1. The floral and fruity “notes” are added ingredients.
I’m just going to straight up admit it.: GUILTY. As I quickly learned in my trips around the trail, unless, the wine happens to be a fun exception – like 45 North’s Peach Fizz – for the most part, all of these unique notes, aromas, and aftertastes that you’re supposed to experience* are all from the GRAPE. Admittedly, I also opted out of chemistry my junior year in high school the minute I found out it was just an elective...so my confusion makes a lot of sense. Still, having pretty much zero understanding of chemical compounds (is that what you call them?) I continue to be fascinated that the wine grapes themselves can give off all of those scents and flavors. This complexity - and the fact that it takes place here in northern Michigan in spite of long winters and a bunch of snow is part of what makes wine so very special. Which brings me to #2!
*Don’t worry if you’re not great at deciphering these nuances in the wine—it will start to happen with enough tasting practice.
2. Snow is to wine as summer is to skiers.
The next time you’re up around wintertime and it’s snowing, rejoice—because that’s actually a GOOD thing for our wine region. In fact, as I quickly learned from my Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail friends, snow acts as an insulator, protecting the vines from harsh winds and freezing temperatures. Knowing this interesting little tidbit has really helped me embrace the snow. As I drive throughout the peninsula throughout the winter encountering the copious amounts of snow we get up here, I truly take in the wintery scene with a sense of gratitude – even now in late February – knowing that it’s not only magical looking but critical to our vines.
3. Visiting Wineries on the Traverse Wine Coast is Intimidating
My first real wine expedition happened in California wine country. Though I won’t name the trail or even region, I have to admit that I felt very aware that I was out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t that the tasting room people were unfriendly, per se—but I certainly didn’t feel empowered to really explore, ask questions, and dump the leftover wine I did not care for down the spitoon.
Moving up here and working so closely with the wineries exposed me to a completely different world. One where winemakers are often found in the tasting room pouring your selections. Or the owner is a retired professional who chooses to spend his/her remaining years sharing a lifelong passion for wine. The wineries are all so different from each other, but if you take the time to really stop and enjoy each experience, it won’t take long to feel like you made some friends. And their wine clubs and events throughout the year make staying connected really easy.
Just on Leelanau Peninsula alone, there are over 20 wineries. A few summers back when I helped answer phones in the wine trail office, I quickly realized the perfect analogy to explain to first timers that I still use today: packing all of the wineries into a weekend trip is like touring all of Europe in five days. You’re going to feel rushed, disconnected, and not to menton, your head is really going to hurt because of it. My advice: is to choose no more than a handful of wineries per day along a loop [link loop to lpwines.com] or based on your own research of what looks interesting. And plan to stop for some bites along the way, unless you come packin’ with snacks.
5. Plan Ahead - Or Jump on a Tour.
The biggest rookie mistake I see people make over and over is hitting the first winery that’s closest to where they’re staying and working their way out. If you have a little patience, I promise it will pay off. Instead of winging it, try to build a game plan. Start out with a great breakfast in Glen Arbor, then head directly to the winery that is FARTHEST away, enjoying the picturesque drive you’ll encounter along the way. You will find yourself lost just in the experience of cruising the peninsula because it’s that pretty. Once you arrive at your first winery, enjoy, savor, ask questions, buy a bottle (or case) of what you love, then start to work your way back. By the time you’ve reached your limit, you’re close to your B&B, hotel, or rental in Glen Arbor.