October 4, 2012
Planning a fall color wine tour in Northern Michigan this year? We’ve gathered a few tips to make the most out of your next wine tasting trip from Traverse City to Leelanau or Old Mission Peninsula.
What to Bring
• Camera. The wineries are beautiful any time of year, but especially in the fall during harvest season. You’ll want a few pics to remember your trip.
• Money. Many of the wineries now have tasting fees. Bring cash to cover fees where you might not purchase a bottle of wine. Each winery’s policy is different.
• Bottled water. Here’s a tip from the Kathy at Bel Lago, "For a successful wine tour, drink as much water as you do in wine. And be sure to eat."
• Snacks. Cheese spreads, breads, crackers and fruit all pair well with wine and won’t spoil your palette for the wines you’ve yet to taste.
• Smartphone. The Traverse Traveler app was designed with the wine tourist in mind. This handy mobile guide will help you research, plan and navigate a wine tour in northern Michigan. And best of all, it’s a free download for iPhone and Android users.
What to Leave at Home
• "Don’t wear lipstick." This tip is from Caryn at 2 Lads Winery. It’s not just the marks on the glass that are left behind. Lipstick imparts flavors like petroleum and other chemicals when wine passes over your lips.
• No perfume. It ruins your tasting experience, and everyone elses. The scent of one person’s perfume can contaminate the air in a tasting room for hours.
• Cigarettes. Your sense of smell is a large part of the wine tasting experience. And smoke is a very stong scent. Like perfume it affects those around you. So please leave the smokes in your car.
• Gum. You can’t taste past it, especially mint. So stow the Altoids and TicTacs too.
• Dogs & Kids. A wine tour is meant for the 21+ crowd. While you may see a few wine dogs throughout your travels, several of the tasting rooms offer food pairings, which means it’s against their health code to have dogs in the winery. So as a general rule, take the kids and pets to the beach or the park, but not on a wine tour.
Planning Your Wine Tour
With nearly three dozen wineries in our tip of the mitten it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start. Here are a few tips on planning a wine tasting route from Traverse City.
• You can’t see them all. Make a list of favorites, or recommended wineries you want to be sure to visit, and squeeze in others as time allows.
• Stick to one peninsula. There are two distinct AVAs in our region: Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission. Stick to one or the other for a one-day trip. The wineries are scattered throughout each peninsula making it difficult to jump back and forth.
• There’s an app for that! Use the Wineries category on the Traverse Traveler app to choose which stops you want to make. The maps are great for navigating between wineries via backroads for a more scenic tour, or finding the fastest route.
• Map it. Pick up the large map from the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. If you’re not a smartphone user this will be a hands-on resource for finding your way around both peninsulas.
• Beware of high traffic times. If you’re wine tasting during peak fall season your best days are mid week. If you must come on a weekend be prepared for crowds. Most of our wineries have small tasting rooms with even smaller tasting bars. On a busy weekend you may have to wait to get a turn at the bar.
• Go off the beaten path. Most tasting rooms in Leelanau and Old Mission are lucky to be located near the vineyard. But that vineyard isn’t necessarily on a major highway. Part of the fun is exploring and discovering new locations. Start at the top of the peninsula and work your way south. Or make a plan to stay inland and visit some of the smaller boutique wineries.
There are some special considerations to planning a wine tour when you’re traveling with a group. Here are some tips to maximize the fun and minimize the hassle when planning a group wine tour.
• Size matters. Wine tasting with friends can be a wonderful experience. But if your group is too large it can cause problems which detract from your enjoyment. In our experience a group of 10 or less is the ideal size. Larger groups will have additional limitations on where you can go, how quickly you will move from place to place, and tasting room fees.
• Carpool. Part of the fun of a group wine tasting is comparing notes about each winery with your companions as your travel. Pile into one person’s vehicle, rent a van, or book a wine tour. And if at all possible, assign a designated driver. Listen to Ellie at Traverse City Tours who warns, "Don’t come on vacation and leave on probation."
• Large groups call ahead. For wine tours larger than 10 you should call ahead to each winery. Some tasting rooms are so small they do not allow buses or tours at all, and others have per person tasting fees for the entire party. These are not things you want to discover after you’ve driven across the peninsula to visit.
• Label wine purchases. Hopefully your group will discover many wines they like and purchasing bottles at each location. Pick up a box from the first stop. Using a Sharpie marker label each wine purchased with your initials, or used color coded garage sale stickers. Add additional boxes as needed. When the tour is complete it will be easy to determine which wine was purchased by whom.
