Winter in the Michigan Vineyards; Skiing & Sipping
By Jim DuFresne
Here are my favorite trails and destinations where skiing and snowshoeing are paired up properly with eating and sipping good wine:
Shady Lane Cellars: This winery in Leelanau County grooms four loops through a rolling terrain of grape vines ranging from 1.5 to 3 miles for classic and skate skiing. At its Sip, Soup, Ski you can warm up afterward with a bowl of hearty soup, fresh bread, and a curated wine pairing for $16. Enjoy it in a century-old fieldstone chicken coop that has been transformed into the Shady Lane tasting room or outside around a large bonfire.
Want more mileage? The trails connect to the Leelanau Trail, the 17-mile path from Traverse City to Sutton’s Bay. When there is sufficient snow, the Leelanau Trail is groomed from the DeYoung Natural Area on Cedar Lake to Sutton’s Bay. Nordic Skis can be rented from Grand Traverse Bike Tours in advance and will be dropped off at Shady Lane for your day of skiing.
Cross Country Ski Headquarters: This longtime cross-country ski center near Higgins Lake is open daily during the winter, offering 18 kilometers of expertly groomed trails as well as Aspen Wilderness Snowshoe Trail for those who prefer rugbeaters.
But the best time to come is during the special ski-and-feast events held at the center’s day lodge. The ambiance of Stone Turtle Café are warm and inviting; a large fieldstone fireplace, high ceilings, picture windows overlooking the trails, and a full-time chef.
“We’ve really expanded our café to go beyond just serving chili,” said Mariah Frye, who took over the ski center from her parents in 2016.
Oh, have they ever. On Sunday, Jan. 29, is Paella on the Sun Deck, the classic Spanish rice dish with saffron-spiced chicken, shrimp, and mussels prepared in a massive cast iron pan on an outdoor deck warmed by six fire pits. On Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend (Jan. 14-16), it’s Gourmet Mac ‘n Cheese with the classic comfort food served along a bar of toppings, from feta cheese and spinach to bacon and, of course, hotdogs.
Get Your Fill at the Grill is Feb. 4, Mas Tacos Feb. 12. You get the idea. Most of the foodie events are also preceded by a free beginner ski lesson that covers the basics of the classic kick-and-glide ski technique.
“Typically, people ski and then eat,” said Frye. “But sometimes they ski, eat and then go back out.”
So, they can feast some more, maybe.
For a calendar of activities, go to the Cross Country Ski Headquarters website.
Snowshoe, Wine & Brew: Two vineyards and a brewery have teamed up on Mission Peninsula for one of Traverse City’s most popular winter events. You begin at Jolly Pumpkin Brewery, boarding a TC Brew Bus for a ride to Brys Estate Vineyard. From the winery, a flagged snowshoe trail leads you across Mission Peninsula to Bowers Harbor Vineyards and then to the brewery.
The entire trek is a mile, but Brys Estate maintains additional snowshoe loops of 1 and 1.5 miles that can be added before trekking onto Bowers Harbor. The vineyards offer wine tasting, wine by the glass and spiked hot cider. Jolly Pumpkin is also an excellent restaurant, but you need to make a reservation (231-223-4333) to get a table after kicking off the snowshoes.
The tours are $32 per person and are staged Sundays from January to the first week of March. If there is no snow, then it becomes a Hike, Wine & Brew! To reserve a seat on the bus or rent snowshoes in advance, go to TC Brew Bus website.
45 North Vineyard: Located in the rugged heart of the Leelanau Peninsula, this 100-acre winery maintains a 3-mile, all-seasons trail around its rows of Vignoles, Riesling and Pinot Gris grapes. In the winter, the Vineyard Trail is a pair of loops, a groomed 3.2-mile run for skiers and fat-tire bikes, and a 1.6-mile trek for snowshoers.
The trails start near the tasting room and wander through the lower vineyard before climbing to views of the farm against a backdrop of the rolling terrain of the Leelanau Peninsula. Then it’s a spirited downhill run through the woods for a glass of wine and a charcuterie box snack in the tasting room.
Vineyard Trail is free to use when 45 North is open. Winter hours are 1-6 p.m. Sunday through Friday and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Other Vineyards: Chateau Chantal occupies the highest point on Mission Peninsula. So lofty that from its tasting room, you can see both East and West Grand Traverse Bays. This is also where the winery’s Founders’ Trail begins. The snowshoe trail descends through the vineyard’s grapes before climbing back up to the wine and nibbles that await you at the top. The two loops total 1.25 miles and are open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in the winter.
On Saturdays throughout the winter Blackstar Farms near Suttons Bay stages Snowshoes, Vines & Wines, when onsite snowshoe rentals are available for the easy to moderate trails that wind through the 180-acre vineyard. Afterward, you can warm up with a glass of mulled wine or nibbles on Blackstar Farms’ heated terrace patio.
Stokely Creek: This is one of the most unusual Nordic ski resorts in North America. Stokely Creek is located near Lake Superior, just north of the U.S. border at Sault Ste. Marie, and grooms 100 kilometers of trails in the wilderness-like Algoma Highlands. The all-inclusive resort offers fantastic skiing and snowshoeing paired with outstanding cuisine. Your ski day begins with a hardy buffet breakfast and ends by gathering with other guests around a beautiful spread of appetizers to the aroma of dinner drifting out of the kitchen. Even the brown bag lunch they prepare for an all-day ski is something to savor on the trail.
For more information on the variety of accommodations or to book a room, go to the Stokely website or call 866-786-5359.