Visit the cherry and wine country of northwestern Michigan for a tasty getaway
In summertime, the highlands of the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas are thick with cherry trees, their branches bowed down with bright red fruit. Michigan produces 70 to 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States, and the counties in the Traverse City area grow most of these. These tart fruits, mostly of the Montmorency variety, are grown for pies, preserves, jellies, juice, dried fruit and other products; they are seldom for eating fresh.
Many of the golden sweet varieties are made into maraschino cherries. But in July and early August, the countryside around Traverse City is dotted with stands, markets and U-Pick signs offering sweet, dark cherries.
Local restaurants find dozens of ways to use cherries. The dried cherry in particular is popular in salads, baked goods and pork and chicken dishes. For beef lovers watching their weight, a Leelanau County butcher has used them to create a low-fat hamburger/cherry mix that's popular in local restaurants and cafés.
Appreciation of the cherry has a long history. In 1924, the Traverse City area held a spring ceremony known as the "Blessing of the Blossoms" to celebrate the cherry and the region's affinity for it. The event eventually became the National Cherry Festival held in Traverse City each July.
But when autumn arrives, everyone's attention turns to a different crop. Fall, after all, is the season of the grape. From the middle of September until the first week of November, the water-warmed slopes above Grand Traverse Bay yield up fat dark clusters of grapes that are destined to be tomorrow's Chardonnays, Rieslings and Pinot Grigios. And since the wine harvest takes place at the peak of northern Michigan's fall color season, an autumn visit to the area is a splendid way to pamper the eye and the palate at the same time.
Actually, the features that make these two peninsulas so lovely—their high ridges bathed by long fiords of clear, deep water—are why it's possible to grow tender grapevines here. In fall, the summer-warmed water protects the vines from early frost, and in spring it prevents them from breaking dormancy too soon.
That's one reason for the fact that the 26 wineries of Leelanau and Old Mission have gained an international reputation for the clean, elegant taste and bouquet of their wines.
For More Information:
Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Michigan Economic Development Corporation