• Pack a picnic. It’s important to eat and drink water throughout your wine tour. For a fun experience pack a cooler with cheese, fruit, crackers and bite-sized appetizers or sandwiches. Many of the wineries have picnic tables or areas outside where you can stop and enjoy your snack along the route. There are also markets and farm stands scattered throughout the peninsulas to pick-up snacks along the way.
• Be patient. "Be respectful of other tasters and wait patiently if there’s a crowd," says Chaning at Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery. When you’re traveling as a group this is especially important since you may have to break into smaller groups, or taste in shifts.
We’ve been on several group wine trips and completely agree with Kyle from Riverside Canoes who says, "My best wine tasting tip is to go tasting with your closest friends. The wine always tastes better!."
Sip Tips from the Pros
Winemakers and tasting room staff are incredibly knowledgeable about their products and their craft. Here are a few of their tips for making the most of a northern Michigan wine tasting experience.
• It’s OK to spit. Ask Bel Lago winemaker Cristin Hosmer and she’ll tell you, "Spitting is OK. In fact it’s encouraged." It cuts down on your consumption of alcohol. So remember, "The dump bucket is your friend."
• Chew your sparkles. When tasting a sparkling wine, "You don’t want to drink bubbly like you kiss your grandmother." If you’ve been pursing your lips when you sip sparkling wine from a glass you’ve got it all wrong. Instead,"Chew, hold and slowly swallow," instructs Don at L. Mawby. By chewing the wine the bubbles explode in your mouth allowing the flavors to disperse. Try it. It’s a whole new experience.
• Eat mild not wild. "Don’t eat strong flavored foods — onion, garlic and spicy dishes — before or during a wine tour," warns Coryn of Black Star Farms. While a bottle of wine may pair well with some of these dishes, the pungent flavors will linger throughout your wine tour affecting the rest of the wines you taste.
• Not a free drunk. Wine tasting is not a free ticket to inebriation. "Don’t treat a wine tour like happy hour at a bar," reminds Tom at Peninsula Cellars. Guests in a tasting room are there to learn about wine, and are offered tastes (sometimes free) to determine which wines they might like best. If you’re more interested in hanging out at a bar and chatting with your girlfriends, you’ve got the wrong kind of bar. Just be respectful of the staff’s time, and the product that they’re freely sharing so that you’ll discover something you’d like to buy.
A wine tour is a great way to explore Traverse City and the countryside in Northern Michigan. With these handy tips you’ll be sure to make the most of the adventure. For more fabulous day trips in northern Michigan this fall check out our post: 22 Reasons for a Fall M-22 Roadtrip.
October 10, 2011
Looking for a way to enjoy this beautiful fall weather? I highly recommend a canoe trip on the lower Platte River.
Canoeing the Platte is one of my 22 Reasons for a Fall M-22 Roadtrip, and a must-do for our family each fall. This past weekend we teamed up with the staff and friends of Riverside Canoes for an end-of-season paddle down the lower Platte River to enjoy the fall colors, watch the salmon swim upstream and pick up any trash we could find along the way.
Here’s a quick video of from our trip. Check out the amazing scene at the Platte River weir where salmon are counted, passed for spawning or harvested by the DNR.
A canoe trip on the lower Platte River begins at Riverside Canoes on M-22 and ends at the mouth where the Platte River empties into Lake Michigan. This is the southern end of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, recently voted America’s Most Beautiful Place. It is indeed one of our favorite spots.
If you’re thinking about checking out the scenery this year you have one more week to rent a canoe or kayak from Riverside Canoes before they close for the season. Riverside is located on M-22 south of Empire and north of Crystal Lake. Call 231.325.5622 or visit their website at www.canoemichigan.com for more details.
March 24, 2011
No travel plans for Spring Break this year? Chin up. We’ve got some great suggestions to help you enjoy a staycation in Traverse City. Here’s our 7 Ways for 7 Days: How to Enjoy Your Spring Break Staycation.
1. Spring Skiing
Spend a day on the slopes this spring break, it’s an unusual treat to have conditions this sweet. Our ’six more weeks of winter’ should have been up by now, Mr. Goundhog. But for skiers the news couldn’t be better. A spring storm brought over 8 inches of fresh snow to the area, which is great news around Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. Thanks to a cold winter their base is in great condition, and the fresh powder is icing on the cake. If you’re interested in cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing the TART trails are a great in town option.
