There is something special about Northern Michigan in the summertime. It's home to beautiful lakes, but also a variety of wineries that compete with others around the world! I recently had two friends who have never been to the Great Lake State and I knew that Traverse City was the perfect destination, especially for a Traverse City Wine Tour!
Table of Contents
- Growing Grapes in Michigan
- Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula
- Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat in Traverse City
- Transportation Suggestions
- Do I need to Make a Reservation for a Traverse City Wine Tour?
- How Much Does Each Tasting Cost?
- Wineries We visited on our Traverse City Wine Tour
- Traverse City Wine Tour FAQs
- Other Travel Guides to Explore
Whether you're looking for private tours, a tasting room for a group, or trying some Michigan hard ciders, the Traverse City area is the perfect location for winery tasting and exploring! Located at the 45th parallel, Traverse City is easy to access, great for a day trip or spend a long weekend here. It's a short drive away from the sleeping bear dunes, has sweeping panoramic views across the peninsula, and is a great time (especially in the summer)!
There are a number of noteworthy wines you should taste while exploring Traverse wine coast, especially pinot noir, cabernet franc, chardonnay, and pinot grigio. You'll taste amazing wines with spectacular views and maybe even listen to some live music during peak season. It's certainly quieter than Napa Valley, however, in the last 30 years, the Michigan Wine market has boomed and in tandem, beer tours have blossomed.
Growing Grapes in Michigan
It seems obvious to say, but Michigan is the Great Lake State. It has about ⅕ of the world's fresh surface water and surprisingly, a favorable climate for viticulture. Conditions for growing grapes in Northern Michigan vary because of its unique location and cool climate. The "lake effect" is very important as it helps to reduce frost risks, moderate temperatures, and extend the growing season (as Michigan's annual climate varies greatly).
Similar to grapes grown in Napa Valley, the summer months is crucial for grape development in Michigan, with warmer days and cooler evenings. It is the ideal climate as it allows for grapes to ripen slowly while maintaining acidity. Grape vines are harvested in fall, which continues to experience warm days and cooler evenings. During this time, the grapes are developing complex flavors and the grounds are bursting with nutrient dense, fertile soil.
Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula
There are two peninsulas near Traverse City: Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula. Both are home to some incredible wineries. This blog post will cover vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula with some helpful tips if you're visiting the area.
Ideally, two days is plenty to explore the Traverse area wineries; as they share similar views and after that much vino, it can feel redundant. We visited three wineries on a beautiful, sunny September Saturday and it was everything (the kind of everything that reminds you how great living in the State of Michigan is).
There are a number of wineries on the peninsula that are less than a 5 minute drive from each one. Here are some of the most popular:
- Bowers Harbor Vineyards (One of Designated Deb's favorites!)
- Chateau Chantal - one of the most popular and large producing wineries on the peninsula. Personally, I'd skip it. The wine isn't great and it's always busy.
- Peninsula Cellars (it's nickname is the Schoolhouse and all of the wines are named after schoolwork!) Deb said it's charming and quaint.
- Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery - This is one of my personal favorites. Relaxing, covered patio and TASTY summer frose!
- Bonobo Winery - It's only 4 years old and you can feel it! Evolved, yet industrial. Great vibes!
- Mari Vineyard - we didn't visit this one, but just driving by it, you feel transported to Tuscany
- Hawthorne Vineyards - I recently visited here for a bachelorette trip and it was lovely. It's some of my favorite wine I've had on the peninsula and the wine tasting experience was incredibly relaxed.
Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail
This area is next on my list to explore. I've heard such wonderful things about the peninsula and the town of Leelanau. It's a charming fishing town and a picturesque wine region, with rolling hills and endless country roads. It's the sister peninsula to Old Mission Peninsula. If you drive in from Traverse city, spend an afternoon in Suttons Bay (another great town in Northern Michigan).
Here are a few exceptional wineries you can discover along the Leelanau Penisula:
- Black Star Farms - debatably the most popular and favorite!
- Chateau Fontaine
- Shady Lane Cellars
- Willow Vineyard
- 45 North Vineyard & Winery
Where to Stay
Downtown Traverse City is a magnificent place to stay, as it's lively and easy to access. If you're looking for something quieter or closer to the water, try renting an airbnb on chateau grand traverse, Mission Peninsula, or in Leelanau (an adorable fishing town near TC). Hotel Indigo has a great rooftop bar and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. It's a wonderful place to stay and grab a drink at.
