Some great new Leelanau wines, and three new Leelanau wineries!

Tossing back some whites with my daughter Liz last summer at Willow Vineyards. (By the way, their Pinot Noir was excellent!)
Tossing back some whites with my daughter Liz last summer at Willow Vineyards. (By the way, their Pinot Noir was excellent!)


 Here in northern Michigan, we talk about the weather a lot. Partly because it’s a subject about which we can all passionately proclaim our opinions without fear of giving offense or losing friends (not an easy thing in these polarized times) and partly because our weather is usually pretty interesting.

 On the other hand, there are times when it’s wisest to move on to other subjects. And this past weekend was one of those times. Instead, let’s talk about wine.

 April is Michigan Wine Month, and the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association decided to celebrate it on Saturday with a get-together at Traverse City’s Cambria Suites hotel. It was a splendid event, and gave me a chance to taste some of the new wines coming out of the Leelanau vineyards — between us, I think Bel Lago’s Tempesta blend is one of the most full-bodied reds I’ve had up here to date — and to hang out with some of the region’s talented winemakers.

 As an Old Mission resident, I know the wines and wineries of my own peninsula better than those of my neighbors across the bay – and in honestly, I don’t get over to the Leelanau side as often as I should. I’m especially certain of that after Saturday. Frankly, they’re doing great things over there. And because Leelanau is such a large place, there’s a lot of room for new wineries to take root and spread out.

 In fact, I found out about three new wineries that will be opening their own tasting rooms this summer:

 First off, I spent a little time chatting with the folks from Verterra (it means “true to the soil,” they tell me) a new vineyard and winery just south of Northport – very close to the tip of the peninsula – on some very high ground with great views. They’ve got 29 acres of grapes in the ground already, and are opening a tasting room in Leland. Ultimately, they’re looking to open a tasting room on one of their vineyards, which has splendid vierws of Lake Michigan and the islands.

 Closer to Traverse City, Robert and Edward Brengman are opening a tasting room for their new winery, Brengman Brothers at Crain Hill, just north of town along M-22. The brothers have 45 acres in production and have been raising grapes for Traverse City’s Left Foot Charley winery.

 And in the village of Lake Leelanau, not far from the spot where the northern Michigan wine revolution began – transplanted Ionians Dave and Jane Albert are starting a new wine tasting room called Boathouse Vineyards, on pilings over the Narrows.

 One of the refreshing things I’ve noticed in talking with winemakers in general – and it was particularly striking at Saturday’s gathering – is how open and welcoming they are toward newcomers who are trying to break into the business. In so many areas of our industry, existing companies seem to look at newcomers as unwelcome competitors who will steal their customers, rather than as potential collaborators who can create new energy, attract more consumers to the area and help them improve their own customer service.

 I’m just saying…. It’s really all a question of attitude. Do we spend our time fighting over slices of the same finite pie, or do we look for ways to bake bigger pies?

 Me, I’ll always go for the bigger pie. Just ask my wife.

About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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