Being a Chicago resident myself, nothing says “winter” like never leaving the house except in emergency situations. Yet after a few weeks of cabin fever, our Go Girl team was ready for a proper girls’ getaway. There would be wine — and to do it, we traveled not west to the Pacific, but north — almost as far north as our car could take us. Three Traverse City wineries in particular really made life worth it.
The infinitely beautiful landscapes of Napa and Burgundy are usually what we conjure up in our minds when we think of wine excursions, but if you’ve never hit the double peninsula surrounding Traverse City, Michigan, you’re in for a secret treat. With over 39 wineries gracing Lake Michigan’s shores, Traverse City is a wine-lover’s welcome, right smack-dab in the midwestern USA.
There’s a lot of perks you may not have considered about a four-season wine country. Wine tasting on skis? Yes. Warm slices of pie between sips of riesling? Divine. A toasty fire in a cozy cabin with falling snow and big glasses of cabernet? Just say when. And equipped with an adorable rental right on the bay thanks to the courtesy of FlipKey and our incredible hosts, Bob and Becky, we were severely buttered up (and filled to the brim with warm Bay Bread cinnamon rolls) when we took our first jaunt out into Michigan’s winter wine country.
From our own team of globetrotting women to yours, here are three wildly different Traverse City wineries that we just had to share.
1. Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery
Bring: Your parents
Walking into Brys Estate on a snowy Saturday is an experience of three parts — first, rolling hillsides covered in so much white that you can hardly see the curves of the land. Next, two rich wooden double doors that glide heavily as you open them. And finally, a broad bar aligned against exposed brick walls that beckon you into the warmth of fresh wine and aged cheeses. Yes, you are now exactly where you want to be.
Founded by Walter and Eileen Brys, the Michigan-born parents of three adult children and looking for an alternative to retirement, Brys Estate brings the class of Napa to the comfort of the midwest. With an outdoor patio, a private dining room and even a small guest house, the estate is a great family-owned vineyard that will easily please Mom and Dad. And if you haven’t tried their award-winning ice wine with a slice of cheesecake, beware. When you have a taste, you might never want to leave.
2. Bowers Harbor Vineyards
Bring: Your girlfriends
You’d never know that the tasting room at Bowers Harbor used to be an old stable if we didn’t tell you. The vineyards are the living tale of a heartwarming love story. First, the vines themselves were planted by hand by the young Stengenga family. Then, in 2000, they were the site of Spencer Stengenga’s proposal to his now-wife, Erica, naming the very ground he proposed on after her.
If that doesn’t soften an old girl’s heart, come inside. The tasting room is a gathering space, welcoming the conversation of old and new friends and lined with beautiful bottles of red and white, clever wine paraphernalia (“Fight like a girl, drink like a lady”) and, our favorite, an entire shelving unit of merchandise dedicated to the in-house Bernese Mountain Dog, Brix, also known as the official tasting room greeter.
Be sure to ask for Connie Van Til when you come in — she and her daughter, Rachel (currently studying to be a sommelier) are not only filled with knowledge of wine and every detail about Bowers Harbor, but they are global travelers, powerful women, and dazzling hostesses.
3. 2 Lads Winery
Bring: Your husband/your guy friends
While driving up to the box-like, contemporary building that houses the 2 Lads winery in Old Mission’s vineyards, one of my traveling companions, Amanda, said one word that couldn’t have been more true: “Boy.”
She nailed it. 2 Lads is like a winery you’ve never seen — crisp, modern design, sharp lines and complex flavors, a wall of windows looking out to the broad expanse of scenery beyond the building’s limits. 2 Lads is the West Loop of Chicago, the Meatpacking District of New York, in one building that stands to be different from the rest.
But don’t let the space fool you — the wine is equally tantalizing. And thanks to gravity-flow techniques that provide a sort of “hands off” approach to winemaking, the wines are able to better retain their aromas and flavors.
In the tasting room, descriptions of wines are brought back down to earth. The 2012 Rose Reserve is described as “what happens when Cornel decides to experiment.” The other captions are filled with “um”, “do do do” and “do ya think I’m sexy?” And if you don’t try the Sparking Riesling before the night is over, I’ll tell you now — life just won’t be worth living.
Bring your boyfriend, your beer-drinkers, your manly men. 2 Lads will give them a fresh take on what wine is really about.
Nothing beats an enticing trip through an up-and-coming wine country. The wine was exceptional but its charm was truly in its ability to deliver four seasons of beauty. It’s no coincidence that the tip of Old Mission Peninsula is on the same parallel as Burgundy, France. The formula may just well be in the latitude.
A special thanks to Bowers Harbor, Brys Estate and 2 Lads for their hospitality and for offering us a couple of tastes of their delicious wines! We will be back — and this time, there will be more of us.