27 September 2008

The final countdown.

I think it's official. Fall is really really my favorite. I love summer, I love the beach, but it's just not the same. I love orange and red and yellow everywhere, and wearing a fuzzy sweater for the first time of the year... buying pumpkins, squash, and finding new recipes for them... And today, I went apple picking for the first time. I joined Lisa and Kristal at Spicer's Orchard, about a half hour north of Ann Arbor, and although it was actually pretty steamy out there, it was a beautiful day.

Picking apples and raspberries, suckin' on chili dogs (ok, just plain old eating regular hot dogs), and having a rare donut treat...

Now I need to bust out my baking chops and make a pie, or something! I've got half a peck of apples. :)

From apples to grapes... preferably in wine form!!

Last weekend I was lucky enough to join Lisa, Kristal, and Lori for the 2008 Harvest Stompede Festival on the Leelenau Peninsula. Who knew that a wine tour festival would be so popular -- it sold out months and months ago. So thanks, Lisa, for takin' care of business and getting us registered long before fall, spring, or even summer were on the horizon. It was definitely an amazing experience, and, for $40, it was quite a deal, too. You get your official wine glass, mini food serving at each winery, a main tasting wine, and most wineries were generous enough to allow you to taste any and all of their wines. I'm going to copy Lisa (and probably Kristal, too) and rather then list the wineries in order of attendance I'll order them from best to worst (yes, there were worsts!). Check out their pages if you want to compare and contrast, especially if you are planning a trip up north to wine country. Here goes!

List of Yum
And the winner is...

This was a collective favorite, which gives it the additional points to push it into first place. We had high hopes for this one, as Lisa S. had raved about it, and it didn't disappoint. We loved it the second we pulled up to the sprawling vineyard and horse farm. Outside they were serving skyline chili with a delicious red -- sponsored by the vineyard's famous (check out Wine Dogs) dog, Nick. After snacking, we headed inside, where the owner himself was pouring generous servings of wine. He was clearly excited about his product and wanted us to love it as much as him. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I was rewarded with my first buzz of the day. To top off our wonderful experience, we headed out into the vineyard, where we met a giant white horse and stole grapes off the vine (shhhhh!). Trust me, you haven't eaten grapes until you've eaten these grapes. It was like a solid ball of wine melting in your mouth. Mmmmm.

In a bubbly second place is L. Mawby, in second place only because Kristal and Lori didn't like it -- I'm all about group enjoyment! I love champagne, and, I must confess, it goes straight to my head. PLUS... all of their wines had semi-naughty names like Wet, Sex, Consort... the goofy side of me was just in love. Plus, it was in a beautiful vineyard, with an outdoor, covered sitting area overlooking the vines. Before we even entered the building, we were poured a taste of Wet (yum). Out back, they had a second tasting set up, where we had Sandpiper and Fizz. There was no way we weren't trying Sex, so Lisa and I paid $5 to do a third tasting of Sex and Consort, plus goat cheese and crackers. Let's just say, we spent the entire day making crude jokes ("I love Sex!" "I love Sex with you!" "I bought Sex on vacation!"). I think Brad would like it here, as well, and I hope to get the chance to take him back there someday.

Third place goes to Bel Lago Vineyard -- and I must say, first, second, and third place are VERY close. It really could have gone either way for all of them. I loved them all dearly and highly recommend them. Bel Lago also got me with the sparkly, and yes, yes, I was toasted mid-way through our visit (I blame our adorable server, John, who let me sneak seconds!).

The winery itself is nothing too special, just an open, simple building with a bar on either side. But the people were just lovely, the aforementioned John was hilarious and so sweet, and the wine was just awesome. Situated just across the road from the lake, it also had a wonderful view, so extra bonus points there.

Oh yeah, did I mention this was our first stop on Sunday, so I was toasted by 12:15 on a Sunday. Sweet. I must also make special mention of Bel Lago's award winning champagne, Briliante -- I wish I could have bought an entire case.

Cherry Republic, well, it's cherries. Of course I'm going to adore it. A trio of cottage-y type buildings, surrounding a beautiful garden, CR was just plain cute. Our tasting wine was hard cherry cider, which was amazing... alas, it was all cold and wouldn't have survived another two days in the trunk. Also selling a variety of cherry sodas, ciders, wines (and sangria), I was in love.

What keeps Longview Winery in the running is the super yummy and fun dessert wine tasting we paid an extra $5 to do (the free wine was good, too, and we got a brownie. Yum). Hosted by the owner's son, Seth, who was hilarious, I might add, we tasted two ice wines and a port + chocolate cherry truffle. YUM-O.