Where to Eat in Traverse City
I have family who are Traverse City locals. Here are some spots they recommend:
Brunch / Coffee
- Red Spire (in Building 50/ the commons)
- Towne Plaza
- Sugar to Salt
- Farm Club (super trendy)
- Jolly Pumpkin
- Little Fleet (great food trucks)
- The Flying Noodle
- The Boat House
Things to Do
- Pyramid Point or Empire Bluffs hike
- Peninsula Drive (lots of vineyards / overlook)
- Glen Arbor/Leland
If you are traveling with less than 6 people, Designated Deb has my highest recommendation. She will pick you up from your home/hotel, take you to any and every winery, and offer lovely company along the way. We coordinated with her a few days prior to our Traverse City winery tour and were lucky she was still available!!
Tip: Bring a cooler of refreshments and snacks for you to stay hydrated during the tastings. Most wineries offer food and beverage, but it was extra convenient to have snacks in her car.
I've also heard good things about Traverse City Wine Girl. They were already booked when I was looking; but another great option for group tours. If you are traveling with a larger group, we have have used Brew Bus in the past and liked it! This is especially great if staying farther away from the city, as they service the greater Traverse City Area.
Note: most ride share apps are incredibly limited around Traverse City. As one winery's website stated: it's a four hour walk back to the city if you are left out on the Peninsula. I would not rely on any of them.
Do I need to Make a Reservation for a Traverse City Wine Tour?
A few years ago, the answer was an easy no. However, I absolutely recommend making a reservation for any an all wineries now. I scheduled our three tastings for 1 hour and 15 minutes apart and it gave us a good hour at each one.
Some of the wineries will have you prepay for tastings and initially I didn't like that; however, it made our life so much easier. I highly recommend that. You'll be able to select any wine from their tasting menu once you arrive.
How Much Does Each Tasting Cost?
This will vary by each winery! However, most of them were between $8-$21 dollars and varied between 3 and 5 tastings. All of the Traverse City wineries we went to offered tastings; but double check as I know some only offer by the glass or bottle.
Wineries We visited on our Traverse City Wine Tour
We made a reservation for every vineyard and it felt needed. We went on a Saturday afternoon in September and the wineries were buzzing!!
- Chateau Chantal: The vineyard sits up on a hill overlooking East Bay (Lake Michigan) on one side and West Bay (Lake Michigan) on the other. It's breezy and lovely. It was the cheapest tasting we did; but also our least favorite wine. There is a large outdoor patio and feels very commercially oriented. I believe there is an Inn on the property and that would be lovely to stay at!
- Bonobo Winery: This is one of the newest wineries on the Peninsula and we loved the modern farmhouse inspired design. It has cornhole, many purposefully staged photography moments, and indoor and outdoor seating. The tasting was 5 wines; 4 white ones and one red wine. They are notably open later than every other vineyard, and after 6pm, you'll be able to tell. Everyone flocks there 🙂
- Brys Estate & Vineyard: This is by far my favorite winery we visited. Make a reservation for their upper deck patio and experience the stunning views. I felt transported to the East Coast. It offers seasonal wine drinks, sits on a lavender farm, serve award-winning wine, and I think have the best tasting wines, too! They offer tastings of 3 or 5; and we preferred the Rose and bubbly wines (I was shocked - I am a Cab girl, through and through). They close earlier than some other wineries though; so be sure you leave yourself enough time to enjoy the blissful space.
Traverse City Wine Tour FAQs
Great question, are you a cider or beer lover instead? There are some wineries that also serve cider! Try looking into a brewery too. We are residents in Elk Rapids, and Short's Brewing is always poppin'!! It's a 30 minute drive from Traverse City.
If you ask the Michigan native, I think most would tell you between July and end of September. Those are the peak months that the weather is beautiful, and so are the views. A lot of the wineries stay open year-round. Check every Vineyard's seasonal hours as they do change just to be sure!
Other Travel Guides to Explore
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. It’s my passion to share about traveling that can aid your experience or be shared with others. Let me know if you have any questions; happy to answer them below! Safe travels XO Courtney Paige