Exploring the Old Mission Peninsula on M-37

Just north of Traverse City, the Old Mission Peninsula is a narrow finger of land extending into the center of Grand Traverse Bay. It’s 22 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide: a beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages that’s especially lovely in fall.

Highway M-37, known by locals as Center Road, shows you the best of this magical place. It’s perfect for a half-day drive that combines fall color with beautiful views, visits to wineries and fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at charming restaurants.

The first winery you’ll encounter is just past the crest of the first hill, it’s the Old Mission vineyard and tasting room of Black Star Farms, established on the site of the former Underwood farm. At the bottom of the hill, rising up on the left, is the Italian stone villa that houses Mari Vineyards, the peninsula’s newest winery.

For the next few miles the road runs along the shoreline with its ducks, docks, birds and boats, then begins to rise again. On the right you’ll see a former one-room schoolhouse. (The Peninsula once had seven of them, and five are still in use.) It’s the tasting room of Peninsula Cellars. Across the road and up the hill is the relaxed new Bonobo Winery.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

At the summit of the hill, there’s a scenic treat: a lovely overlook with splendid views of both arms of the Bay – a favorite place for watching sunsets, storms and other natural displays. It overlooks the sprawling vineyards of Chateau Grand Traverse, the first winery established on the Peninsula.  As the road descends the hill, continue to enjoy the scenery along with the fruit and vegetable stands that will be increasingly noticeable on both sides of the road. Stop by for some fresh apples, plums, beans, squash and other locally-grown goodies!

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Just ahead is the village of Mapleton, one of the Peninsula’s two small towns, home to the laid-back Peninsula Grill and Bad Dog Deli, as well as a handy grocery store, the Peninsula Market, which has the only gas pump out here.

From Mapleton, the road leads north over a razor-thin bluff known as the Hog’s Back, (with wonderful views of East Bay to the right) and rises even higher to the imposing Chateau Chantal Winery Bed & Breakfast. Over the next hill you’ll find the Old Mission Tavern, a charming eatery that has its own art gallery, the Bella Galleria.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

One last hill takes you down past cherry orchards, vineyards and tall rows of hops with great views of Old Mission Village to the right. Here, as the highway makes a gentle turn to the east, you’ll enter Lighthouse Park, home to the picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870. Although it is no longer in operation, it is open for tours and is the centerpiece of an attractive park with popular beaches, historical exhibits and extensive hiking trails.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

What are your favorite memories of the Old Mission Peninsula? Share with us by commenting below!

Blogger Bio: Mike Norton majored in history at the University of Michigan and spent 25 years as a newspaper writer and columnist in Traverse City. For the past decade, he’s been director of media relations at Traverse City Tourism. He lives in the village of Old Mission.

The Search for the Best Burger in Michigan

John “Gonzo” Gonzalez of MLive searched far and wide across the state for Michigan’s best burger. After six days of traveling 1,700 miles and visiting 33 restaurants, he found one thing for sure – Michigan is home to a number of great burgers! Read about John’s experience below and be sure to check out the list of Michigan’s best burgers for more.

I looked down at the end of the bar at Miller’s in Dearborn, where I saw a young man eating his second burger. “Man, you must love this place to eat TWO burgers!” I said. Still chewing, he held up his hand, flashing three fingers. “No,” I said. “I only saw TWO burgers in front of you.” He gulped down his bite and said, “I order two that I eat immediately, and then I order a third one,” he said. “Oh, I see, you order a third one to go?” “Oh no,” he said. “I’ll eat it here. I just don’t want it to get cold, that’s why I wait to order the third one.”

That’s the passion I discovered at every stop on our search for Michigan’s Best Burger 2013. Whether it was patrons, chefs, owners, managers or employees, there is a Michigan passion for a good, old fashioned burger with cheese and your favorite toppings.

We have done these searches before:

Michigan’s Best Coney Dog (American Coney in Detroit),
Best BBQ (West Texas BBQ in Jackson),
Best Ice Cream Parlor (MOO-ville Creamery in Nashville),
Best Haunted House (Erebus in Pontiac), and
Best Breakfast (Anna’s House in Grand Rapids).

But our search for Michigan’s Best Burger was by far our most extensive one. After a nomination process that involves our readers, we put up polls in all of our markets to determine the readers’ favorites. Once we have that list, I hit the road.

This time we traveled 1,700 miles, visited 33 restaurants and did it over a period of six days. We visited burger joints from Sault Ste. Marie to Detroit, Bay City to Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor to Muskegon. On some days we visited 7 restaurants in one day.

If any of you have followed our other searches, I often take along an expert or companion who helps me out. It’s not easy eating all this food. On our search for Michigan’s Best Coney Dog, I was joined by Joe Grimm (co-author of “Coney Detroit”). On BBQ, it was the president of the Great Lakes Barbecue Association, Mike Terry of Flushing. And for our breakfast search it was Mike Jensen, a retired prison cook from Saranac.

For burgers, we were joined by David Kutzko, a Western Michigan University professor of Classics (Greek and Latin) who has a huge appetite and spends a lot of time checking out Michigan restaurants. Also, we were joined by Fritz Klug, a statewide reporter for MLive and David’s former student whose intention was to tag along on our trip to the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. But we couldn’t shake him.

