Discover the Tastes & Treasures of Traverse City A modern gastro-paradise, Traverse City is putting Northern Michigan on the food and wine map. BY TOURING & TASTING
Photo courtesy of Traverse City
A majestic sunset over one of the many wineries found in Northern Michigan's culinary jewel.
“ The locavore movement is alive and well in Traverse City with many restaurants sourcing their beef, eggs, artisan cheeses, and produce from local farms.”
Surrounded by miles and miles of unspoiled shoreline, rolling dunes, wooded glens, and 50-plus sparkling inland lakes, Traverse City, Michigan has long served as a hub for visitors as they discover Northwest Michigan’s many treasures. Through the past decade or so, this lovable town has evolved into a hip destination for visitors who seek out imaginative cuisine, distinctive wines, and a charming, but urban feel.
Perhaps this shift began 40 years ago, when the region’s first European vinifera vines were planted on Old Mission Peninsula. Since then, vineyards have become a regular part of the scenery, gradually increasing in acreage through the years on both Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas. These two long peninsulas extend out into Lake Michigan just north of downtown Traverse City: each with its own AVA designation and vintners association. Old Mission Peninsula is home to eight wineries and Leelanau Peninsula has 25—one-quarter of the wineries in the entire state.
Savoring the Tastes
The area’s vintners have worked tirelessly to bring their wines into the national limelight and they have certainly succeeded. Today,Traverse City (TC) is a bona fide wine region with wines that compete with, and often outscore, wines from New York, California, and even Europe. Readily noted and acclaimed for crafting clear, fresh tasting, cool climate whites like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Grigio, Traverse City area winemakers are also producing some remarkable reds.
"A number of wineries have been growing a good deal of variety for years and years," says Marie-Chantal Dalese, director of marketing for Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula. "For instance, Chateau Chantal, among others, has Merlot plantings dating back to 1986. Cabernet Franc is another non-typical cool climate grape that is making a name for itself here too. I think this region has always branched out from traditional cool climate varietals to experiment with their expressions. When they produce something of interest, that represent sour sense of place, it grows in popularity amongst wineries and growers."
The word "experiment" is used often in the Traverse City wine region. Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Auxerrois, Grüner Veltliner, and Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) all show up on tasting room lists. The recent awards and international recognition are a signal to this region’s winemakers that they have arrived. Now they have more freedom to make the wines they want to make.
Great wine inspires great food, so it’s only logical that Traverse City is now home to many talented chefs. Some have migrated from other cities, and others are graduates of TC’s own Great Lakes Culinary Institute. There’s even a celebrity chef in the mix, although he prefers to vacation when he comes to Traverse City. He’s superstar Chef Mario Batali, who touted Traverse City in Bon Appetit as a "modern gastro-paradise."
Consequently, TC has an incredible assortment of restaurants offering mouthwatering menus (many change daily) with items like house-made charcuterie, lobster risotto cakes, slow-cooked and pulled duck, white-fish roasted in grape leaves, smoked rabbit salad, Northern walleye pike in roasted tomato cream sauce, and chicken blue ciabattas. The locavore movement is alive and well in Traverse City with many restaurants sourcing their beef, eggs, artisan cheeses, and produce from local farms. And, of course, regional wines and craft beers are proudly featured (often in bold) on the menu.
Discovering the Treasures
Besides wining and dining, there are many treasures to see in this delightful, walkable downtown. Take in the City Opera House, the History Center, and the handsome Villageat Grand Traverse Commons (one of the country’s largest historic preservation projects). You’ll find oodles of shops here… and on Front Street. Downtown Traverse City is very compact and it’s easy to get around, but if you ever need directions, just ask. This is a friendly town and the locals are glad you’re here.
In fact, TC welcomes an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year. Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport has year-round daily direct service to Chicago and Detroit, and seasonal direct service to Atlanta, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Cleveland, Denver, and New York.
Traverse City’s breathtaking natural surroundings and sophisticated (yet approachable) downtown have earned much praise. In the spring of 2013 alone, Family Fun named Traverse City one of America’s Top 10 Tourist Towns, and its Sleeping Bear Dunesone of the 10 Favorite Family Destinations and Top 10 Nature Escapes; Fodor’s named it one of America’s 10 Best Small Towns; and Away.com named it one of its Top Ten places for a Four-Day Vacation in the US.
See what they’re all raving about. TheTraverse City website offers lots of information plus an online reservation service. Visit traversecity.com to learn more.