This past weekend I was able to go Up North for the first time this year. For those of you not familiar, Up North refers to the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. A major part of the summer culture here is going Up North. While my family never had a cottage there, I was lucky enough to have friends who did and still do. The area draws people to it with its natural beauty, hundreds of miles of Great Lakes coastline, many inland lakes, an abundance of outdoor activities, charming towns and more recently, a burgeoning wine country.
We were staying in Gaylord but took Saturday to head over the Old Mission Peninsula to cycle and visit some wineries. I had been there before but had traveled by car. The biking provided more time to take in the gorgeous views and enjoy the perfect weather. I would highly recommend biking if you think you’re up to it but, make no mistake, it was a challenge. I hadn’t noticed how many hills there were on the peninsula the last time I was there, zipping around in a car. But there are hills, many hills, steep hills and a few of my favorite wineries were on top of those hills. At times it felt like I was in a very long spinning class with intermittent breaks for wine and cheese. I was by far the weakest link when it came to biking. I ocassionally bike around (a very flat) town to get from A to B but I was in the company of some serious cyclists. But still, I couldn’t even keep up with my friend who had RUN A HALF MARATHON earlier that morning.
It also took about, oh, a minute and a half for me to injure myself. No, I did not fall off the bike. Apparently I can hurt myself just as well while still being on the bike. I somehow managed to ram the back of my ankle into the pedal, which of course had those sharp teeth-like-things (sidebar: why the hell are those on some pedals anyway?!) creating quite a wound.
It helps to be with experienced cyclists on a trip like this. At one point someone had a blowout but luckily there were patch kits and extra tubes and mini-pumps, things that I would have never brought because I don’t know the first thing about bike maintenance.
Ok, so I know you might be kind of confused right now because at first I told you biking was a good idea but then I told you it was really difficult and it made me bleed and that you need all this extra crap. Considering all of that and the fact that I can not yet bend my ankle, I would still recommend it. I just felt that this time I was much more able to take in all the natural beauty around me, the cherry orchards, the grape vines, the views of the bay, the little fruit stands…and it made it all the more enjoyable, even if some of the time I was grunting and sweating and bleeding.
Moving along to the wine…we stopped at Black Star first, which I had visited before. They charge $5 for 6 tastes and you get a cute, little Black Star wine glass. The ciders impressed me the most there, especially the Apple and Cherry Hard Cider. I can’t stand sweet ciders but those had a nice balance of sour to sweet.
We drove to the next destination, Chateau Grand Traverse. I had been there before and was turned off by the long lines and the fact that they sold lots of country kitsch. We gave it another chance because, well frankly, the tasting was free. I found I quite liked some of their wines, especially the Ship of Fools.
We finally hopped on the bikes and after a long and arduous ride, we arrived at 2 Lads, the standout of the trip.
There are actually 2 lads, one from a wine making family in South Africa and another who grew up in the wine growing area of Michigan. The first thing you notice is how cool the space is, very modern, simple and beautiful. In fact, I kind of wanted to move in as soon as we got there. They take advantage of their position atop a hill (that drew quite a few expletives out of me on the way up) at the northern end of the peninsula with a giant window you face while you taste.
Their menu was simpler than the other wineries I had visited on the peninsula with fewer and, I would say, better wines. We had complimentary tastes of the Pinot Grigio, the Cab Franc and the Rosé. I was impressed with all of them but, to our surprise, the favorite was the Rosé. It was made from Cab Franc grapes and was pretty dry and full of berries. I believe they only sell wine off the vineyard right now but I see on their website that merchandise is coming soon. So fingers crossed it will be available online in the near future.
We bought a bottle of that fabulous Rosé and rode to Old Mission Bay for a much needed picnic.
The final winery we visited was Chateau Chantal. The tasting room sits atop another hill (which meant another expletive-laden journey for me) which gives it some stunning views of both sides of Grand Traverse Bay.
This was by far the most crowded winery we visited and it’s understandable considering its beautiful location. I enjoyed their wines for the most part. We picked up a few bottles and armed with our Naughty Red we headed back the 5 miles or so to the car.
There’s something about being on a peninsula, especially one as small as the Old Mission, so that you’re visibly surrounded by all that water, that’s incredibly calming. Taking the time to cycle around it amplified that even when I was careening down or struggling up one of its many hills. The Old Mission and the neighboring Leelenau peninsulas might be my favorite part of Michigan. They’re gems in the Midwest, underappreciated ones and not just for their natural beauty. I’ve been impressed with their focus on local food and wine. Now, I’m no wine snob. I would say 90% of the wine I buy is from Trader Joe’s. But I initially went there expecting to only find sickeningly sweet whites and cherry liquers. But I found many complex reds (it seems to be a great area for Cab Francs), delicious, dry Reislings and that Rosé that I can not get out of my head. I’m not saying Napa is going to have to move over anytime soon but it’s nice to know there is that lovely, little corner of Michigan nearby.