Traverse City, Michigan

Photo: N Preseault
Photo: N Preseault

The 45th Parallel is known for its amazing wines. Bordeaux, Piedmont, Alsace, and the Leelanau Peninsula are all located on this imaginary line, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. Wait, the what peninsula?

Yes, the northwestern corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula has the same characteristics of some of the most popular wine regions in the world. And now an area already famous for its cherries is quickly becoming a destination for wine drinkers as well.

The wine trail begins in Traverse City, on the southern shore of Grand Traverse Bay. The small city is known for its delicious food, art scene, and outdoor activities. Wandering down Front Street, you can eat cherry pie at Grand Traverse Pie Company, drink a Mission Point Porter and listen to live music at North Peak Brewing Company, and eat freshly caught walleye at The Cook’s House. See a play at the City Opera House or a movie when the Traverse City Film Festival begins each summer. Visit the Old Mission Point Lighthouse, sail around the bay, or have a BBQ on West End Beach. Browse the shops and restaurants at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, which once housed an insane asylum. Or climb the sand dunes at the nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore.

Photo: N Preseault
Photo: N Preseault

But first, back to the wine. The wineries that dot the Leelanau Peninsula are small-production vineyards. Many have gorgeous views of the bay. Most of the winemakers began growing grapes for ice, cherry, and mulled wine. But the area expanded when wineries started winning awards, particularly for their Rieslings. Sip Bianca at Chateau de Leelanau, Arcturos Cabernet Franc at Black Star Farms, and an espresso (after your tasting) at Brengman Brothers.

The wines may not beat a Cotes du Rhone in a blind taste test yet, but you’ll be hearing a lot about this little section of the Great Lakes in the years to come.

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