45 North is a newer winery, and the tasting was held in its production house as they haven't built a tasting room yet. But this gave it a cool, hip vibe, and everyone really enjoyed it here (extra points for the cute helper boy who was at our beck and call). They gave us mac and cheese, how can you go wrong with that, and we discovered peach cremant, which was soooooo tasty. We all bought a bottle.

Leelanau Cellars had a beautiful setting, right on the water, and introduced me to gewurtztraminer, which we all had a blast trying to spell (thanks, Lisa!). The server for our additional tastings was super nice, made recommendations, gave us chocolate, and even washed our very dirty glasses out for us. They also had Witches Brew mulled wine -- now, do you think I can resist a special Halloween wine? I bought 3 bottles.

Blackstar Farms is only this far down on my list because we had so little time here, at the one place we really could have spent a lot of time. It's a farm, an inn, a cheese house... Unfortunately, it was our last stop of the last day, and we basically got kicked out at closing time. But the wine was good, we snagged some fresh made cheese to nibble on, we finally got pizza for our tasting pairing, and our server put up with our drunk asses! Plus, I really was toasted by this point and I honestly don't remember how good the wine was -- although I know I liked it at the time and bought a bottle as well. Fingers crossed. :)

Good Neighbor Organic was our first stop of the first day, and it's also a very new winery. So new that all they currently have is hard cider. Fine with me. Unfortunately, it wasn't very good hard cider (especially compared to the others we had throughout the weekend). But it's new, it's organic, everyone was nice, so I'd definitely like to visit once they are more settled in.

I hate to say it... but there were some sucky places. If you're planning a wine trip up north, SKIP these, in order of less suckage to most suckage.

List of Suck

Shady Lane (FYI, I totally got carded here!) -- Beautiful setting, beautiful buildings, and they gave us super yummy mushroom stroganoff... but it was totally pretentious, the servers were assy, and the wine was expensive.

Willow -- Might have had the most beautiful view, but was totally WT inside. The wine sucked, the food sucked (salad slathered in mayo with pickles!!!)... We stayed about five minutes.

Ciccone -- Madonna's dad's winery (and you betcha they had Madonna wine), seemed super old lady. We ate (yummy, I'll give it that) ravioli in a back room that felt like a church basement. The wine they let us taste sucked, and the wines that sounded good weren't on the tasting menu.

Gills Pier -- I wanted to like this one, as their tasting wine was called Ankle Biter and had a pink dog on the label. But the lady was totally nasty (just stared at me and wouldn't even speak when I asked her a question) and the wine SUCKED. We all dumped it on the patio when no one was looking. The mac and cheese WAS delish, though.

Good Harbor -- Totally blah. Uninteresting, unwelcoming, and the hard cider sucked it. We didn't do any additional tastings here, and while the soup was good, they used canned sweet potato, which totally turned me off.

Chateau de Leelenau -- The server... SHOOK HER TIP JAR AT US!! 'Nuff said.

Interesting final thoughts:

1. I like to buy wine. I came home with 17 bottles of wine and a six-pack of cherry sodas.

2. I can drink white wine. Now, I still made a yuck face over all the chardonnays, but many of the Rieslings and more desserty wines I actually enjoyed. I even bought 3 bottles of white.

3. After drinking wine nonstop for 2 days, it takes more than half a bottle of hard cider to getcha boozy. After coming down from our boozy high, a ginormous dinner, and a few hours of chilling in the hotel room, Lisa and I decided it was time to hit the bottle again. We grabbed a blanket and a bottle of hard cider and killed that baby while hanging out on the beach. Great friends, great wine, the beach... what more can a girl ask for?


Lady Lisa said...

Fabulous recap. However. How the hell did it not take you like 5 hours to write this post!!?? Maybe I'm just blogger retarded. Perhaps I need to be schooled.

the two of us said...

so fun!

Sara said...

It would take me 5 hours too. Did they have a bus to take you around? I'd hate it if one of you missed out on all the tastings! I would be licked by the second stop myself. :)

Alison said...

Thank you SO much for the recap! Brad and I are planning on going to The TC wineries for our anniversary and we'll definitely be using your reviews as a guide!

Stephanie said...

ha ha ha I think it took me around two hours? it wouldn't have taken so long if I didn't reformat the entire thing every time I uploaded a picture. I'm an editor, I'm anal like that. I did accidentally click away from my window when I was almost done -- I nearly pissed my pants! Luckily, it had autosaved and I only lost a sentence or two. Phew! OH! And Sara -- no bus. Just the sweet driving styles of Miss Lady Lisa. :) (every group does their own tour order)

KayBee said...

Well said my lady....it was the best time and a must do for everyone.