Located on Northern end of Lake Michigan, the Old Mission Peninsula is a wine region that is close to my heart. It was the first trip my partner and I ever took together, and it was where we celebrated both our one and five year wedding anniversaries. We also love it because it has so many similarities to the wine region we currently live in, the Finger Lakes, including climate, grape varieties and misconceptions.
Much like the Finger Lakes, Michigan wine country suffers from the misconception that it is a place where you can find great, sweeter wines, particularly Rieslings and fruit wines. And like the Finger Lakes, they are fighting that perception.
“When people come to the area, they always said your red wine is good… for Michigan. We want them to say its good, full stop, end of sentence.” said Michael Hunter, operations manager for 2 Lads Winery.
So, I’ll say it. The Old Mission Peninsula makes great red wine. Full stop. They are also producing amazing dry white wines, interesting dessert wines, well-balanced sweeter wines, and are experimenting with interesting varietals.
What I also love about visiting this region is that it’s a smaller AVA that you can fully explore over the course of a couple days. If you’re looking for a great wine weekend away, you need to check out the Old Mission Peninsula and its affiliated wineries.
How to Get to Old Mission Peninsula
Traverse City is the closest major city to the peninsula, and it does have an airport, though flights are limited. If you’re looking for alternatives, the Detroit or Grand Rapids airports are only a three-hour drive. Take a look at Kayak to see some of the best current flight deals into the area.
Transportation & Tours
You’re probably going to want a car while you’re on the peninsula since the wineries are spread out across the area. Plan on either driving or picking up a rental car. This is a nice option if you’d prefer to travel at your own pace.
If you’d prefer more of a guided experience and a driver, there is one 5-hour tour we highly recommend offered by The Magic Shuttle Bus. You’ll visit four wineries throughout the Old Mission Peninsula and the experience includes round-trip transportation from Traverse City. The drivers are super nice and knowledgeable. Let someone else do the driving and focus on the wine and views. The same company offers a similar tour that lasts for around 4 hours during sunset.
Where to Stay
We like to stay at Chateau Grand Traverse, one of the larger wineries on the peninsula that has a full inn. The inn offers six en-suite rooms, spacious living and dining areas available to guests, an exercise room and full breakfast.
It is a quiet place to take a break from tasting, enjoying the plentiful snacks and drinks available to guests while enjoying the views of vineyards and Lake Michigan. It is also a respite to relax and unwind in front of a roaring fire after a long day of tasting. Another perk of staying at the winery, is that in addition to getting a bottle of wine each night of your stay, you also get free tastings at the winery.
Other options on the peninsula include the Grey Hare Inn, Old Mission Inn, Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn and Neahtawanta Inn.
If you’re looking for a little more active place to stay within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, I’d suggest staying in Traverse City. There are many accommodation options ranging from cute little B&Bs to mega hotels with indoor water parks.
Old Mission Peninsula Wineries to Visit
There are currently eleven wineries to visit on Old Mission Peninsula: 2 Lads Winery, Black Star Farms, Bonobo Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, Chateau Chantal, Chateau Grand Traverse, Hawthorne Vineyards, Mari Vineyards, Peninsula Cellars, and Tabone Vineyards Winery.
We always like to start with 2 Lads Winery; it is the northernmost winery that offers one of the best views of the lake. 2 Lads Winery opened its contemporary glass and concrete tasting room in 2008, with the goal of showcasing red and sparkling wine. They also have a commitment to quality over quantity, both in their wines and in their tasting room. Recently, they shifted their tasting experience from the classic standing bar experience, to a seated one that includes a sampler of food. The goal is to both educate and entertain, while also slowing down the experience so it is more about tasting and less about drinking. The tasting room staff is there to help you deep dive on production methods and go all our nerdy, or just chat with your friends while enjoying the wine, view and food.
