Deep red and sweet, ripe Michigan strawberries herald the start of summer no matter where you live in the state. Yet, each weekend in the sunshine months of June and July, communities across the Mitten also mark the growing season in their own way, sharing traditions of food and drink in fabulous festivals jam-packed with local flavor, culture and a sense of place.
In Michigan’s pinkie, set beside the Leland River’s historic Fishtown and a sun-splashed harbor on Lake Michigan, the Leland Wine & Food Festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary (lelandmi.com/events/wine-food-festival). Billed as the state’s oldest wine festival, this year’s June 13 event moves to a new time, 1-8 p.m. Local eateries will serve up small plates of homemade barbeque, hummus and veggie burgers, grilled asparagus and handcrafted cheeses, while reggae rhythms from Soul Patch and aromas of smoked whitefish waft across the water. Add art to your music and wine by attending the prior evening’s ARTscape event (lelandmi.com/events/artscape).
A Father’s Day weekend tradition that began (and ended) with a car show now showcases Muskegon County’s local flavor, thanks to dedicated residents who filled the void with the annual Taste of Muskegon festival, celebrating its ninth year on June 19-20. Food samples from area restaurants include piled-high favorites from Fatty Lumpkin’s Sandwich Shack, local bakeries and food trucks. (No chains allowed.) Wash those bites down with gourmet tastings of local coffee, area microbrews and state-produced wines.
The family-friendly event also features kids’ activities, from face painting to bounce houses. A round-trip bicycle ride to the beach was added last year and the Car Show is back, to everyone’s delight. Sponsors exhibit their goods and services alongside vendors, expanding the all-local flavor of the festival. The laid-back event takes place in historic Hackley Park. In a show of community spirit, festival proceeds are plowed back into the city to help beautify and develop downtown (facebook.com/tasteofmuskegon).
Wine and sand take center stage on June 20 in southwest Michigan during the aptly-named Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival at Weko Beach in Bridgman. In its 10th year, the beachfront event pairs Lake Michigan views with tastings and full glasses of locally-grown and produced varietals (whites, sparkling whites, reds and fruit wines), including selections from Tabor Hill Winery, Fenn Valley Vineyard and 14 more wineries. This festival also serenades you with five bands and sweet-talks you with gourmet chocolate, a wonderful accompaniment to bold reds, like Doumaine Berrien Cellars’ 2011 Crown of Cabernet. Don’t forget your sunglasses — or your swimsuit (lakemichiganwinefest.com).
Near the foot of Grand Traverse Bay, the seventh annual Traverse City Wine & Art Festival on June 20 as well promises several new attractions to an already vibrant array of 100 wines and hard cider, artwork by 40 fine artists and seven musical performances. On the lawn of the castle-like, former psychiatric hospital (now the Village at Grand Traverse Commons), food from eight restaurants in this USA Foodie Town will also be served. An all-new, bottle-shaped Bubbly Bar will showcase the area’s sparkling wines. Other additions include an intimate Art Meets Wine Experience, led by renowned artist Stephanie Schlatter, short winemaker presentations and scheduled toasts. Last year’s (sold-out) Wine Education tent with Sommelier Mark Schafer will again be offered.
With other Michigan wine festivals hosting from 2,500 to 10,000 attendees, the Sunrise Side Wine & Food Festival in Harrisville historically peaks at 1,500 in an afternoon. Kids are welcome to join their parents at this event. Held this year on July 18, the festival of wine, microbrew, art and live music (no coolers, please) is perched on a hilltop overlooking Lake Huron’s Harrisville Harbor.
Cold-hardy grapes reign in this region’s wines, like those used to make the crisp, semi-dry, Bronze award-winning Brianna of Rose Valley Winery. Voted one of the 7 Best Small Towns for the 4th of July, Harrisville is a bike ride away from its namesake state park. Other attractions here or nearby include a working lighthouse at Sturgeon Point, shipwrecks, museums and two historic railroad depots.
A cornucopia of tastes in a hip, urban setting is the vibe of the annual Taste of Kalamazoo, “Michigan’s largest food festival.” For three days during the fourth weekend in July, local, exotic and ethnic food has served to up to 10,000 people a day. More than 30 eateries participated last year. Beverages of every ilk, alcoholic and nonalcoholic, are offered. As the website states: “Great emphasis must be placed on the available variety and quality of fare — Africa, China, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Caribbean and all points in-between.”
The festival also includes daily children’s activities, while live music all day into the night features a mix of local, regional and national talent.
The oldest of the Michigan Brewers Guild’s four annual festivals, the Summer Beer Festival takes place rain or shine July 24 from 5-9 p.m. and July 25 from 1-6 p.m. in the inviting outdoor setting of Ypsilanti’s scenic 14-acre Riverside Park in historic Depot Town.
This year, the 18th annual lively gathering features 800 different beers from more than 80 Michigan craft breweries. Food will be available for purchase inside the festival, and guests will enjoy live music from a variety of Michigan bands. But three blasts from the past — including an automobile heritage, firehouse and historical museum — plus multiple antique and collectible shops, a Farmer’s Market and more make this top summer spot even more flavorful.
— Pat Stinson, Michigan BLUE Magazine.
Photography courtesy Thinkstock; Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival; Marty Dunham