Sipping and Tasting in Downtown Traverse City

By Sarah Jaquay

Like many oenophiles, when I’m near a wine-growing region I want to sample local product. Occasionally time pressure doesn’t allow for leisurely visits to wineries in pastoral vineyards outside towns or urban centers. Such was the case when my husband and I extended a Michigan trip to include a whirlwind 48 hours in Traverse City. I asked the experts where I could taste some wines from the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in downtown Traverse City. These peninsulas surround Grand Traverse Bay and boast a microclimate that delays bud break in the spring and continues to warm its flanks in autumn (much like Lake Erie does for Northern Ohio wineries.) Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to drive to wineries known for their panoramic views and respected vintages, such as Mari Vineyards, Brys Estate and Black Star Farms.


“Our region is known for its Rieslings,” notes Andrew Kemp, general manager of Artisan, the restaurant at DELAMAR Traverse City hotel. Kemp is a Court of Master Sommeliers member and part of the team opening one of Traverse City’s newest resorts. Perched on Grand Traverse Bay, this resort is one of Delamar’s largest boutique properties and the only one outside New England. Kemp is developing Artisan’s wine list and already has several local wines on the menu. We started our scrumptious waterfront dinner with Sex, a sparkling rose from Mawby Vineyards. “Mawby was a pioneer in sparkling wines [from this area],” Kemp told us. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Muscat offering cherry aromas and flavors with enough tartness to avoid being cloying. Sex was refreshing with Artisan’s creative shrimp cocktail tossed with avocado, fresh corn and grapefruit in a delicate dressing. Another highlight was Left Foot Charley Winery’s semi-dry Le Caban Riesling that’s been described as “delicate sweetness wrapped around an electric core of acid.”


A surprising place to explore local wines is Grand Traverse Distillery on busy Front Street. They primarily showcase the distillery’s spirits but also offer wines from Shady Lane Cellars and Brengman Brothers Winery. Shady Lane is an estate winery known for its Blaufrankisch (a red variety widely grown in Austria that has berry tones with high acidity) and an Alsatian-style Pinot Gris. Ed and Robert Brengman started their winery in 2003 with Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Brengman Brothers is now known for their award-winning Pinot Noir Rose and a Sauvignon Blanc that’s more like a Sancerre than New Zealand styles.


If you really want to go crazy tasting local producers, be sure to visit Left Foot Charley’s Barrel Room on the grounds of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. “GTC,” as the locals call it, is truly one of the nation’s most unique lifestyle communities. A sprawling architectural marvel once the home of the Northern Michigan Asylum, GTC now houses shops, restaurants, tasting rooms and residences. Left Foot Charley’s Barrel Room is in the Asylum’s former root vegetable cellar. It’s a cozy enclave where guests may experience winemaker Bryan Ulbrich’s Double Gold tasting. Ulbrich is a talented vintner who started his operation by bartering services for grapes. Their 2017 Dry Riesling is evocative of Alsatian-style Rieslings and their 2018 Blaufrankisch Reserve and Kerner were revelations. Kerner is a rare cool-climate grape originally grown in Eastern Germany. “It’s only grown on one acre on Leelanau and one on Old Mission,” Ulbrich explains. Ulbrich doesn’t own any vineyards but sources his grapes from quality producers on both peninsulas.


So if you’re a wine lover with time for three stops in Traverse City, hit Artisan at DELAMAR Traverse City hotel, Grand Traverse Distillery’s tasting room and Left Foot Charley’s at Grand Traverse Commons. You can always drive out the peninsulas on your next visit.


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