It’s during the fall, after the long days of summer have waned and the countryside prepares for slumber, that the rolling hills of vineyards on the peninsulas stretching into Lake Michigan, outside Traverse City, are most welcoming.
The perfume of ripening grapes permeates the crisp air, and gold-tinged vines signal not only a change of seasons, but a change in the cadence of life on Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. Tasting rooms are less crowded, the roads less clogged with traffic, and vineyards rife with activity — men, women and machines harvesting grapes.
And what better way to experience a northern Michigan vineyard in the fall than by staying at one of the winery inns on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas. Autumn is prime time to visit and an overnight inn stay plants you amid some jaw-dropping vineyards.
These inns offer gourmet breakfasts, upscale accommodations and a host of other amenities, including hiking and biking options. The inns, too, are great staging areas to explore the region’s bounty: more than 40 wineries, farm stands, shopping and dining.
Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn
Eleven of the dozen rooms and suites at Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula are named after French artists. The well-appointed rooms evoke the style and spaciousness of a French chateau. The elegant suites overlook vineyards flush with a variety of wine grapes, including pinot noir and riesling.
Chateau Chantal boasts panoramic views of the waters of Grand Traverse Bay on both sides of the peninsula. After check-in, opt for a wine tasting or grab a glass of cabernet franc, malbec or your favorite varietal and secure a table on the East Patio. That combination of vineyard and water view is difficult to turn away from. The desire is to linger.
“Fall is a visually stunning time that also combines the excitement of the grape harvest and wine crush, and the sensory pleasures of pumpkins, leaves and fall edibles,” said Marie-Chantal Dalese, president and CEO of the family-owned, 65-acre estate, warning, however, that Saturdays in October are traditionally the busiest of the year.
During the warm months, guests can choose to breakfast on the often-overlooked West Terrace, with views of sloping vineyards and the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Power Island and the much-larger Leelanau Peninsula can be seen on the horizon. Breakfast changes daily and embraces seasonal bounty. Cinnamon swirl French toast, bacon, a parmesan-baked egg and fresh fruit was a recent morning selection.
At breakfast, it’s not uncommon to encounter Dalese’s father, Bob. The jovial founder of Chateau Chantal is happy to share how the winery came to be — originally a cherry orchard before the family began planting vines in the mid-1980s — and how his daughter met her future husband, Paul Dalese, while studying the wine business in Adelaide, Australia.
Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery
As the warm days of fall linger, Brys Estate continues to serve its popular Frosé, a wine slushie made from pinot noir and riesling, and strawberry and lemon juices. The lawn garden or the decks outside the tasting room are ideal spots to kick back and enjoy a Frosé or glass of wine and inhale the scenery, vineyards sloping to woods and the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay.
The Brys family, who began planting vineyards on the 111-acre farm in 2001, have converted a former tractor barn, built in the 1940s, into a two-bedroom, 1,100-square foot guest house. The decor is farmhouse cottage, accented with wood floors, wainscoting and blue willow pottery. Framed photos tell the story of the former barn and the property, and the guest house boasts all the conveniences of home, including a washer and dryer and fully prepped kitchen.
The family keeps a guest book on the counter, and it’s fun to breeze through comments. Michael Popyk and his parents, Terry and Carol Popyk, were among the recent visitors.
“Our favorite time to visit is in the fall. Staying at a winery is peaceful and relaxing. It’s a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” said Michael Popyk, a manufacturing engineer for an automotive company and who lives in a Detroit suburb. “I usually take a stroll down the hill to the lavender fields, gather my thoughts and walk back. It recharges me.”
The lavender fields Popyk mentioned are part of the winery’s Secret Garden, a secluded 12-acre tract of lavender, flowers, herbs, and strawberries. The site was too low to plant vines so the Bryses created a garden. The best time to see the lavender in bloom is in July. The family harvests the lavender to make hand sanitizer, lotions, oils, sprays, dried flowers, and even cookies (don’t miss). It’s well worth a stroll from the guest house.
“We wanted to create a space for people to come and enjoy what we offer in northern Michigan, to see what nature is all about,” said Katie Brys, daughter of the winery’s owners.
Inn at Black Star Farms
Leelanau’s only winery inn, Black Star Farms derives its name from a black star ingrained in the marble floor of the manor entrance. The previous owner, a regional restaurateur, was enamored of southern plantation architecture and the inn is a Kentucky-style estate home. The emphasis, however, is on the amenities of northern Michigan.
Don’t pass the chance to have breakfast on the patio overlooking the barn and horses grazing in the fenced pasture. The barn was built in the late 1800s and the new owners added a riding center, among other improvements. Breakfasts incorporate locally grown fruits, vegetables and artisan cheese, as well as house-produced products. A recent popular choice featured eggs benedict with smoked cherry Hollandaise sauce, Black Star farms-raised smoked lamb bacon, Leelanau Raclette cheese, local asparagus, butter poached potatoes and the inn’s own coffee granola.
“Our guests are often surprised at how secluded and relaxing it is here,” said Sherri Campbell Fenton, managing owner of the 160-acre family-owned estate. “They don’t want to leave. They take hikes, take naps or sit on the porch in a rocking chair and enjoy the scenery.”
The inn boasts 10 classically furnished guest rooms, with touches of contemporary and equestrian flairs. Some rooms include fireplaces, hot tubs or private patios. Every afternoon, guests enjoy a wine reception in the Pegasus Lounge, with a glass of Black Star’s award-winning wines and freshly made bite-size appetizers. It’s a charming transition from a day of activities — walking vineyard trails or riding one of the inn’s new e-bikes along Leelanau’s hilly roads, or simply doing nothing.
Inn at Chateau Grand Traverse
The focus at Chateau Grand Traverse is on the vineyard, of course, with rooms named after scenic views, such as Wine in the Orchard or Wine in the Vineyard. Every room has a view and a private balcony. Photographs and art of vineyards, grapes, the harvest and Old Mission Peninsula adorn the walls of each of the inn’s six rooms.
The recently updated rooms feature an open layout and contemporary furnishings. Each suite has a king or queen size bed, sofa, kitchenette and balcony. Guests receive a complimentary bottle of wine every night of their stay here. The inn sits on 5 acres surrounded by the 100-acre Chateau Grand Traverse vineyard, the oldest commercial winery in the Traverse City region. The O’Keefe family began planting vinifera in the 1970s. In the fall, the fruits of their labors are resplendent in the surrounding vineyards: riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and other familiar grapes.
“Fall offers a true winery experience,” said Megan Molloy, the inn’s marketing director. “There’s a lot going on. There are beautiful fall colors, views of the bay and all that, but on top of that, fall is when harvest happens. You’ll see people picking grapes, pressing grapes and trucks coming in with grapes. Getting to see the winery in action in the fall and being at the inn is a bonus.”
Greg Tasker lives in Traverse City where he enjoys writing about the Michigan wine and spirits scene.