New Tastes from Traverse City

Traverse City, Michigan has long been known for its natural beauty and agricultural bounty.

Published: 1/13/2015

Traverse City, Michigan has long been known for its natural beauty and agricultural bounty. First-time visitors are enchanted by this stunning region, replete with inland lakes, rivers, streams, towering dunes, forests, vineyards, and orchards. Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas stretch upward like two fingers beckoning them to visit and get acquainted with their crisp, aromatic wines. Returning visitors are excited too, because upon each return, they find something new to try in Traverse City’s wineries, restaurants, and tasting rooms. Today, many of this region’s winemakers are branching out in new directions: blending and distilling an exciting assortment of sophisticated ice wines, brandies, port wines, and ciders, widely acclaimed for their excellence and originality.


Ice wines

Made from healthy grapes that undergo an early hard freeze on the vine, ice wine has become the Traverse City region’s most famous dessert wine. In fact, Traverse City is one of the world’s largest ice wine–producing regions. The grapes—pressed while still frozen—produce a sweet, aromatic wine with extremely concentrated sugar levels, natural acids, and minerals. Harvested in the winter, they undergo a long cold weather fermentation and evolve into a remarkably sweet, fruity, lush wine often called “liquid gold” or “nectar of the gods.” Traverse City yields a mind boggling variety of versions, carefully crafted from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio, and other varietals. Despite their heady sweetness, these Ice wines are not overpowering. They’re even more delightful when paired with cheese, cheesecake, or a crisp tart made with apples and pears from nearby orchards.


Several Traverse City wineries have added distilling operations and have begun producing brandies, including a popular fruit brandy, also known as eau de vie (French for “water of life”) using fruit from the region’s bountiful orchards. As the name implies, an eau de vie is a colorless brandy made from mashed fruit that is fermented and then double distilled. Usually weighing in at around 80 proof, the finished product is a clear, bone-dry aperitif with a delicate fruit aroma that whispers its origin, be that pears, apples, apricots, cherries, or a combination thereof. Some grape brandies (distilled from fermented crushed grapes or juice), and Italian-style grappas (distilled from pressed grape mash), are also causing a stir with their powerful, fruity aromas. But most of the region’s wineries are concocting delicious fruit brandies by blending their wines with distilled spirits to create some splendid after-dinner sipping options.

Port wines

Port wine has found its way into the hearts of many Traverse City winemakers who appreciate the joys of experimentation. Port is wine fortified by additional grape spirit, brandy , or other nectar before fermentation is complete. This is done to retain some of the grape’ s original sweetness and smooth mouthfeel. Some wineries here stick to the basics, crafting port from wines like Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and such French hybrid varieties as Regent, Dornfelder, and Frontenac. Many more are inspired by the neighboring fields and orchards. A tour of the more than 30 wineries on the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas is sure to uncover many intriguing port-style dessert wines blended with local cherries, pears, apples, apricots, raspberries, blueberries—and even maple syrup.

Hard ciders

Northern Spy, Red Delicious, Rome, McIntosh... the apples of the Traverse City region enjoy ideal growing conditions. They ripen into fruit that is crisp and flavorful— worthy of much more than pie. Recently, Traverse City has become a leader in the growth of hard cider, where the number of apple varieties serve as a fascinating palette for experimentation. Unlike its sweet cider cousin, hard cider is an effervescent, clear, food-friendly drink that may or may not taste much like apples. Like wine, it can be sweet or dry, and its alcohol content ranges from three percent to seven percent or more. Hard ciders can be crafted in so many ways and enjoyed as an aperitif, a low alcohol refreshment, or a refreshing change of pace.

For more information, please visit:

As seen in the issue Spring 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.

2011 Bel Lago Pinot Grigio Ice Wine Black Star Farms Pear and Its Spirit
2011 Bowers Harbor Vineyards Gewürztraminer Ice Wine
2011 Brys Estate 2011 “Dry Ice” Wine
2012 Leelanau Cellars Riesling Ice Wine
2012 Longview Sweet Winter Ice Wine
2012 Verterra Winery Tundra

Black Star Farms Spirit of Cherry
Chateau Chantal Cinq à Sept
Chateau Chantal Entice

Chateau Grand Traverse Cherry
Reserve Port
Gill’s Pier Port
2007 Leelanau Cellars Vintage Port

Chateau de Leelanau
Forty-Five North
Good Neighbor Organic Ciderye
Left Foot Charley Cinnamon Girl
Tandem Ciders Smackintosh