2. Explore an Exhibit
When is the last time you took a trip to a local musuem? This is the last weekend to enjoy the Jim Hay exhibit and video art by Lee Nam Lee at the Dennos Museum Center. Museums are a great place to introduce your children to other cultures, so don’t be afraid to take them along. But if they really need to burn off some steam, The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a perfect option. Or check out the Vintage Toys and Miniatures Show at The History Center (formerly Grand Traverse Heritage Center) in Traverse City.
3. Take a Foodie Tour
Wander the streets of Downtown Traverse City and create your own Tasting Tour. Discover imported meats and cheeses at Folgarelli’s, salsas, snacks and all things cherry at The Cherry Stop, and delicious sweets at Morsels. One of my favorite stops is Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars where you an create your own flavor combinations from their huge selection of balsamic vinegars and flavor infused olive oils. Who knew a peach balsamic and garlic oil would make a great match? Our area is rich with locally made products. Find a new favorite and spread the word. As for me, I’m dying to try Simply Cupcakes. Their flavors sound soooo good.
4. Hunt for Antique Treasures
I grew up spending weekends at auctions and wandering flea markets with my parents. No matter where we went there was always a unique treasure to be discovered. While "antiquing" may not be as popular as it was in the ’70s and early ’80s, shabby chic and bargain hunting never goes out of style. You could spend an afternoon browsing through the Cherryland Antique Mall on Garfield Road in Traverse City. Or if you’re in Benzonia, stop by the Emporium on M-115.
5. Wine Not Try Something New
Spring break shouldn’t just be for kids. Parents need a little time out too. With more than 20 wineries in the area there’s always a new taste waiting for you on our lovely peninsulas. Newer tasting rooms include Silver Leaf Vineyard & Winery on Leelanau Peninsula, and Northern Natural Wine Tasting in Benzonia. This time of year is a great time to catch the winemaker’s on site. They’re in between the harvest season, and the growing season, so they’re often available to chat or provide a tour. Also look for unusual specials and events at the wineries. Left Foot Charley is offering specials for Teachers and School Workers during spring break. Or how about checking out the upcoming Sushi School at 2 Lads Winery. So much fun, so little time.
6. Be Entertained
With half of the region’s population headed to warmer parts of the country you might think there’s nothing going on in Traverse City during spring break. But you’d be wrong. Old Town Playhouse has weekend showings of Fiddler on the Roof and Good On Paper for example. And don’t forget about Interlochen Center for the Arts. A handy bookmark to have on your desktop is this one for TREATickets.com. They are a local non-profit online ticketing resource specializing in arts and entertainment venues.
7. Start a Spring Project
We’ve got a week home with the kids, why not start early on some of those spring projects. Here’s a few starters from my to-do list:
- Clear out the clutter in the basement and donate items to Goodwill or the Women’s Resource Center. You don’t want to know how many old cell phones I have that could be put back in service for someone in need.
- Brighten the living room with a fresh coat of paint. I found some inspiring Northern Michigan themed paint colors at Northwoods Hardware in Glen Arbor that would perk up any room.
- Put away the last of the winter decorations (yes, I still have white lights and pine boughs on my porch from Christmas) and haul out the spring branches and Easter decorations.
- Start sowing seeds for a summer herb garden. I get great ideas from the folks at Garden Goods in Traverse City. And this time of year you’ll have the first pick of the hottest new pots and tools.
Well there you have it. My 7 Ways for 7 Days. Now get out there and enjoy the beauty in our own backyard on your spring break staycation. And if you’ve got some great staycation ideas to share, let us know.
January 1, 2011
In northwestern Michigan, January means more than New Years resolutions, slippery roads, bitter winds, and high heating bills. It’s also the long awaited onset of ice fishing season for thousands of Great Lakes anglers left twiddling their thumbs since the salmon swam upstream last fall.
But ice fishing isn’t just a sport for the seasoned veteran. Visitors come from miles around to catch their limit on the frozen lakes. Here are a few tips from a local for the casual weekender who wants to give ice fishing a try —from advice on equipment, to safety and a fish finder for area lakes. These tips won’t guarantee a prosperous catch, but they’ll set you up for a fun, safe angling adventure on Michigan’s frozen playgrounds.
Licensed to Catch
The first thing every angler needs is a license. And the MDNR offers a few new options.
