Dining in the Vines

Now in its fifth year, the event attracts those looking for a fine, outdoor dining experience in a mural-like setting with no compromise in service.
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Michigan Wine Country Vineyard Path

Window seats are the first to fill in dining rooms with a view. 

Taking their guests beyond the glass and into the great outdoors are Doug Kosch, owner of Boathouse Restaurant overlooking West Grand Traverse Bay on Old Mission Peninsula, and his neighbor Spencer Stegenga, chief executive officer and winemaker of family-owned Bowers Harbor Vineyards.

Their late summer and fall culinary series, “Dining in the Vines,” places diners together European style around a long, linen-covered table set with silver, candles and fresh, local flowers in the midst of a beautifully-manicured vineyard. Lake and sunset views are served hillside, with a gourmet repast: five courses of fine foods from around the world, skillfully prepared onsite by Boathouse Chef Eric Vittolo; and five wines, a glowing combination of reds, whites and sparklers artfully crafted by Stegenga.

Now in its fifth year, the event attracts those looking for a fine, outdoor dining experience in a mural-like setting with no compromise in service.

“We are fully staffed with four cooks, four servers and a ‘back’ server,” Kosch explained. “We have only cancelled an event once in five years, due to the weather. To take the chill off, we have heaters and place hand warmers at everyone’s plate.” 

Dining in the Vines Table Setting
Photography courtesy Bowers Harbor Vineyard

Sometimes, they cap the first course — sparkling wine, artisanal cheeses, quince paste and honeycomb (set on a granite tabletop balanced atop two oak barrels) with a little acoustic music by local troubadour Ben Richey. After greeting the winemaker, guests are lead through a row of vines to a clearing, where tiny white lights twinkle above the tent-covered seating area.

Between courses, Stegenga takes guests on a tableside viticultural tour: asking them to glance at the soil beneath their feet, telling stories about the vineyards’ names and sharing what a particular wine style brings out in the food, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, at the end of the table, flames rise in the air as Vittolo sautés ingredients for the next course, perhaps a Kobe beef filet delicately flavored with a morel bisque prepared in the classical French tradition by the Great Lakes Culinary Institute graduate. Each year’s menu changes, but the pairing of fresh, local fare and lesser-known food items hand-selected from around the globe does not.

At sunset, when the last spoonful of chocolate sweetness mingles with the final sip of port-style wine, guests may wander back to the old horse barn tasting room to purchase their favorite wines. Others can wend their way past the wisteria and climbing hydrangea to the parking area for the short drive to the Boathouse for cocktails served on a waterside deck.

To learn more, visit dininginthevines.com or bowersharborinn.com. For reservations, call the Boathouse Restaurant at (231-223-4030) or go to boathousewestbay.com.

Freelance writer Pat Stinson resides in Leelanau County.

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