Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Skipping town for a vacation - and some great wine!

Mom and I have made a tradition of taking a girls-only vacation together each year, and that's exactly what we did last week. Last year we trekked to the mountains of Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN, so this year, we chose to surround ourselves with water instead. Traverse City, MI was our destination, and we capped it off with a couple days in the artsy communities of Holland and Saugatuck. Neither of us had spent much (if any) time in these areas, so we had a lot of fun just pulling ideas together for everything we wanted to see and do.

When we discovered that this particular area of Michigan is known for its wine (who knew?), we decided to make wine tasting one of our first activities.

Traverse City sits at the base of two peninsulas: the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelenau Peninsula. Old Mission Peninsula is especially perfect for growing grapes for wine, because it sits a hair south of the 45th Parallel (the same parallel that runs through Bordeaux, France) and the bays on either side create an ideal microclimate.

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We drove to the very tip of the peninsula first to see the lighthouse. This was the first lighthouse I've visited, and I was surprised to see that it was essentially designed as a house with a light tower on top. I hadn't realized that not all lighthouses are singular lights atop narrow towers.

On our way back south, we visited our first winery, and it turned out to be our favorite: Bowers Harbor. It's one of seven wineries on the peninsula. Another 19 wineries call the Leelenau Peninsula home -- but because of that perfect microclimate, many of them grow the bulk of their grapes on Old Mission.

At Bowers Harbor, the facility was small and homey, and we chatted with the owner while we sampled a handful of her wines. Bowers Harbor harvests the majority of their grapes by hand, because it's less damaging to the delicate grapes, though many others harvest primarily with the help of machinery. We wondered about the feasibility of growing an organic vineyard versus through traditional means, and she said that the Michigan region isn't very friendly to organic growers because of the high likelihood of mildew.

I'm proud to say that we enjoyed this winery so much that we bought an entire case of wine. Not bad for our first stop, huh?

After Bowers Harbor, we ventured a few miles down the road to one of the first wineries to stake claim on Old Mission: Chateau Grand Traverse. This one caught our eye in the Old Mission brochure because it mentioned free tours of the production facility.

And Mom and I love a good tour!

The feeling we got when we walked in the door was striking: though the facility was beautiful, and the tasting room several times larger than Bowers Harbor's, it felt impersonal and commercial. We'd had such a great time at Bowers Harbor that we didn't even feel compelled to elbow our way up to the bar and sample the wine.

We did take the tour, though, and it was worth the 30 minutes! My favorite bit of information we learned: We'd noticed rosebushes growing at the ends of the rows of grapes, and we wondered whether it was purely aesthetic or for a specific reason. Interestingly enough, roses thrive and sicken in the same conditions as grapes. So if they notice a suffering rosebush at the end of a row, they can diagnose and pinpoint a problem before it taints an entire batch of wine.

We wrapped up our day back in Traverse City with some shopping downtown on Front Street, which had some great local shops -- including a nice little yarn shop that called Mom's name immediately.

It took a lot of convincing for me to get her to check out another shopping area the next day, though: the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. It's a former state hospital and asylum, renovated into office and shopping space. It was admittedly a little creepy, especially since the primary shopping area is in a basement of one of the buildings, with low ceilings, concrete walls, narrow hallways... it was easy to imagine the previous (likely unhappy) residents of the facility. We didn't linger here, and we left the campus to find dinner elsewhere.

I applaud the renovation effort, though! It's great to see a historic site being made over and put to good use, instead of razed and built from the ground up.

I have much too many stories and photos from the trip to cram into one post, so I'll have more in the coming days!

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