As the weather warms up, so does Michigan wine country.
Wine-soaked celebrations dominate many summer weekends. Among returning events is the Traverse City Wine & Art Festival from 3-10 p.m. Saturday, June 21, featuring a slew of northern Michigan wineries, live entertainment, an art show, and local cuisine against the backdrop of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Once the Traverse City State Hospital, the Commons is now a thriving campus of eateries, wineries, retail space, and residential units, with an expansive front lawn that’s become a hot spot for outdoor revelry.
Festival director Lorri Hathaway says returning Wine & Art Festival attendees will notice significant differences from years past, including a new layout and added features.
“We’re just hoping to wow everybody this year with all of the details,” she says. “It’s a nice, relaxing afternoon, enjoying good music, good wine, good art, good food. It’s just kind of a slower-paced, relaxed festival.”
Thirty-two wineries from Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City, and beyond will convene beneath the festival’s giant wine tent, pouring samples of more than 100 whites, reds, bubblies, and hard ciders.
“The Wine Counselor” Michael Schafer, a sommelier and certified specialist of wine, will helm the new Wine Education Tent and lead free sessions throughout the day. The casual courses, limited to the first 60 attendees per class, will focus on tasting basics, riesling, chardonnay, and pinot noir, all through the lens of northern Michigan wine.
“When you have an event this large … we’re trying to find something for everybody to really enjoy their stay there for the day,” says Hathaway. “It’s still really fun, but you go away learning something you didn’t know in a very comfortable environment.”
This isn’t your average hot dog and potato chip festival fare. More than a dozen local eateries — including The Boathouse, The Towne Plaza, and Trattoria Stella, which is located at the Commons — will serve up dishes ranging from sandwiches and pizzas to pasta and paté.
“Our food this year is fantastic; we have some high-end restaurants,” says Hathaway. “They’ve all really gone all out trying to express the flavors of their restaurants and offering a range of gourmet food.”
In the Art Garden, 40 regional artists will display and sell their artwork, with several creating art live onsite. According to Hathaway, this is the first time the show has been entirely juried, with photography, painting, sculpture, jewelry, woven goods, furniture, metal works, and handmade clothing among genres represented.
“They’re going to have a 360-degree view, so it’s meant to be more interactive with the crowd” than prior years, says Hathaway.
Also new: Awards for the best artists, and a free “art valet” feature that allows buyers to check their art purchases, eliminating the need to tote packages back to the vehicle mid-event.
For the first time, the festival will include two stages’ worth of entertainment. The final lineup features all Michigan natives.
The Main Stage will host jazz saxophonist Phil Denny of Lansing, Grand Rapids-based indie folk group The Crane Wives, and The Mainstays, a funk/soul band from Kalamazoo. The new Art Garden Wine Bar Stage will focus on smaller, more acoustic acts: genre-spanning singer Samantha Crawford of Manton; Traverse City-based folk duo The Accidentals; and acoustic artist Jordon Taylor, originally from Jackson.
In 2013, Rodriguez of Searching for Sugar Man fame was the star of the festival’s musical lineup. This year, the Michigan-centric theme has Ann Arbor native Mayer Hawthorne as headliner. The soul-inspired crooner will take the stage as the evening’s musical finale.
Besides the obvious vehicle parking surrounding the Commons, Hathaway said this year’s event will offer a bike valet, where guests can check their rides for safekeeping while enjoying the festival.
THE GOOD LIFE
Prefer not to “rough it?” Guests willing to fork over $125 for the limited-supply VIP Lounge tickets can bypass entry lines, mingle with winemakers and musical performers, access an exclusive lounge area, and use “upscale portable restrooms.” VIP ticketholders also get an L. Mawby sparkling wine welcome; a commemorative wine glass; multiple full glass pours; passed hors d’oeuvres; complimentary water bottles; and a one-year Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail VIP membership, which entitles holders to discounted future festival tickets, along with free tastings and special discounts at participating wineries.
Tickets: General admission is $35 in advance, $45 at the door and includes entertainment, four wine tasting tickets, and a commemorative wine glass. VIP Lounge tickets are $125; limited supply available.
More info: traversecitywinefestival.com or (231) 271-7100.
TCWAF isn’t the only major Michigan wine-hyping event this month. Others include:
Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival
Saturday, June 21
Weko Beach in Bridgman (Southwest Michigan)
Boasting the tagline “Toast the Coast,” this ninth annual celebration unites the wineries of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail with local beer producers, local fare, and local music in a prime beachfront location. Wine tasting tickets are available for $1 apiece, with samples for one ticket and glasses for five-seven tickets. The musical lineup spans blues, pop/rock, and R&B, with PS Dump Your Boyfriend, Lady Sunshine & The X Band, Duke Tumatoe, Slim Gypsy Baggage, and Top Secret Band scheduled to play. Organizers anticipate 4,000 attendees — essentially doubling the population of the host town, Bridgman.
Tickets: $15 (include souvenir tasting glass); children 12 and younger are free. Discounted advance admission tickets available for $10 at ticketweb.com or in person at Harding’s Friendly Market in Bridgman.
More info: lakemichiganwinefest.com or (269) 925-6301
Summer Solstice Wine Release Party
Saturday & Sunday, June 21 & 22
Pioneer Wine Trail (Jackson area)
The Southeastern Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail will celebrate the arrival of the season with its annual Summer Solstice Wine Release Party, a self-driving tour of the wineries along the trail. Each participating winery features a new release wine alongside food prepared by a local chef or restaurant. Attendees are able to visit as many of the participating wineries as they like over the two-day event span, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $30; designated drivers eat free. Ticket sales end at midnight June 18 or when tickets are depleted, whichever comes first. No tickets are available day of event.
More info: pioneerwinetrail.com, (517) 592-4663 or (517) 531-3080
Wine-focused festivals later in the summer include:
Sunrise Side Wine & Food Festival
Saturday, July 19
Harrisville Harbor, Harrisville (Northeast Michigan)
More info: sunrisesidewineandhopstrail.com
Leelanau Wine on the Water Festival
Saturday, July 19
Marina Park, Suttons Bay (Northwest Michigan)
More info: leelanauchamber.com
Tawas Untap’d & Uncork’d
Saturday, Aug. 2
Harbor Park, East Tawas (Northeast Michigan)
More info: (989) 362-9660
Northport Wine Festival
Saturday, Aug. 9
Haserot Park, Northport (Northwest Michigan)
More info: northportomenachamber.org
The Wine Days of Summer Picnic Trail
Saturday & Sunday, Aug. 9 & 10
Pioneer Wine Trail (Jackson area)
More info: pioneerwinetrail.com
Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room, a joint offsite tasting room in partnership with six Michigan wineries, located in Shelby Township. Contact her at email@example.com.