The greater Grand Traverse Region has long been a tourist destination, with its pristine waters, miles of federal and state parkland trails, and the National Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. Some of the same geologic features that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year are what make it a competitive wine and craft beverage region.
The Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas are comprised of waterways and slopes that foster a unique microclimate ideal for vineyards, and apple and hop growers.
Today, 40 years after the first winery opened, there are more than 30 wineries on the two neighboring peninsulas. Craft beverage producers including distilleries, several cideries and microbreweries are now flourishing in the wake of the wine industry’s enormous success. Equally successful are the tour companies, providing safe transport to individuals and groups who wish to experience not only the tasting rooms, but the scenic beauty of an area known today as one of the top destinations for local craft beverage production and the farms supporting that industry.
“Michigan has 121 wineries,” said Lorri Hathaway, Director of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association (LPVA). “These wineries attract more than two million visitors annually and contribute $300 million to Michigan’s economy.” And she added, “Leelanau’s small peninsula hosts 21 percent of those wineries.”
Hathaway said people plan their vacations around visiting the wine trail and the region’s craft beverage producers, “It becomes its own destination.”
A representative from Bowers Harbor Vineyards on Old Mission agrees, “Our guests definitely plan their trip around visiting the wineries. Often the option to have a driver will encourage them to stop at more locations or make a full day on the wine trail. The shuttles bring in nearly 40 percent of the number of guests to our tasting rooms.”
Nearby Brys Estate cited a similar number, “Any given Saturday in the summer, approximately 30-40 percent of our visitors arrive by shuttle company tours.”
The influx of craft beverage tour groups is a boom for area businesses. “Wine tasters also visit restaurants, beaches, boutique stores and the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes,” they said.
A representative from Chateau Chantal concurred, “A good wine region should have many activities to make it a robust destination.” In addition to eateries and shops, “Sites like a lighthouse or beaches, and beautiful scenery all make a complete package.”
Today, the Grand Traverse Region boasts approximately 15 tour companies dedicated specifically to wine and craft beverage. With each tour shuttling upwards of 12-14 passengers, it can get crowded in the tasting rooms. It’s an ongoing and developing synergy between the tasting rooms and tour companies. According to 2 Lads Winery, overlooking East Bay, the good tour companies are “Respectful, create a fun atmosphere on their vehicles, are mindful of the safety of their guests, they call ahead to let wineries know they’re ‘coming in 30 minutes with a group of 12,’ and they provide trivia about the land, ag industry and peninsulas as they tour the area.”