GTPulse Weekend Planner: The Palate Parade
Wine Tasting in Leelanau County
As the weather gets colder, and the humans begin to layer up for the winter with hats and gloves, the trees do the opposite—shedding their once green leaves before facing the cold wearing nothing but their branches. The days grow shorter and the nights seem darker, but the wine still flows just the same.
I love wine tasting, but I am the first to admit that I know very little about the wine itself. I know the basics—starting from white wines to the darker red ones, but beyond that palate parade, I am lost. That’s why I love wine tasting in northern Michigan. You don’t have to be an aficionado to appreciate the composition of a glass of wine. Your tasting guide first asks you what kind of wine you like before suggesting varietals. That’s when the fun begins.
To combat the cold and dark days, my husband and I pointed our compass along M-22 for a wine tasting adventure. Along with a designated driver to help guide our journey, we sought the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. The LPVA is Michigan’s first wine trail, and has grown from just four wineries when it launched in the 1980s to over 25 wineries along three loops that weaver throughout the county. The Sleeping Bear loop includes wineries in Glen Arbor, Cedar and Lake Leelanau, while the Northern Peninsula loop includes wineries north of M-204— in Leland, Northern Lake Leelanau and Suttons Bay, Peshawbestown, Omena and Northport. We decided to make a few stops along the Grand Traverse Loop, starting at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay making our way to Rove Estate on M-72 in Traverse City. The leisurely loop was the perfect way to cut through an otherwise gray October day.
Black Star Farms
In 1998, a 160 acre equestrian facility, known at Sport Valley Farms, shifted gears to become a wine lovers retreat known as Black Star Farms. The beautiful red estate house serves as an inn, while the tasting room boasts multiple tasting bars and a variety of wine. My husband loves the Arcturos Pinot Noir, while I enjoyed the Arcturos Pinot Noir Rosé.
Two K Farms
Two K Farms Winery & Cidery is the first to commercially grow traditional cider varieties on the Leelanau Peninsula, and, I must say, their product is the best hard cider I’ve ever had. Perhaps that is because Two K Farms produces cider specific apples—bitter-sharps and bitter-sweets. These specific apples produce unique tannins and have an acidity not found in culinary apples. The result is a hard cider that acts a lot like a white wine. I opted for the cider purist tasting flight, and it was hard to pick a favorite, but the Norman—with it’s hint of vanilla—really stood out to me. My husband was more methodical about his choices, choosing both cider and wine for his flight. He really enjoyed the 2017 Colonnade thanks to the warm spices and hints of butterscotch.
Perhaps my favorite stop in Leelanau County, MAWBY has been a Northern Michigan fixture since 1973, when founder Larry Mawby began producing wine on a small parcel of land. In the mid 90’s, Larry shifted his focus exclusively to making sparkling wines for every palate. MAWBY gained national recognition with his delicious bubbly wines and simple, sometimes scandalous branding. For example, Sex—MAWBY’s most provocative and best selling wine offering—is a brut blend full of fruity flavors. The Rose Bubbly is so popular, it has its own FIZZ Club subscription. Although I love all of MAWBY’s bubbly, Toast has to be my favorite, since I am a fan of an oaky, dry finish. My husband prefers Detroit, another MAWBY best seller, that finishes smooth and fruity.
Ciccone Vineyard & Winery
Just down the road from MAWBY, on Hilltop Drive in Suttons Bay sits the picturesque Ciccone Winery. In 1995, first generation Italian American Tony Ciccone retired as an optical engineer and headed north from Rochester Hills, along with his wife, Joan. Tony had always planted a few rows of grapevines in the family’s backyard, carrying on a Ciccone tradition of making wine by hand. But, when he happened upon the Leelanau County land in October of 1995, he knew his second act, post retirement, would be to build a vineyard and winery in Northern Michigan. Tony’s son Mario now runs the vineyard, tending to the vines, while Tony’s daughter, Paula, worked under Tony to learn the wine making process and has since produced many award winning wines. There is something truly special about visiting Ciccone Vineyard. With its breathtaking views and old world feel, it almost transports you from Northern Michigan to Italy. This is why the Dolcetto 2017 was a favorite for my husband and me. It’s 100% estate grown using a varietal native to Italy’s Piedmont region. It’s red, light bodied and dry and absolutely perfect for a fall day.
Our final stop on the wine tour was Rove Estate, just of M-72 in Traverse City. Rove Estate’s tasting room sits at the highest point in Leelanau County, bringing beautiful views and spectacular sunsets. Although the vineyard and tasting room itself are relatively new to the Leelanau County area, the story of Rove goes back over three hundred years ago, when thousands of Irish were forced to flee their land in what was known and the Flight of the Winegeese. Many of the refugees went on, however, to establish some of the most renowned wineries across the globe. A fifteen-generation farmer of Irish heritage, Creighton and McKenzie Gallagher established Rove Estate to pay tribute to the Winegeese, while preserving their family’s legacy. In just four years, Rove has received over 40 accolades in both state and international wine competitions. The hard work and focus on excellence is evident in Rove’s wines. My husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed the 2017 Pinot Noir, but my absolute favorite wine, perhaps of the whole day, would have to be the crisp and clean 2017 Unoaked Chardonnay.
Most wineries along the Leelanau County Wine Trail are offering COVID-19 safe tastings for groups of up to six. Reservations are highly recommended- so call ahead for hours and reservation policies.