I suggest beginning your tasting with their Sparkling Pinot Grigio. It’s totally unique and is a fun way to kick off your Old Mission wine adventure. All of their sparkling is made using the traditional method, where the wine goes through two fermentations to produce bubbles. The Sparkling Pinot Grigio has notes of bright stonefruit and melon with just a whiff of pie crust, and on the palate there are hints of tropical pineapple and tapioca. It is dry, but fruity, meaning its an approachable wine for any palate. Their signature red wine is their Pinot Noir, and they offer three variations: a standard Pinot Noir, which gets less time in oak and is meant to be a little fruitier, their Cuvee Beatrice, which is done in a Burgundian style that is a more nuanced, light take on the grape, and their D Cuvee, which is the biggest, juiciest, and made in the style of a bold Californian.
One of the newer wineries that is making its mark on the peninsula is Mari Vineyards, with their estate grown wines and desire to make Italian varietals work in the Michigan weather. If you’ve ever watched the show Curse of Oak Island, then you know the winery’s owner, Marty Lagina. On the show he’s the more analytical treasure hunting brother, and at the winery his personality really shines. From the Medieval weaponry and old reused wood decorating in the tasting room to their commitment to sustainable energy.
Now, if you think the upstairs tasting bar is cool, then you’ll love exploring the underground cellars that run beneath the tasting room. When tasting, you have a few options: 1) do a normal tasting at the bar, 2) get a tour of the entire winery, or 3) have a tour and tasting in their cellar. Honestly, I’d go for number 3- the cellars are amazing, and you’ll think you really are in an Italian winery.
Riesling is one of the signature grapes of the region, and Mari Vineyards in producing some that are dry, delicious, and different. Their standard Dry Riesling has citrusy notes of lemon, tangerine, and lime peel, with an almost effervescent acidity that will make you smile. The Scriptorium Riesling has those unique Riesling characteristics of petrol and slate, balanced by nectarine and stonefruit.
For reds, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the notes in all of them, which tend towards Old World characteristics. The Merlot has intense almond, cherry and raspberry with a mocha and red plum finish, and a lightness that you don’t normally find in this varietal. The Praefectus — a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon — starts with notes of cherry, cigar box and forest floor, with hints of vegetable notes that remain throughout the palate. I love that this one finished with a chalky chewy tannin and bright cherry acidity.
One of the one unique grapes in the area to seek out is Auxerrois. Hawthorne Vineyards is producing a stand out wine from this varietal. It’s super tropical, with big notes of pineapple and apricot, but then has a spicy buttery finish to it. This wine is almost like a Chardonnay, but with the tropical notes taken to the max. It wasn’t overly acidic, and ended with almost honey notes despite being a dry wine. While you’re at Hawthorne, also check out their Chardonnay- it’s what they are known for, and their Reserve Chardonnay tastes like amaretto, butterscotch, pear and coconut.
Another fun grape to try is Gamay Noir. You probably know about this grape because it is what they grow in Beaujolais, but in Michigan it takes on a whole other flavor profile. Our personal favorite is made by Chateau Grand Traverse. It starts with plum (and is one of the best examples of ‘plum’ in wine), is peppery and earthy throughout, and ends with tart cherry and red plum. It’s an amazing wine for food, but also delicious on its own, and at $16 a bottle I promise you’ll leave with more than one.
Things to Do
If you’re looking for something active to do, there are loads of hiking, biking, and paddling options in the area. We usually like to drive up to the Old Mission Lighthouse before the wineries have opened to explore the hiking trails, wander the beach, and check out the historic lighthouse and log cabin. It’s a fun way to stretch your legs and explore the natural beauty of the peninsula.
Planning Your Getaway
If you’re planning a visit for Summer or Fall, you’re going to get to enjoy the best this region has to offer in terms of weather, non-wine activities, events and nature. But, you’re also going to be fighting crowds and paying a premium for your accommodation.
Personally, we like to visit in late Fall or Winter when the tasting rooms are quieter. You can get one on one appointments and some tasting rooms offer special buy one get one deals. Plus, you’ll probably pay half of what you normally would for a hotel room. However, you’ll need to check the winery hours carefully. Some shut down during the winter or have more limited hours.
Questions? Ask us in the comments or checkout any of these exciting Michigan Peninsula wineries on the Winetraveler App!
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