UP NORTH: Just Beautiful…

13 Jun

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Today we’re in Wine Country driving next to sandy shorelines on roads that slope, meander and snake past vineyards, orchards and turquoise blue water. To get here we didn’t need plane tickets or passports we just pointed the car northwest and drove until we arrived in Traverse City. We cut into a neighborhood that follows the coast line, as soon as we turn onto East Bay Blvd our vacation officially begins; stunning blue water on the right, magnificent homes on the left, I could spend the whole day looking at this view. We continue on East Shore road and are treated the same spectacular scenery. It’s late May and it seems we have Old Mission Peninsula all to ourselves, only one thing to do now, let’s go visit some wineries.

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We make a left on McKinley Rd, Black Star Farms will be our first stop. Vineyards and orchards surround the tasting room and state-of-the-art wine-making and distilling facility. The quaint building of red with white trim overlooks east bay. Inside a round bar constructed of wine barrels takes center stage; here we taste wines, ciders and spirits. I like everything we try but one stands out from the rest, Sirius Maple, an apple wine with maple syrup, it’s really nice, wrap one up please. I walk around the tasting room looking at bottles stored vertically and horizontally, cork screws, stoppers, gift bags and wine glasses, each bearing the Black Star logo. At the register bottles of wine wear ribbons and medals as Michigan wines continue to earn accolades.

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Further up Center Rd an Italian-looking villa sits high on a bluff, this is Mari Vineyards. Owner Marty Lagina chose to grow exotic varieties of grapes that don’t normally grow in Michigan; Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, along with classics like Cabernet-Franc and Merlot. The planting of thousands of vines took place in 1999, it was quite an undertaking, at one point vines were grabbed haphazardly from their soaking tanks and planted, the problem was nobody knew exactly which varieties they planted so the first 7 rows are a random assortment of grapes. 2006 was the first year for the official production of Mari’s flagship wine named Row 7. We step inside the building, wood and stone make up the majority of the decor, Medieval-style chandeliers hang from antique-looking beams. A small group is at the tasting bar, I sidle up alongside them and study the menu. Kris and I share the tastes, this way we can try more without slurring our speech. Kris heads out to the patio, I join him after paying for our bottle. It’s a postcard view; west bay, hillsides, vineyards and wildflowers. Visitors relax in chairs, feet up on ottomans sipping rose’, not a bad way to spend the day.

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Hawthorne Vineyards is one of the most secluded wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, the tasting room is surrounded by woods and vineyards with a picturesque view of west bay. The owners purchased this 80 acre farm filled with grapevines, cherry and plum trees; they planted additional vinifera on 26 acres. This boutique vineyard features small production wines from their estate fruit. The private driveway weaves its way to the stone and blue-sided tasting room. Inside the quaint space pale green walls meet up with a white ceiling, large windows reveal rolling hills and barns. We try wines made from Lemberger, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Cab Franc grapes and fruits. The Cherry Splendor was our favorite, made from Balaton and Montmorency cherries it is the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

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After all that tasting I’m thinking it’s time to eat. We cut over to Peninsula Drive and enjoy the drive along west bay until we reach the old Bower’s Harbor Inn and Jolly Pumpkin. Just inside the entrance a variety of Jolly Pumpkin swag is for sale, I like the t-shirts. We are routed to a table on the far side of the dining room passing a multitude of beer mugs hanging from the ceiling, glass grapes and an eclectic mix of light fixtures. We get right down to business and order some lunch, fortunately the place is kind of quiet this late in the afternoon so our food comes out quickly. The Rocket Arugula Salad is a tasty mix of arugula, apples, spiced walnuts, mango ginger Stilton cheese, fried parsnips, tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The BBQ Chicken Pizza features grilled chicken breast, red onion, pickled jalapeno, mozzarella and white cheddar sitting atop a bbq sauce covered crust,  outstanding, all of it. 

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The front property at Bower’s Harbor Inn is Mission Table restaurant and tasting room. The upscale farm to table restaurant serves up local ingredients inside and on a gorgeous waterfront deck; we’re here for a tasting. Inside we make a sharp left to the tasting bar, taking our seats we are given a choice of tasting beer, cider or spirits, you can even mix it up, which we did. A couple of beers, a cider and some bourbon lead to a conversation about the Inn, turns out the place was built in the 1880’s. The building was remodeled in the 1920’s when lumber baron JW Stickney and his wife Genevive bought it. There’s an eerie story attached to the estate. Genevive had health issues so an elevator was installed in the house. At one point Mr Stickney hired a nurse to help care for his wife, the nurse became his mistress. Stickney died of a stroke, leaving the house to his wife but all of his money to the nurse. Genevive became depressed and hung herself from the rafters in the elevator shaft. They say she still haunts this place to this day; lights turn off and on, same with the faucets, mirrors and paintings fall off the walls…Boo! We’re able to have a look around upstairs and downstairs; lots of dark wood, leaded glass and pretty fireplaces.

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We continue our scenic drive north to the end of the peninsula coming back Swaney Rd. We stop at Haserot beach and marvel at the clarity of the water, tourist season hasn’t begun yet so the place is ours. Back to the car, we go south on Smokey Hollow Rd following the water to Bluff Rd; just us on a 2-lane road feeling like we’re in a dream. Vineyards, farms, hops, fruit trees; boats tied up to docks beckoning to go out into the big lake. Low clouds hover on the horizon, enormous, tasteful  homes being built in the sand, islands  in the distance, today it feels like they’re showing off just for us. We drive on, the water pacifies us, we delight in the beauty surrounding us; no billboards, strip malls, gas stations, traffic jams, is this heaven?

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We have time for one more stop, Bonobo Winery  has a different feel to it. It’s  more of a contemporary-rustic style with an elegant flair. Bonobo offers tastings, wine by the glass and small plates curated by Mario Batalli; here you are encouraged to linger, hang out for the afternoon. The winery is owned by Traverse City natives and brothers Todd and Carter Oosterhouse. If the name sounds familiar to you, you may have seen Carter as one of the resident carpenters on HGTV’s Trading Spaces, yes, that guy. The decor actually looks like it could be on HGTV, little sitting areas, lots of unique and vintage items carefully placed throughout the space. Grapes are estate grown and wine is produced on-site. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling; we’re here for the wine. I order a glass of the recommended white and join Kris on the deck.  We sip slowly taking in the panoramic view, it really is breathtaking. 

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As hard as it is to drag ourselves away from all of this we still have a drive ahead of us. We’re able to catch the sunset in Charlevoix, gorgeous! Now on to Petoskey…

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