To celebrate Kyle’s birthday, we took a weekend trip up north to stay at the Chateau Chantal Winery & Inn and for the Mac’n’Cheese Bake-Off.  The bake-off involves the Old Mission Peninsula wineries to pair a selection of their wines with a gourmet mac’n’cheese made for the competition by local restaurants.  
When I originally purchased the bake-off tickets and booked our room at the inn, I was imaging beautiful fall foliage, wrapping up in a light winter coat, and strolling along the beach.  Ha ha ha!  Not so.  The drive up was disastrous with high winds blowing the car to-and-fro, rain, snow, sleet, and hail.  After four hours in the car, we took refuge in our first stop of the trip: Tandem Ciders in Suttons Bay.  I knew we had to visit because they make hard apple ciders.  We would be visting several wineries and breweries, both of which we frequent at home, but cider would be something new.

They have a cozy tasting room where we sampled each of their ciders and their apple brandy.  We bought a growler and a few bottles to bring back home with us of their varietal “Smackintosh.”  Now that we’re home and we’ve consumed the growler already, I wish we would have bought a case to get us through the winter…Smackintosh is sweet, tart, and like biting into a crisp, refreshing apple.  It’s clean, not cloying or syrupy, and lip-smacking delish.
We drove into Traverse City, hitting Leelanau Winery on the way, and stopped at Jolly Pumpkin for dinner.  We eat at Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor all the time: love their brews, truffle fries, pizzas, and pumpkin whoopee pies.  The Traverse City location has some of our favorites on their menu along with various other offerings.  We chowed on truffle fries, cherry pork nachos, and chorizo pizza before heading to the B&B to check-in.
Oh, what fun: we arrived after dark, so we couldn’t see the glorious chateau perched atop the rolling hills overlooking the sparkling bay.  
No, we had wind whipping our car off the road, barely made it up the driveway, and when we unpacked the car, had the wind whipping our suitcases madly about while we were blinded and struck with the swirling snow.  We heaved our bags inside, shut the door behind us, and all was well.  

Chateau Chantal is a cozy B&B with spacious, wine-themed rooms, and we were in one of the petite suites.  One of their perks is that you can visit their tasting room after hours at any time for a free tasting of their wines.  You can step behind the bar, grab bottles out of the cooler, and pour yourself a sample.  Once you’ve gone down the list, you can pour yourself a complimentary glass of wine for each night you stay.  What a sweet deal!  We took advantage our first evening…well, morning…because we passed out at seven, woke up at three, and decided to make a go of it:
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Settling in at the tasting bar to sample Chateau Chantal's list of wines
Then, back to the room, back to sleep, and up early for a tasty breakfast with the most glorious bacon ever.  Get thick-cut bacon, fry it up until just starting to crisp, spread on a jellyroll pan, sprinkle liberally with brown sugar, and finish in the oven.  Oh.  My.  God.  Just do it.  Then it was off to the Mac’n’Cheese bake-off!
What a fun event!  We spent the late morning and all afternoon driving from winery to winery.  At each locale, we were given at least one taste of wine and a heaping scoop of cheesy goodness.  
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Here we are at the bake-off space at Chateau Grand Traverse, our first stop. Unfortunately, we got so swept up in the day after this that we didn't document much more of the event.
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Here you can see the typical offering at each winery: a few sips of wine paired with a small plate of mac'n'cheese. Like many of the dishes we tried, this one featured pulled brisket; pulled pork was another favorite.
Some of the stand-out wines of our trip included the following:

2Lads Winery

2Lads has a gorgeous tasting room perched high on a hill overlooking the rolling vineyards and water.  It’s contemporary in design, with industrial, metal architecture and a bold orange and gray color scheme. 

Reisling: This is one of the best Rieslings I’ve ever had.  Oftentimes they’re a safe wine that please just about everybody because they’re fruity and flavorful without being too complex or dry.  Well, this wine was spectacular because it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Riesling.  Incredibly flavorful, almost fizzy, rich, apple-y, and sweet-tart.

2011 Cabernet Franc Rose: Roses are usually another safe bet, but oftentimes more “experienced” wine enthusiasts (snobs) frown upon them for being too fruity, sweet, and one-note.  Well, this rose blew that stereotype out of the water.  It had depth and robust flavors, and while it was fruity, it had more qualities of a juicy, complex red than a berry rose.  

Black Star Farms Winery

Black Star Farms is a foodie mecca with its own luxurious inn, cheese-making facility, winery, and restaurants.  They were the stand-out winery of the bunch, and my favorite of their wines was their sparkling “Be Dazzled.”  I’m not one for sparkling wines because the carbonation gives me major heartburn.  Not with this one.  It was off-dry and flavorful, and the bubbles popped playfully on the tongue and burst with fruit notes.  It’s a perfect aperitif!

Chateau Chantal Winery

This winery features several cherry wines, because, of course, Traverse City is the cherry capital.  While there Cerise, a cherry port-style wine was another favorite, their Sparkling Cherry wine was so tasty that we took home a few bottles for us and for gifts.  It would make a great holiday wine because it’s so festive, but because it’s so refreshing, it would be great year round to pair with appetizers, desserts, or on its own.

Chateau Grand Traverse Winery

Out of all the Old Mission wineries, Chateau Grand Traverse had the nicest gift shop.  Yes, there were some kitschy, corny wine gifts, but then there were some really nice wine racks, cheese platters, and entertaining gifts.  As far as their wine: I’ve had many a tasty Late Harvest Riesling.  I had never had a Late Harvest Chardonnay until I sampled one at the Chateau Grand Traverse winery.  Chardonnays are one of my favorite varietals: I like mine creamy, butter, and heavily oaked.  This Late Harvest Riesling had all of those qualities but with extra sweetness laced throughout.  A revelation!

Full and happy, it was another evening in at the inn.  We snapped some photos of the Old Mission landscape and Chateau Chantal’s property before night settled in.  It was such a relaxing, romantic retreat.  We hope to return in summer so that my visions of the sparkling bay and strolling on the beach can be realized.  Until then, it was a happy, happy birthday getaway for us both. 
1/7/2013 15:30:16

Wow, what fun!! Aside from the weather, that is pretty much everything awesome in one weekend. :-)

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