TRAVERSE CITY, MI – As Northern Michigan winemakers head into bottling season for some white wines soon, the excitement that surged around last fall’s harvest has many of them feeling pretty good about the 2020 vintages they’re creating.
Last summer’s warm, dry days and well-placed rains created a cautious buzz about how remarkable some of these pours might ultimately be. An MSU extension specialist talked about the promise of full-bodied wines.
“We’re feeling optimistic about the wines in general, both for whites and reds,” Lee Lutes, Black Star Farms winemaker, said in a recent update from members of the Traverse Wine Coast, which includes about 40 wineries that grow their fruit near Traverse City’s Old Mission and the Leelanau peninsulas. “We’re seeing wine quality that could be on par or better than the wines we’ve made over the past five years.”
Much of the anticipated success rests with last year’s growing season, and with vineyard managers’ and grape farmers’ careful choices about what vines will grow well along the unique and glacially-carved outcroppings of Up North’s 45th Parallel region.
“It was a promising year, and we expect good things,” said Shady Lane Cellars General Manager Rick DeBlasio. The head winemaker there, Kasey Wierzba, said last fall she was happy with what she was seeing in the vineyards’ 63 acres, and noted it was a very good summer to grow Riesling grapes.
While the growing season was a highlight, tasting room crowds were down in most spots in 2020 because of safety precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic. This led wineries to get creative with curbside pickup, online specials, and new ways to serve customers outdoors. Those lessons will help them better navigate this season.
“It forced us to look more at the customer experience,” said Jenna Veiga, marketing manager for Mari Vineyards. “With fewer people in wine tasting rooms, we created more of an intimate experience. We’re moving from a turn-and-burn experience to one where you sit back, relax, enjoy, and learn about the wines. Take your time and take it all in.”
Some places, like Left Foot Charley in Traverse City, created new spaces like their Barrel Room so wine enthusiasts could enjoy tastings in a small-group atmosphere with some delicious perks from a nearby award-winning restaurant. Or also like LFC, they encouraged people to bring take-out from nearby restaurants that also needed a boost and enjoy a meal on their outdoor patio with a glass of wine or a flight of hard cider.
Looking ahead, Up North wineries are sensing a lot of pent-up desire for safe and fun outdoor travel experiences that they think will have wine tours rocket to the top of people’s vacation plans this year.
“I think it’s going to be one of the busiest summers we’ve seen up here — maybe ever,” said DeBlasio. “There’s more of an emphasis on regional travel.”
“Everybody is hungry to get out,” Veiga said.
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