Perhaps one of the most charming Midwestern-isms is the pure Michigan quirk of showcasing where one is from in the state by pointing to a location on one’s hand.
Since the lower peninsula is well…handily shaped like a mitt (see what I did there?), oftentimes residents will use their own so-called mitts to explain their geography. So, it’s only fitting that we explore perhaps the best named but lesser-known AVA in the nation, Northern Michigan’s “Tip of the Mitt”.
While the region isn’t as widely celebrated for its wine, huge strides have been made in this realm, partially due to the cold weather hybrid varietals developed at the University of Minnesota. Some of these hardy grapes thrive in the so-called “Tip of the Mitt” American Viticultural Area, or AVA. The state of Michigan actually has five such federally designated grape-growing regions, and TOTM is the newest, established in 2016. For help demystifying the wine bottle labels, according to the Michigan Wine Country website, “In order for an AVA to appear on a wine’s label, at least 85 percent of the grapes in the wine must be from that region. The threshold is lowered to 75 percent for including a county or state on the label. These labels tell consumers that the wines they’re buying are crafted from Michigan-grown grapes” which allows for oenophiles to intentionally support small local purveyors.
Since TOTM is located up north, grapes grown there include both vinifera (old-world grapes) and hybrid grapes. The state of Michigan grows more Niagara than any other, along with Riesling, Pinot Noir, Concord, Merlot, Frontenac, and more.
Though this AVA covers lots of ground, I focused my time near Petoskey, Michigan, nestled on the beautiful shores of Little Traverse Bay. Some wineries in this region that deserve special exploration include Pond Hill Farm, near the always scenic “Tunnel of Trees” M-119 route. This expansive property bills itself as a café, winery, brewery, and market but also offers more room to socially distance with wide open spaces, hiking trails, and even a trout pond. Their most popular dry white is the Pinot Gris, though the grapes used in this offering are from the nearby Leelanau Peninsula AVA closer to Traverse City, Michigan. Warm weather travelers should sample the 100% estate grown Northern Lights Peach Sparkler, and those who prefer red can try the award-winning Pond Hill Red; the cider is also excellent at Pond Hill Farm, especially the funky labeled “Tunnel Vision” option.
Another winner is the Walloon Lake Winery, perched above Walloon Lake (where Ernest Hemingway used to summer at the family cottage). Try the Windemere White, End of the Pike Peach, and Wildwood White for the three Tip of the Mitt AVA offerings. The Regatta Rose is another favorite, though the grapes used are grown elsewhere in the state of Michigan. The patio at this property is especially handy for social distancing and is a solid outdoor option.
I also enjoyed my time spent at Petoskey Farms Winery, which serves their wine flight as more of an aggressively awesome wine tower (something I had never experienced until this Michigan trip).
My tower included the whimsical and funky Mosaic pet-nat (the winemaker experiments with a new Pétillant naturel each year!), plus dry Riesling, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, and Frontenac Noir. Pretty views and covered patios help extend the outdoor tasting season at this lovely property as well.
Finally, just down the road is America’s first maple winery, the family-owned Maple Moon Sugarbush & Winery. This unique spot offers tons of fun fruit wine picks, but their best seller is the port-style Maple Gold which has bourbon-like traits and a strong maple finish. Pro tip: if it’s available, gobble up one (or four) of the unbelievable maple ice cream sandwiches. For a full list of all the wineries in the area, check out the Petoskey Wine Region site or the Petoskey Area information.
Besides the aforementioned wine exploration, visitors can expect all the gloriousness of Northern Michigan, with sweeping Great Lake views, upscale retail and dining options, and cute waterfront enclaves. This vacation destination is still largely a secret outside the region, since over 70% of visitors to the Petoskey area hail from in the state of Michigan. Some highlights include world class golf courses (especially the Quarry course at Bay Harbor Golf Club) and delightful Hemingway history (take the walking history tour if you can!). Foodies should make a point to visit American Spoon, an artisanal jam and more producer with shops in both Petoskey and nearby Harbor Springs; their cherry peach salsa is a top seller, but pretty much every product at this adorable outpost is a winner.
All in all, the far reaches of Michigan’s Mitt are well worth a visit any time of year, for wine tasting, a pretty Great Lake, and so much more.