On the outside of a white barn near Suttons Bay, Michigan, Tandem Ciders’ namesake bike hangs above the green door. Red and slightly abused, it’s a reminder of the bike tour of England that transformed Nikki and Dan Young from beer fans to hard cider fans—and producers.
Inside the white barn, a different sort of alchemy takes place. Humble apples become hard ciders: the sweet-tasting Smackintosh or dry Idyll Days. Rhubarb and ginger become bubbly sodas. Strangers at the long wood bar of the tasting room become friends.
Tandem Ciders is one of 10 wine and cider tasting rooms on the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail’s Northern Loop, a 38-mile drive passing a lighthouse to reach villages with cozy inns. It’s one of three interconnected wine trails in the Leelanau Peninsula: Six wineries dot the Sleeping Bear Loop, and eight line the Grand Traverse Bay Loop. Altogether, the trails cover 93 miles and encompass a quarter of Michigan’s wineries.
Lake Michigan insulates the peninsula from weather extremes, which results in ideal growing conditions for grapes rarely encountered in the Midwest, such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. That said, sweet fruit wines, like cherry, also abound, providing options for any palate.
And all those tasting rooms scatter throughout one of the Midwest’s most beautiful vacation areas—just outside Traverse City.
A drive on virtually any road through the peninsula provides a steady stream of huge views encompassing vineyards, orchards and hills rolling out to the blue waters of Lake Leelanau, Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan proper.
Many of the wineries use the scenery to their advantage. Glass walls at Blustone Vineyards look over tidy rows of trellised grapes. The same aesthetic appears in their wines—clean and crisp with hints of pears or peaches. Leelanau Wine Cellars’ perch on the shore of Lake Michigan affords horizon views from the second-floor tasting room, and when the sun sets, the lake’s red-hue shimmer echoes the shade of the winery’s ruby-red port.
Local bed-and-breakfasts also celebrate the peninsula’s rich soil and scenery. At the circa-1910 Hillside Homestead Farm Stay, for instance, guests can opt for a dinner prepared over a wood-burning stove. Meals inspired by recipes from the early 1900s include produce from the Homestead’s farm. The tangy salad of wild ramps and nasturtiums precedes an entree of roast chicken in currant sauce. The perfect beverage? A glass of hard cider.
To plan your trip, the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail has printed and online maps, as well as an iPhone app. Guided tours and festivals, such as the June 21, 2014, Traverse City Wine and Art Festival, are good introductions, too. (231) 271-7100; lpwines.com
Four more on the trail
1 Black Star Farms Stroll the vineyard of this Grand Traverse Bay Loop farm, then sip wines and spirits in the tasting room, nosh on wood-fired pizza, and spend the night at the luxe inn. (231) 944-1270; blackstarfarms.com
2 Bel Lago Vineyards and Winery Lake Leelanau and fields of trellised Pinot Grigio grapes form the backdrop for a tasting room on the Sleeping Bear Loop. Sip on crisp whites, laid-back reds and two cherry wines. (231) 228-4800; bellago.com
3 Good Harbor Vineyards Take a self-guided tour of the cellar and bottling room before sampling three kinds of bubbly (and several reds and whites) at this Sleeping Bear Loop winery. (231) 256-7165; goodharbor.com
4 Willow Vineyards Think small at this vineyard on the Grand Traverse Bay Loop. Willow makes six wines and serves them in a cozy hillside cottage with pretty valley views. (231) 271-4810; willowvineyardwine.com