We arose to the peace and quiet of the country, out the back window the cows were already grazing. After a quick breakfast ourselves, we were out the door; we had a full day ahead. Between the place we were staying and the place we were going, is a historic Traverse City landmark now known as The Village At Grand Traverse Commons. One of the largest historic preservation and mixed-use projects in the nation, it took a former mental health facility and turned it into a unique place to shop, eat and live; both cool and creepy at the same time. The size of the complex is daunting; Victorian-Italianate structures are expansive in size and number.We had very little time to investigate; we parked the car and did a quick walk through of one of the buildings, it’s remarkable what they have done. Once abandoned property is now home to thriving restaurants and bakeries, artists sell their creations in individual galleries, entrepreneurs give their dream business a go, it’s all very grass-roots. We passed a coffee shop and winery in one building, a cheesecake shop in another, there’s so much to see; it will have to wait until our next visit, the big lake was calling……..
Narrowly situated between the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay is Old Mission Peninsula (sigh). I think of it as Michigan’s own little piece of paradise. As opposed to using Center Rd (37) take the lesser traveled routes like Peninsula Drive, Smokey Hollow Road and Bluff Rd, they offer spectacular views; for much of the drive the sparkling turquoise water of Lake Michigan is in sight. Lush vineyards heavy with grapes grow on slopes of land as far as the eye can see; apple orchards are getting ready for their big show in the fall, roadside stands offer ripe peaches and “washed” cherries. Fertile farmland is home to tall stalks of corn, ripening tomatoes and lovely red barns sitting in fields. Plots of land are filled with hundreds of leafy green hops climbing up support wires, cherry trees are hoping for better luck next season. From the road we see an amazing array of homes; a tall, narrow, glass house in contemporary design sits right at the shoreline, long modern ranches are terraced into the bluffs, perched way up high grand homes get a panoramic view of both bays. There are no traffic lights, fast food restaurants, gas stations or billboards; a welcome change from city life. A seasonal road invites us to take a ride through the dense woods, two dirt tracks lead the way. Before long, large rocks make it impossible to continue, we park and walk the rest of the way. The terrain of course, is deep sand, bits of sticks poke out so we keep our shoes on, we emerge from the cool shade of the woods into the heat and sun on the beach. The lake is magnificent; the color varies from the clear sandy shore to the azure of the deep water, it is breathtaking. There is not another soul in either direction, the scene is ours for the keeping. Gentle waves lap the shoreline, the air is still, I find a rock to use as a chair as Kris tries to capture the serenity of the setting in photos.
You may have heard that Michiganders know a thing or two about making wine; seven wineries call Old Mission Peninsula home, giving us the opportunity to see for ourselves what all the buzz is about. Our first stop is Bowers Harbor Vineyards, I love the drive to the parking area; it gives you a up-close look at the vines. Inside our senses are awakened with the aroma of wine; visitors mill about selecting bottles from racks, we head to the bar to indulge in a tasting. We go down the list from dry to sweet, enjoying every pour, making note of the ones we like best, conversation flows easily, you can’t help but enjoy the experience. We carefully place our purchase in the Jeep and make the drive to 2 Lads. Positioned high on a bluff, the building’s design is purely contemporary, the wall behind the tasting bar is all glass, offering an incredible overlook of land and lake. Not usually white wine drinkers, we find the Michigan whites irresistible; we carefully place our bottles besides the others in the Jeep.
When we are on the peninsula we make it a point to pick up lunch at the Old Mission General Store in Old Mission. Put the store on your list of places to visit; built in the mid 1800′s it has always been a trading post of sorts. Pass through the doorway and back in time; if the owner is there be sure and say hello, if you’re lucky he’ll tell you a few stories. The interior is a hodge podge of things old and new; a black pot-bellied stove sits front and center, antique lanterns and signs hang from the rafters, the wood plank floor creeks as shoppers wander around. Wooden barrels contain ginger snaps, and dill pickles, old-fashioned glass jars tempt with red and black licorice, Moomers ice cream is being scooped onto cones. We head over to the prepared food counter, we order their awesome Italian sandwich and pick up a few sides. With cold root beer from the cooler and a handful of napkins we have all the fixings for a picnic on the beach. Haserot beach is just down the road; picnic tables reside in the sand facing the east arm; kayaks, swimmers and boats all compete for space off shore. We unpack our brown paper bag of delicious edibles and devour our lunch. There are still five more wineries to visit…..
Old Mission Peninsula is located at the globe’s 45th parallel; an ideal wine growing region which also includes the Bordeaux region of France and the Piedmont and Lombardy region of Italy. Grapes grown here consist of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling and more; the local ice wine is excellent. Next on our list was Chateau Chantal; high atop a ridge, it offers the most exquisite view. After our tastings we take a stroll on the patio; both east and west bays can be seen from this vantage point, the land between green with vineyards and orchards, breathtaking. We drop by Brys Estate and Chateau Grand Traverse; the tasting room of each unique, we always find something we like. Peninsula Cellars is a converted one room schoolhouse built around 1896; with the original windows, floor, slate boards and bell still in place it has a great atmosphere. The staff that does the pouring is super friendly and knowledgeable, this was the place we liked the most wines; as a matter of fact, we needed a box to get our selections to the car! At the southern end of the peninsula is Black Star Farms, we make our way to the tasting bar which is made from wine barrels, of course! We sample wine, eat crackers and have nice conversation, not a bad way to spend a day right? I like walking around the ‘showrooms’, as I call them; each winery has its own personality, wine bottles are displayed with award-winning ribbons, some offer fruit and cheese to go, chocolate is always available. The vines themselves are lovely; tight clusters of grapes hang gracefully waiting for the harvest, it is all so picturesque.
After resting at the condo we drive to downtown Traverse City for dinner; it’s a perfect evening to be outside, the film festival has come to an end, people are out on the sidewalks in great numbers. Again eateries are staying open late to accommodate the influx of tourists; we are hoping for an open table at Poppycock’s. When we arrived there was a short wait, at 10pm the place was still buzzing with patrons. We were famished, so we swiftly made our selections. The Front Street salad comes with chunks of cherry jalapeno glazed chicken breast and a lemon cherry vinaigrette, quite good. The cherry almond salmon is also a tasty dish; almond crusted salmon is served over a bed of orzo and a side of grilled asparagus, yum. After dinner we spent some time just walking around, the later it got the quieter the town became; at some point we were two of the very few people left on the streets. Each night as we drive back to the condo we are treated to a star-studded sky, tonight’s was extraordinary. As we drove along the now familiar Cedar Run Rd it hit me that this was our last night here, but I am content, I know that when I leave I will be taking with me the unforgettable experience that is “up north”.