Virginia Wine Fest at Bull Run
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The 41st annual Virginia Wine Fest takes place this weekend, 17 and 18 September 2016, in Bull Run Regional Park, Fairfax, Virginia.
Participating wineries range from AmRhein Wine Cellares to Williamsburg Winery.
New this year: Virginia’s Oyster …

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Home » Wine Destinations, Wine Trails

Wine Touring in Traverse City

Submitted by on November 21, 2011 – 7:03 pmNo Comment

By Michael A. Norton
Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Special to Road Trips for Wine

“Tasting wine should engage all your senses,” says winemaker Mark Johnson. “It’s not just about what’s going on with your tastebuds. What is your nose telling you? How does the wine look in the glass – how does the glass feels in your hand?”

As head winemaker at the Chateau Chantal Winery & Inn near Traverse City, Johnson knows that it doesn’t stop there. A wine-tasting experience can be shaped for better or worse by one’s surroundings – which is why Chateau Chantal’s tasting room was designed to evoke “a unique Old World experience,” with rich wood paneling, wide archways and plenty of enormous windows looking out over the lush vineyards, winding roads and breathtaking scenery of the Old Mission Peninsula.

Across the bay on the region’s other winemaking peninsula, Steve Grossnickle of Forty-Five North Vineyard & Winery took a different approach. Like Johnson, Grossnickle believes that wine-tasting is improved by “pleasant surroundings and personnel.” But as a native of rural Indiana, he thought there was something “contrived” about the faux German, Italian or even Californian décor of other tasting rooms.

His solution was to build a tasting room that looked like an antique barn. At one point, he even dismantled a 120-year-old barn from southern Michigan and brought it up to his Lake Leelanau winery in hopes of turning it into a tasting room. When that didn’t work, he hired Amish carpenters to create a new one.

There’s certainly a wide range of experiences available for the would-be wine enthusiast. If you’d like to pretend you’re James Bond sneaking into a European embassy party, there are elegant places like Chateau Chantal, Brys Estate, Circa Estate or Ciccone Vineyard & Winery. On the other hand, you could wander into an ultra-modern tasting room like 2 Lads Winery, which looks like it could be the secret lair for a Bond film’s super-villain.

At first blush, Bryan Ulbrich’s choice of a tasting-room site might seem completely devoid of atmosphere: he started his Left Foot Charley winery in a sprawling postwar brick building that once housed the laundry for the former Northern Michigan Asylum. But with its cheerful décor, mellow music and enormous windows overlooking the turreted buildings of the old asylum (now the bustling Village at Grand Traverse Commons), Left Foot Charley perfectly expresses its owner’s principles about what American wine is all about.

He’s not alone. Bernie Rink still sells his Boskydel Vineyard wines in an unpretentious utility building at the edge of his Lake Leelanau vineyard. What you get instead of continental atmosphere is the chance to check out the hilarious “bartered art” left by visiting dignitaries and celebrities over the years, and – if you’re lucky – to chat with the man who started the Traverse City wine industry four decades ago.

The vibe isn’t all that much different a few miles to the south, where Larry Mawby produces some of the best sparkling wines in the country but holds tastings in what could be a basement rec room behind his house – except that it’s a room with astonishingly pretty views of a little pastoral valley. Similar witticisms adorn the walls, and Larry is often around to supply thoughtful conversation.

The stylings of tasting rooms are as varied as the wines they serve, in fact. There are opulent movie-set places like Chateau Chantal, small-but-quaint spots like Bowers Harbor Vineyards and Willow Vineyards, and utilitarian outlets like Good Harbor Vineyards, Chateau de Leelanau and Silver Leaf Vineyard & Winery. There are tasting rooms that accentuate their agricultural roots (Black Star Farms is a real farm, and Shady Lane Cellars built their tasting room out of a remodeled chicken coop.) and even one tasting room – Peninsula Cellars – that was once an 1896 country schoolhouse.

In the village of Omena, just south of Northport, is one of the region’s oldest wineries, Leelanau Wine Cellars. The industrial heart of its winemaking operation is tucked out of sight on a hilltop away from the village, but its tasting room is in a former gas station on M-22 with sweeping views of the harbor and West Grand Traverse Bay.

“We created this to be a four-season room,” says winery manager Tony Lentych. “Staring out at Omena Point while you’re sipping a glass of our wine – even in winter watching a winter storm sweep across the bay — is an amazing experience. It blows people away.”

To learn more about visiting Traverse City, go online.

(Photo of Brys Estate Winery courtesy of Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau)

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