What we discovered: Michigan residents love their burgers!

Most of the burgers on our Top 10 list were cooked on flattop grills and used a blend of 80 percent lean meat, and 20 percent fat. Many used a hand press. All of them are flipped only once.

Each place had a little different method; some used a secret seasoning, others used salt and pepper, and some used no seasoning at all.

The secret was in the meat, and the preparation method. We also took into account creativity, buns and those intangibles that make you want to order a second – or third – burger before you leave!

Here is our Top 10 List:

  1. Michigan burger map. Credit: Ed Riojas/Mlive.com

    Laura’s Little Burger Joint, 47141 M-51, Decatur

  2. West Pier Drive-In, 601 W. Portage Ave., Sault Ste. Marie
  3. Miller’s Bar, 23700 Michigan Ave., Dearborn
  4. Talley’s Log Cabin Bar, 2981 County Road 612, Lewiston
  5. Stella’s Lounge, 53 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
  6. Brown Bear, 147 N. Michigan Ave., Shelby
  7. Schlenker’s Sandwich Shop, 1104 E. Ganson St., Jackson
  8. Torch Bar & Grill, 522 Buckham Alley, Flint
  9. Schuberg’s Bar & Grill, 109 N. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids
  10. Krazy Jim’s Blimpy Burger, 304 S. Ashley St, Ann Arbor

Take a look at our complete list of 33 finalists; you won’t go wrong at any one of them.

Where’s your favorite place to get a burger in Pure Michigan? Share with us in the comments section below!

As the Statewide Entertainment writer for MLive Media Group, which represents eight newspapers throughout the state, as well as MLive.com and AnnArbor.com, John Gonzalez oversees the “Michigan’s Best” series. He has led statewide searches for Michigan’s Best BBQ, Ice Cream Parlor, Breakfast, Coney Dogs and most recently, Burgers. John is based in Grand Rapids, but has worked in Detroit, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Flint, Holland and Bay City.  He is originally from Capac, Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichiganGonzo. 

4 Ways to Celebrate a Bountiful Harvest at Michigan Wineries

Fall is a magical season in Michigan. Our autumnal activities are so beloved that they often become tradition as we return to the same sights and sounds that fill us with joy each year. Are you ready to embark on your next fall tradition? Michigan wineries across the state provide a number of ways to celebrate harvest.

Read more on four ways to enjoy the fall season at Michigan wineries courtesy of guest blogger Jenelle Jagmin of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council.

Grape Stomping

Yes, grape stomping is still part of wine making! If you are in northern Michigan, check out Harvest Festival taking place at Chateau Chantal on October 1. In addition to grape stompin’, the festival also offers a Slurpin’ Seminar as well as a Distillation Seminar.  Marie-Chantal Dalese describes it like this, “Our annual harvest fest is a terrific way to experience the grape harvest and fall colors on Old Mission Peninsula.  We open our cellar doors and let guests see how we make wine while providing some fun and free experiences for visitors.”

Harvest season on Old Mission Peninsula

Photo Courtesy of Chateau Chantal

Do you want to show off your stomping skills in southwest Michigan? Check out Pappy’s Harvest Festival at Vineyard 2121 in Benton Harbor. In addition to grape stomping, the festival features wine slushies, hayrides, live music and a hog roast. Guests under 21 are free with an adult. The Festival takes place on September 17 & 18.

Take a 'step' back in time as you stomp grape similar to the old days

Photo Courtesy of Vineyard 2121

 Harvesting Grapes

Have you ever wondered what it is like to actually harvest the grapes from the vines? Sandhill Crane Vineyards in Jackson offers you the opportunity to do just that. Since the exact time of harvest is unpredictable, it is best to contact the winery to provide your contact information. They will reach out to you with the harvest date with a few days’ notice. If interested, contact Carolanne at 517-764-0679.

Volunteers harvest grapes at Sandhill Crane Vineyards

Photo Courtesy of Sandhill Crane Vineyards

Race Through Vines

Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail will host The Harvest Stompede on September 10 & 11, which gives participants the opportunity to run, walk or watch the race in beautiful Leelanau wine country. The race is paired with a self-guided wine tour and includes a souvenir glass.

“The Harvest Stompede is such a fun and festive way to kick-off the fall harvest season.  And if they don’t want to run or walk, they can just come for the tasting tour,” said Lorri Hathaway, executive director of the wine trail.

Runners love the Harvest Stompede

Photo Courtesy of Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail

Find a Winery Near You

From the far reaches of the U.P. to the southern border counties of Michigan, wineries dapple our gorgeous fall landscape. Each one celebrates the harvest in its unique way! Find your local wineries at michiganwines.com  & check out more events taking place around the state.

Harvest Festival at Lemon Creek Winery

Photo Courtesy of the Lemon Creek Winery

When you step into the vineyard this fall, you may notice an increased burst of elation. That is because Michigan is enjoying an abundant harvest – following two devastating seasons of crop loss. Support your local winery and join in the celebration!

Jenelle Jagmin is promotion specialist for the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. Founded in 1985, the council was established within the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development. For more information, and plan your trip to Michigan wine country, visit michiganwines.com.

Follow Michigan Wines on Instagram: @michiganwines