Hello, fellow travelers on the wine trail! I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Traverse City, Michigan wine region with the Cork in the Road production team, and I must say, we had a blast. Like many of you, when I think of Michigan I think of long, cold winters, the auto industry, and Motown. But not only is wine cultivated throughout the state, some labels are actually getting world recognition for their quality. Generally known more for their standout whites (especially Riesling), many vineyards have jumped headfirst into the red pool, with some surprising results (I really enjoyed 2 Lads Winery’s and Brys Estate’s offerings, but there are many other juicy finds there).

What definitely impressed me was how different each winery’s atmosphere was. They were all fun in different ways… You have the party atmosphere of L. Mawby’s sparkling wine fizz fest; to the cozy vibe of Willow Vineyards, where you raise a glass with the owners, to the old time schoolhouse of Peninsula Cellars and the urban vibe of Left Foot Charley—each place has a distinctive personality and a completely different wine tasting experience. But they all shared one trait—friendly, down-to-earth people that you’d love to share a drink with.

We stayed at the impressive Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, home of the lengthy “Bear” course, designed by Jack Nicklaus himself. I managed to sneak in a few holes with club pro Scott Hebert, who patiently tolerated my lack of skill. Then it was off to visit wineries along the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, which house the bulk of the wineries in the region. There are over 25 wineries within a half-hour drive from Traverse City. If you’ve never been to this part of the country in the summertime, do yourself a favor. The lakes, hills and forests are gorgeous, and there are accommodations of all types, from high-end resorts to B&B’s to campgrounds.

Despite their reverence for the beloved wine grape, it’s another fruit that local residents hold in even higher esteem—cherries. Long before there was a wine industry in Traverse City, cherries were the thing. The town still has a love affair with cherries, and we managed to see all things cherry at the annual National Cherry Festival, held every July. Along with a parade (starring the Cherry Queen, of course!), there were cherry pie-eating contests, and cherry-flavored food of all types. There were also rides, games, and fireworks, typical of a county fair or carnival. What was not typical was the festival’s Global Wine Pavilion, which featured wines, vintners, and industry experts from all over the world. It’s a fantastic opportunity to sample top-quality local and international wines in one place. As you can imagine, the Cherry Festival is prime season in Traverse City, so just remember to book accommodations early.

With good wine comes good food, and we ate at one of the area’s best restaurants—The Boathouse. Owner Doug Kosch really knows how to put out a spread, with emphasis on local ingredients (try the whitefish!) and local wines. Good stuff. We also liked the microbrews and pub grub at the North Peak Brewing Company. I still have dreams about their Cherry Porter Barbecued Ribs. Mmmmmm.

So there’s a quick overview of our little weekend in Traverse City. It’s a gorgeous place all summer long, extending right up through the fall when the leaves change. I recommend it for anyone who loves wine, friendly people, and beautiful scenery. And cherries—especially if you love cherries.

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