Taste Synergy in Traverse City

<p> If you savor the pure art of dining—the pleasures of inhaling and sampling dish after flavorful dish of creative cuisine paired with wine after aromatic wine—take your palate to Traverse City, Michigan.</p>

Published: 6/15/2015

<p> If you savor the pure art of dining—the pleasures of inhaling and sampling dish after flavorful dish of creative cuisine paired with wine after aromatic wine—take your palate to Traverse City, Michigan. Here, set against the shoreline of mighty Lake Michigan amidst land speckled with crystalline lakes, rivers, and streams as well as forests and sandy beaches and dunes, lies a growing wine region with a terroir so intriguing, it has enticed many accomplished chefs and winemakers to make it their home.</p> <p> “Twenty years ago, we weren’t sure we could make a living here as chefs and restaurateurs, but we loved what the region had to offer,” says Chef Dave Denison, owner of the European-style restaurant Amical in the heart of Traverse City, overlooking West Grand Traverse Bay. “The creativity that flows into the area entertains, fulfills, and inspires all of us.”</p> <p> “Our chefs are so creative and so welltrained, they can bring in nuances and expand traditional dishes,” says Charlie Edson, winemaker for Bel Lago Winery. “Our winery’s consulting chef will taste a wine and match its flavors and textures to his ingredients. I call it a synergistic evolution.”</p> <p> Long known as the nation’s leading producer of cherries, the Traverse City area emerged in the 1980s as a small, but impressive, wine region. The wines, grown on two stunning peninsulas that jut into Lake Michigan, earned a loyal following and paved the way for its reputation as a food destination. In 2010, Traverse City stepped into the national spotlight as one of Bon Appétit’s Top Five Foodie Towns in the country, and in 2014 the Daily Meal listed it as one of America’s 11 Best Small Towns for Food. Traverse City is now home to Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Northwestern Michigan College, an array of inventive eateries, an exploding craft beer scene, and a wine country with 40 wineries and tasting rooms spanning Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas.</p> <p> “Our wines are almost always fruit forward with bright flavors and a nice acidity that pushes the brightness,” Charlie explains. Wine critics often use words like “pretty,” “delicate,” and “balanced” as they praise these food-friendly wines. If you enjoy long, thoughtful, multicourse meals, you can easily sample a different wine with each plate without overwhelming your palate. This opens all kinds of doors for you to taste the region’s amazing bounty from an array of fabulous signature cherries to apples, peaches, corn, potatoes, root vegetables, wild mushrooms, walleye, perch, and lake trout, poultry, cheeses, and more.</p> <p> “Northern Michigan is very locavoredriven and the farm-to-table culture has so much to draw on from its farms, waters, and crops,” says Lee Lutes, winemaker and managing partner for Wineries of Black Star Farms. “Our winegrapes experience a long growing season with a very cool beginning and a very cool ending. As a result, our wines are delightfully bright, acidic, and aromatic.” This same climate affects the flavor of other local vegetables, fruits, and even livestock, which tend to fatten early and develop compelling flavor profiles. “There’s definitely a tassytnee rgy MICHIGAN Detroit Traverse City synergy between the region’s wines and food,” says Lee.</p> <p> Fred Laughlin, director of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, says that local terroir plays a very large part in the school’s curriculum. “We make everything from scratch and are very careful to incorporate local products,” he says. The school emphasizes eating seasonally and works closely with local farms, dairies, breweries, and wineries to procure fresh ingredients all year long. “It’s true that wine pairs well with the food that comes from the same soil,” Fred says. “We use a lot of local wines in our cooking and also pair them with dishes, and everything works so beautifully together.” Fred, who has lived in the region for 24 years, is excited about the enthusiasm locals have for growing and consuming foods and beverages with local roots. “One of our local golf courses was sold recently and the land is being converted to a hops farm,” he says. “That’s very telling as to what’s important to us here.”</p> <p> Chef Eric Patterson, whose restaurant The Cooks’ House celebrates its eighth anniversary this year, thinks this synergy is only starting to evolve. “Traverse City is such a young wine country,” he says, “but it’s already beginning to happen. One example is whitefish pâté.”</p> <p> But who can go wrong with great whitefish from Lake Michigan and amazing wines from the peninsulas? “It’s an exciting time to be part of the food scene here,” says Chef Eric. “And an exciting time to visit.”</p>

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2015 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.