- You can now buy an e-license online anytime at mdnr-elicense.com.
- There are three licensing options: one-day license, season license and a new 72-hour all species license. The last option is great for the weekender as it’s available to residents and non-residents for $21 ($9 for resident seniors).
- Fish for free on one of Michigan’s free fishing weekends. Mark you calendars for February 19-20, 2011 for this winter’s free weekend.
Here’s a list of the basic equipment and supplies you’d need for an afternoon out on the ice. And like most sports and hobbies, there are the necessities, and then there are thousands of variations, and upgrades that can expand the options, and empty your wallet. These are the nuts and bolts. You take it where you want to from here.
- Valid Michigan fishing license, see above. Children under 17 can fish for free.
- Ice Auger or spud, depending on the depth of the ice. More than four inches of ice and you’ll probably want an auger.
- Sled to pull your gear, depending on how much you have
- Portable shanty, foldable chair or bucket to sit on
- Tip-ups or ice fishing rods
- Bait: for tip-ups use minnows like golden shiners or blues. For rods use wax worms or artificial bait like jigs and spoons.
Tip: Don’t forget to keep the receipt from the bait shop if you buy live bait, like minnows. Live bait must be certified to prevent the spread of disease. DNRE officers may ask for proof of purchase.
- Safe ice is thick ice. Four inches is recommended for safely fishing on Michigan’s inland lakes. If you’re heading out with a snowmobile or ATV, err on the side of caution and wait for 5"-6" of ice.
- Watch for holes, cracks and open ice. Freshly abandoned ice fishing holes are a quick way to twist an ankle or worse. Anglers often leave branches or markers in their abandoned ice holes as a warning, so keep your eyes open.
- Bring emergency gear. Safety spikes are a great solution, and can be worn around the neck. They look like a short jump-rope with handles on the end, each equipped with a spike. If you fell in the ice you could use the picks to pull you out. A lifejacket and some rope are a good back-up plan.
- Don’t fish alone. It’s not as much fun anyway, so bring a buddy.
Tip: If you’re unsure about the safety of lake ice, get some advice from the bait shop or a local. Many small inland lakes are not ideal for ice fishing because they’re spring fed. The way the ice forms can also determine whether it’s strong enough to support additional weight. So if you don’t see any tracks, or evidence of activity on the surface, don’t venture out, especially alone.
There are dozen of lakes in northwestern Michigan that could be great for fishing. And certain species thrive in specific lakes. Here’s a short guide to some of the most popular species, and where you can find them.
- If your fishing for pike check out Portage Lake in Onekema and Green Lake in Interlochen.
- For smelt try Crystal Lake in Benzie county, and Green Lake
- For perch Crystal Lake and Glen Lake near Glen Arbor
- For walleye visit Long Lake in Traverse City, and Lake Leelanau on the Leelanau Peninsula.
Tip: Know your limit, and stay within it. The DNRE limits the catch on each species, and limits vary. Check out the MDNR website for all the details.
Contributing author James Wheeler is an experienced northern Michigan angler, currently waiting anxiously for first ice, and the opportunity to catch another 33" pike from one of Michigan’s frozen lakes.
June 2, 2010
Enjoy the Dunes Fee-Free on National Trails Day
Did you know there are several fee-free dates each year at over 100 National Parks? It just so happens this weekend is one of them. So there’s no better time to get out and explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
2010 Fee Free Days
- April 17-25, 2010 (National Park Week)
- June 5 & 6, 2010 (National Trails Day)
- August 14 & 15, 2010
- September 25, 2010 (National Public Lands Day)
- November 11, 2010 (Veterans Day)
Fee waiver includes: entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tour, concession, and fees collected by thrid parties are not included unless stated otherwise.
My son’s class took a field trip last week to see a beaver lodge located inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, near Otter Creek. We first stopped at the visitor’s center to learn about the Park and explore the exhibits. If you haven’t been to the Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor’s center in Empire I’d highly recommend it, whether you’re a first time park visitor or a regular. They have wonderful books for sale about northern Michigan wildlife, wildflowers and even tips on hunting morels. And their exhibits include examples of the trees, flowers and animals that call Sleeping Bear home. Take the time to watch their movie presentation if you have a chance. It’s full of stunning photography of this beautiful landscape in every season.
I hope you’ll take advantage of a fee-free day this year and explore the beauty in our backyard.