My better half and I just got home from a short vacation to the Grand Traverse region of Michigan.
If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll remember that this is the same location I highlighted as a cheap vacation destination for us, a few years back.
The truth is, we go every year. And while that may seem like it would get stale pretty quickly, we always try to mix in a few new wrinkles. This year’s included:
1. Our first real experience mountain biking. We rented bikes and logged about 20 km through the outstanding VASA pathway. I was on a 29″ fat tire Big Surly bike – it was the most fun I’ve had on a bike and left me craving more.
2. A free parkour “basics” course with Levi Meeuwenberg of Ninja Warrior fame, with a view of Grand Traverse Bay as a backdrop. Levi moved back to his hometown in Traverse from L.A. and left behind a successful career as a stuntman in film, commercials, and massive live performance events to start an organic farm on his family’s homestead. It doesn’t get much more bad ass than that. If you’re not familiar with Levi, you’ll want to watch his show-reel:
Super nice and humble guy. Thanks for kicking our ass, Levi.
I’ll let you guess how many stories of building we leaped from. Parkour training the same day as your first 20 km on a mountain bike is not a good idea, for the record…
A Guilty Pleasure Justified
There’s one thing we don’t change with our annual trip: massive amounts of wine purchases. We love beer to the point of homebrewing our own, but we also love wine and every year we buy a year’s supply of wine from the Grand Traverse region – typically about 3-4 cases.
Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula are right at the 45th north parallel (ideal latitude for grape harvest and home to many of the world’s best winemaking regions). The peninsulas also have a fantastic climate with warmer temperatures later in the year as a result of being on the coast, as well as coastal humidity and precipitation. The result is approximately 40 wineries making some of the best wine in the world.
If you go during the week, you won’t wait in line, and most of the tastings are free or at a very low charge (which can typically be re-invested in to any bottles you purchase). And you can buy some excellent wine for as low as $6 per bottle up to a rare maximum of around $25 (average is $10-14).
So, we load up.
I guess you could call this a “guilty pleasure”, although I don’t have any guilt over it. Lets call it a rare and appreciated “costly pleasure” instead.
Sure, we could save a few bucks if we instead loaded up on a cheaper low-quality box wine alternative made and shipped in from faraway lands, harvested from a pesticide-rich megafarm corporation, before being injected in to and stored in a petrochemical bag, with corners being cut at every step along the way. But…. why?
Every time we go on the tour, we see familiar faces, see beautiful scenery, ask questions to and share stories with the owners, and see, smell, and taste the very grapes that will end up in our bodies. It’s about as intimate and locally sourced as it gets (aside from one’s back yard garden).
The fact that this rare treasure exists just a few hours from home is not taken for granted.
For anyone in our fine state to want to purchase wine in any other way can only be chalked up as lack of experience. Experience it, Michiganders!
Admittedly, wine is not a necessity. And there are cheaper ways to buy it. But sometimes pleasure, experience, quality and principles outweigh the cheaper alternative. Still, a whole lot of sacrifice throughout the year goes in to validating the justification to splurge.
I think that the key is knowing where to draw the line and when to cross it. And how often.
I totally get the desire for slightly more expensive but much higher quality wine.
One thing that bugged me is the inclusion of “pesticide-rich” in your explanation of the box/cheap wine. I hate to break it to you, but there are very few organic wineries in northern MI (at lease according to a few internet searches). Even if they were all organic, just because a farm of any kind is organic does not mean that they don’t use pesticides and all other types of chemicals used in growing food. They use naturally derived chemicals instead of synthesized; however just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good, or even better for you (think cyanide).
(Note, this final portion is my very biased opinion as a chemical engineer who spent her summers on her grandfather’s farm…) But if people will pay more because they think it’s better (even if you need to put 10x more natural than synthesized chemicals on it), then more power to you.
True, but farms can get environmentally verified by the State of Michigan and the wineries that are display the sign: http://www.maeap.org/
This is something I also discuss with owners and staff (another benefit of visiting the farm).
And, I could be totally wrong, but my suspicion is that small family farms have less incentive to cut environmental corners than large publicly traded megafarms whose goal is to mass produce as much bland product as quickly as possible for the lowest price.
I’m too old to start parkour (early 30s), I like my teeth and face thank you very much.
I haven’t been to that area but it sounds like a wonderful place. I’ll add it to my list of places to visit.
No excuse – I am probably older! I don’t want to get in to anything too crazy, but challenge myself physically in a fun way.
I grew up in the Grand Traverse area, and love getting wine when we go back to visit. We fly, but if the first checked bag was still free (or if they ever drop the 3-1-1 rule) I’d bring home a bottle or two each visit :-)
If you’re ever up Thanksgiving weekend check out the “Great Macaroni & Cheese Bake-Off”. It’s a crowded mess of people, but delicious and I hope to hit it next time I’m in town on the right day.
Othe wine tours for your readers:
We were in Holland, MI for a wedding a few years back and did a tour of the Saugatuck area wineries. Similarly scenic area, similarly temperate climate, cheaper wines because they’re not as well known.
For our 5th wedding anniversary we did a winery tour in our adopted home state of Massachusetts. The Coastal Wine Trail winds through southeast Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island. Like Saugatuck the wineries are not as old/experienced as Old Mission Peninsula.
The Finger Lakes region of New York is overflowing with wineries too. We never made it back for a bike tour, but the one weekend we visited there were many bikes zipping up and down the road from winery to winery.
Driving from MA to MI we’ve visited the Niagara wineries several times. Pricier? Definitely. Is the ice wine delicious? Certainly!
Thanks for getting the word out about Grand Traverse area wines!