 North.

The sign and tasting room at 45 North.

One of the vineyards at 45 North.

One of the vineyards at 45 North.

Our next stop – well the next stop that I can remember, was Northern Latitudes Distillery.  The distillery featured mostly spirits distilled right on the peninsula and was a bit of a different tasting.  We had heard that they had some vodkas that didn’t have the personality completely filtered out of them – that you could actually taste some of the ingredients. This may not make for a fraternity favorite, but if you’re into diversifying you pallet, this is an intriguing prospect.  Happily, the distillery did not disappoint.  The vodka was delicious as far as vodkas go and we were not only surprised, but delighted to see a horseradish flavored vodka!  We have only begun to imagine the possibilities for bloody mary’s.  We also sampled a gin that solicited a response of “Oooo!  WOW!” from the 3 of us (Veronica is not a fan of gin).   I have been looking for a summer alternative to my go-to spirit of choice, bourbon, and the gin shows great promise.  And that brings me to the one disappointment – the bourbon.  The bourbon they had at the tasting was actually not bad.  I would put it on par with a Maker’s Mark or maybe even Buffalo Trace, but I was riding high on the Michigan produced alcohol train and the bourbon was made in Indiana.  In all fairness, they did say that they have plans to produce it in Michigan, in-house, but to be considered a bourbon, it needs to age 2 years. I should also note that I think that in order to be considered a true bourbon, it needs to come from Kentucky, but I digress.  I will be looking forward to trying it again when it becomes an official Michigan product.

The sign greeting you at Northern Latitudes Distillery.

The sign greeting you at Northern Latitudes Distillery.


A still at Northern Latitudes Distillery's tasting room.

A still at Northern Latitudes Distillery’s tasting room.

Our next stop was the L. Mawby winery.  Our hosts were excited about this stop, not only because Elitza was going to be working there, but because this particular winery produces fizzy wine and the views are amazing in all directions.  I am not a huge lover of Champagne, but I do love a Sunday morning mimosa from time to time.  L. Mawby may have made me appreciate Champagne in its pure form a little more.  The samplings had a very good balance of being somewhat dry while still retaining some of the fruitiness.  What struck me as particularly interesting was the presence of a red bubbly.  Even more impressive was the fact that in some varieties, the winery uses the authentic method of producing the bubbles (the name of the process escapes me), not just pumping on CO2.

Just one of the views from L. Mawby Vineyard and tasting room.

Just one of the views from L. Mawby Vineyard and tasting room.

I used the 24mm for the shot below and I have to say I am impressed at how sharp the image is wide open at f/2 on a D800.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I would use the lens on a paid job, but I am pleased with the results I was getting with it.

My L. Mawby tasting from L. Mawby Winery - naturally.

My L. Mawby tasting from L. Mawby Winery – naturally.

Although it wasn’t a winery or distillery, our stop into Fishtown in Leland was an enjoyable visit.  Fishtown is one of the last remaining fishing shanty towns along Lake Michigan and the buildings have presumably been preserved as they must have looked 100 years ago.  Most of the buildings are tourist shops now, but there are a few shops where you can get delicious smoked fish right out of the big lake.  It doesn’t hurt that there is a large patio bar that serves food and drinks right on the river leading into the harbor.

Some of the historic shops at Fish Town.

Some of the historic shops at Fishtown.


The Inn and dam along the river in Fish Town.

The Inn and dam along the river in Fishtown.


An old fish net and one of the shanties at Fish Town.

An old fish net and one of the shanties at Fishtown.


Looking out on the harbor going out to Lake Michigan at Fish Town.

Looking out on the harbor going out to Lake Michigan at Fishtown.


Our last stop on the list of wineries was Black Star Farms.  Chris and Elitza had touted this as the “best for last” destination due to the fact that there were horses and furry pigs at this winery.  Black Star did not disappoint, in fact I was so enamored in the tasting that I didn’t take any pictures of the vineyards or tasting room.  The vineyards leading into the winery looked like something out of Napa Valley, lining a long winding road leading to the complex.  I guess you’ll just have to visit to get the idea.  Anyway, Veronica and I had found a perfect complement to our red wine selection from 45 North with the Arcturos 2012 Pinot Noir Rose.  Yes, I know a rose isn’t necessarily a white, but for a June wedding on a potentially hot day, we decided that this was a good choice and our well-rounded tour guides agreed whole-heartedly.  However the real winner from Black Star was the Arcturos 2011 barrel-aged Chardonnay.  This also had an oaky finish with some great fruit notes.  We decided that a bottle must come home with us.


The real fun was exploring the grounds of the farm at Black Star.  First we discovered some chickens, then the furry pigs.   While I had never actually seen a furry pig before, I imagine the reason they are not as prominent as regular pigs is that the curly locks make rooting in the mud a pitfall for anyone keeping these animals as show pigs.  There were several horses and this is where we spent most of our time because Elitza and Veronica LOVE horses.  To be honest, they are quite magnificent creatures.  Even if one decides that Elitza’s new sundress would make for a delicious snack.  This brings me to the biggest photographer fail of the trip as I was so shocked at what was happening, that I just stared and didn’t take any pictures of her wrestling the dress out of the horses maw.  I guess sometimes the memories of an event are more priceless than the pictures to prove what happened – yeah, let’s go with that.


A seemingly innocent and beautiful horse at Black Star Farms...

A seemingly innocent and beautiful horse at Black Star Farms…


...that had a taste for new sun dresses.

…that had a taste for new sun dresses.

Black Star Farms also produces cheeses and while we had wanted to go home with a few varieties, the cheese store was closed for the day.  Regardless, it was still kind of cool to see that they had an actual cheese cave.  I tried to convince everyone that they were wrong and that it was just a human-size hobbit hole.  I was out-voted, and the consensus among the majority was that it is indeed a cheese cave.

Hobbit hole or cheese cave?  You be the judge.

Hobbit hole or cheese cave? You be the judge.

Anyway, the trip was well worth every minute.  It was nice to be able to go explore some new things and I can see how a weekend trip to do some wine tastings might have to become a regular thing.  How regular?  I don’t know.  It depends on home many jobs I can book over the next few months and years, as it can get expensive.  It’s also a good feeling to know that Michigan is capable of producing some wines that can hold their own against some produced in Napa Valley or France.