Traverse City, Michigan is a destination that changes noticeably with the seasons. The slower tourist season from November until April brings cascades of snow offering a winter wonderland for those who enjoy skiing, ice fishing, and hunting.
As the climate changes in May and June with high temperatures in the 70’s and the summer months warm up to an average high temperature of 82 degrees, Traverse City is well established as one of America’s favorite destinations to celebrate spring and summer.
The wine and food scene has exploded in the region. Winemakers, chefs and local farmers are creating an experience that connects visitors to the land found amongst lakes, dunes, hills and sunlit fields.
Two of the area’s wine-growing regions, the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas, are home to nearly 50 wineries. The wine culture was born out of the cherry industry. Traverse City still grows 80% of the cherries sold in America. Winemakers and vineyard managers have discovered that the ideal conditions for growing cherries such as sandy soil, elevation, location near water, and seasonable temperatures, are closely associated with the ideal conditions for growing wine grapes as found in other northern wine regions of the world.
25 years ago, Traverse City would not have been recognized as a wine country destination. However, that has changed. The surroundings of the white sand beaches, the blue waters of Lake Michigan, the golf courses, the hiking and biking trails have been joined by the addition of beautifully designed wineries that produce an almost European style wine, with a Northern Michigan character.
As the industry flourishes, new wineries and tasting rooms are opening. Additions to the scene include a new tasting room with panoramic views at Bluestone Vineyards. Bluestone’s owner Tom Knighton says that the wineries of the Traverse Bay region are “making wines that people respect.”
The cool climate viticulture allows winemakers to achieve a nice balance between fruit and acidity. Rieslings, Gewürztraminers and Pinot Blancs are at the forefront of the Northern Michigan white wines. Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir, a Vinifera cultivar, are the leading varietals in red wines.
Dining on a waterfront is popular in this land of lakes. Guests enjoy the sunset at the Boathouse overlooking the beautiful Bowers Harbor. The 107 year old Riverside Inn is lovingly restored along the banks of the Leland River and offers an excellent selection of local wines. Gastronomic destinations also include Leelanau Cheese, Grand Traverse Pie Company, and Tandem Ciders.
While Traverse City has long been popular as a driving destination by Midwesterners, the area’s growing reputation as a wine and food destination has led to impressive growth at the Cherry Capital Airport. “People are choosing the ease and friendliness of traveling by air to Traverse City” says Brad Van Dommelen, Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO.
“We consider the airport to be the first welcome mat to the region,” says airport spokesperson Susan Wilcox-Olson. Traverse City connects direct to LaGuardia, Newark, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Denver. The number of daily flights to Atlanta has more than doubled in the last 24 months.
As a gateway to the local wine county, it seems only fitting that many of the acclaimed wines of Traverse City are offered for purchase at the airport gift shop after the friendly check point allowing travelers to bring wine on board. “We want everyone to feel the heritage of the region, like they are walking down Main Street,” says Wilcox-Olson.
Air travel to a wine region like Traverse City is the recommended way to go if your drive is more than 1 day. You will have plenty of time on the road while you are. Touring the beautiful sights, visiting the excellent restaurants, and of course, wine tasting which has become the region’s newest claim to fame.
Iron Chef Mario Batali, who has had a home in Traverse City for 15 years, remains an ambassador to the region. “If you visit, you’ll understand there’s nothing this close to scratching those itches like Tuscany and Sonoma. Traverse City is real and I love it. It’s a remarkable place,” he says.
Brys Estate Winery and Vineyards lets visitors celebrate summer on Old Mission Peninsula
“We want to let visitors take part in this beautiful experience of visiting wine country,” says owner Tom Knighton of their new tasting room at Bluestone Vineyards
Wining and dining at The Boat House is one of many outstanding local restaurants with waterfront seating
The terminal at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City. The airport continues to see ridership gains
Pedestrian-friendly downtown Traverse City blooms with pear and crabapple trees in the
spring and offers nearly 150 boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and galleries.