This past weekend, I finally made it up to Traverse City, Michigan. With an invite to the popular Toast of the Season wine-tasting event along with a few fellow travel writers, I figured this would be a good time to make my first visit.
The Toast of the Season event takes place every Fall. Participants are able to sample wine and food pairings from the 20 member wineries out on the Leelanau Peninsula. Throughout the weekend, we visited 15 wineries and tried some phenomenal food and wines. As with anything, when you try so many varieties of something, you discover some that are really special and some that could still use a little work. I want to highlight some of my favorites here for you.
The first stop on our wine trail, and one of my favorites, was Gill’s Pier Vineyard & Winery. We were well taken care of here by the owner, Ryan. He shared with us some of their wine-making processes and even some of his private stock not available for sale. Since they are both a grower and producer, all the fruit is picked on the property and allows them to control the entire process much more than other wineries. They believe in quality over quantity and only sell 2,500 cases annually. We began with the Whitewater, which was a blend of Vignole and Riesling grapes with hints of honey, melon, and citrus. Just Unleashed was an interesting wine as it’s aged in stainless steel tanks, but given a hint of oak 4 weeks prior to bottling to give it its light and fruity taste. The Cab-Franc / Merlot was a good choice, but I preferred the 2007 to the 2002 as it was a bit softer and aged longer. By far my favorite here was the owner’s private stock 2002 Riesling; with its smooth flavor and hints of honey hitting the palette, it was one of the best of the weekend.
The second stop was to Verterra Winery. This was one of the better food and wine pairings of the day. They served a char-grilled pizzetta with sun-dried tomato, spinach, garlic, feta, and mozzarella along with their vintage 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay, a full-bodied wine with hints of citrus and pear. Mmmmm!!
Next up was Good Harbor Vineyards. They had a very good Pinot Grigio paired with a pumpkin bisque (the first of a few). Also, they have my vote for most creative label on their bottles.
As far as buildings go, our next stop reminded me of a contemporary art gallery. Blustone Vineyards were only in their second weekend of business, just in time for Toast of the Season. Typically I’m not big on dryer wines, but the 2011 Riesling here started to make me reconsider. This wine was a double-gold medal winner and one of their most popular.
The fifth stop on our wine trail was at Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery. We began here with some raisin and goat cheese tarts paired with their Unwooded Chardonnay. I also enjoyed the smooth, clean taste of the Select Harvest Riesling.
In case you’re wondering how we made it through 8 wineries in a day, it was a challenge that I was more than willing to accept. By this point, we were more than halfway through and starting to get a little bit tipsy.
If you’re a big fan of ciders, then this next stop is for you! The food pairing at Tandem Ciders was good as well. Crepes filled with locally roasted acorn squash, raclette, and swiss cheese served with their Smackintosh Cider. My favorite cider of the ones I sampled was the Nine Point Five. It’s a blend of 10 different kinds of apples and, as its name implies, is 9.5% alcohol. You can purchase any of the ciders here in half-gallon growlers, which can be dangerous because they’re so easy to drink.
Nearing the conclusion of our first day on the Leelanau wine trail, our seventh visit was to Silver Leaf Vineyard. The Fling rosé wine was really nice with hints of peach and honey. It paired extremely well with their beer-braised Swedish meatballs served in a cream sauce.
Number eight and the final winery of Day 1 was Leelanau Cellars. Seeing as this was the last stop of the day and one of the best, we sampled quite a few of their wines here. As I mentioned earlier, I liked the Late Harvest Rieslings of the weekend and the one here was exceptional. My favorite at this winery was the 2011 Vignoles, a tad sweet with a hint of melon. It’s only available at the winery, so I guess I’ll have to go back soon.
On Day 1 I tasted so many good wines that I didn’t know how Day 2 would compare. Stay tuned to find out!
Disclosure: My complementary tickets for Toast of the Season were provided by the Leelanau Vintners Association; however, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.