There’s little better than a wine tour, until you add whiskey to it. This creative blend demonstrated the best of both barrels: an exclusive tasting experience at Traverse City Whiskey Company and wine tasting at both Left Foot Charley and Rove Estate Vineyards! Their partnership has formed an exciting and expert tour, running on select dates, and offering a completely singular chance to learn about the different industries.
The New Year’s Eve edition of the tour began at Traverse City Whiskey’s Stillhouse on 14th Street. The popular cocktail bar is open seven days a week and even has a happy hour on Monday-Thursdays from 3-7 pm. The company was founded in 2011 by three friends who all attended Michigan State University. Since then, they have grown to be the largest producer of spirits in Michigan, and they ship and provide their spirits to over thirty states. Their Master Distiller, Arthur Dodge, began the event with a brief Distilling 101 as he poured different whiskeys. Guests sipped on their choices of drink in small shot glasses while listening, asking questions, and getting gracious refills.
“Whiskey encompasses all-grain,” Arthur explained. It’s made with wheat, rye, corn, and barley products. It’s named for the area where its produced, explaining why American whiskey is called bourbon. In order to qualify as bourbon, it must be made in a charred, white oak barrel that hasn’t been used for any other purpose, and it must contain 51% or more of corn. There was something to try for everyone, including a particularly uncommon Barrel Proof Bourbon, which was pure and uncut, meant to be enjoyed richly and smoothly. A Port Barrel Finish was similarly outstanding, with deep cinnamon and vanilla giving this limited-edition whiskey a superb aroma. “We’ve introduced a new layer of intricacy to our straight bourbon whiskey with four months of extra aging in rare port wine casks—giving this whiskey a unique complexity that doesn’t sacrifice our signature flavors that you’ve come to appreciate,” TC Whiskey explains. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Traverse City-based business without a cherry product, so the distillery offers the American Cherry Edition, a 70 Proof blend steeped with Montmorency cherries grown on a local farm. They like to say that its flavor profile resembles “whiskey with a hint of cherry, not the other way around”.
During the signature whiskey flight, Arthur gave a detailed look at the distilling process, from fermentation to runs, and the importance of distinguishing the quality by the taste and smell. Some of their products sit in barrels for years, to create a superior taste and product. We took final tastes, and glanced longingly at the inviting cocktail bar, reminding ourselves that the tour would bring us right back to Traverse City Whiskey in time for the 3 pm happy hour.
Our group then hopped onto the TC Whiskey shuttle and enjoyed the chauffeuring to the area’s only urban winery, Left Foot Charley. Upon arrival at the faded yellow building that matches the rest of the vintage Commons area, we were ushered into the back production facility. Our tour guide explained that Left Foot Charley doesn’t own their own vineyards. Instead, they receive their fruit from local farmers, and retired people who own small, private vineyards for a hobby (not a bad idea!). Their bottles typically use screw caps, which works best for their dynamic aging process. The facility had tall windows that peered into the tasting room, where we could see lots of people enjoying wine at the delightful time of 1 pm. The windows were decorated with paper snowflakes, adding an adorable feeling of childlike enthusiasm.
“Left Foot Charley does a lot in a very small space,” the tour guide said. She touted the interesting color of their 2018 Pinot Gris, which is prepared vine to bottle, resulting in a faint orange color though it tastes like a white wine. Their 100% French Oak barrels were loaded nestled happily among the rows, waiting for the day they would be deemed mature enough to be bottled. We were then led out of the facility into the bright light of the last December day, and up the hill to an unseen tasting room.
The barrel room of Left Foot Charley is fantastic. The space is used for private tastings and events and is well worth the small trek out of the main tasting area. Exposed wiring traveled down the aged wood beams, and hanging Edison bulbs lit up the room and highlighted the exposed rock walls against the faded brick. It felt like a secret hideout, and the thrilling feeling was only exemplified when the wine began to pour. Guests were given multiple tastes in thin-lipped glasses, beginning with a heady Pinot Gris from Tail Feathers Vineyards on Old Mission Peninsula. A crisp cider (if you know anything about Left Foot Charley, you’ll know they are famous for their ciders!), and a deep red Blaufränkisch were also standouts. We savored an artistically displayed charcuterie board while taking sips of the wines, trying to reach the subtle flavors and notes that the guide was teaching us about.
The revelry was increasing as we got back on the bus. Rather than the slightly awkward group of strangers that we had begun as, now we were all becoming good friends who were promising to get together again for another adventure. (For those people who have ever joined a full day’s wine tour, by the last stop you’re likely in someone’s wedding and sending pictures of your group to that person’s mother.) By the time we reached Rove Estate Vineyards, everyone was exchanging numbers and throwing out jokes that left everyone dying of laughter.
Rove Estate Vineyards is an absolutely celestial winery, with ceilings that go on forever and
views that are more than breathtaking. As an homage to Ireland, their green walls and tireless spirit are inspiring and unique. “Over three hundred years ago, thousands of Irish were forced to flee their native land in what is historically known as the “Flight of the Wild Geese.” What most history books don’t record is that a large number of these refugees went on to establish some of the most renowned wineries across the globe. These forgotten Irish craftsmen and their ancestors are reverently called “Winegeese,” Rove explains. Since what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, we settled down at their long tasting bar with seating, to our personalized tasting menu and food pairings.
The tasting provided six award-winning Rove Estate wines with small bites of food to bring out the flavors. Each was outstanding, and particular favorites included the 2014 Cab Franc/Merlot, a romantic blend of deep fruit and rich complexity. It has aromas of dark berry and vanilla with black cherry, light oak, cinnamon, and nuttiness on the palate, and was perfect alongside a Fermin Iberico Chorizo. The 2018 Cuvée Rosé was delicate, with distinct hints of toast and red cherries, and was a fresh match to a slice of Prairie Breeze Cheddar. Their renowned white wines ranged from bone dry to the delicious sweetness of our area’s popular Late Harvest Rieslings.
Rove has been utilized by countless people for their beautiful and spacious deck, where guests can have a glass with a cheese board or other local snacks. Their elevated vineyards escaped an early frost in 2017 and saw drastic weather shifts in the summer and fall. This constant activity for the grapes led to a slow-building of character and wine that displayed fruit-forward flavors, vibrant aromatics, and playful acidity. Their new vintages are as pleasant as their tasting room and atmosphere.
The Whiskey and Wine tour was a truly phenomenal way to try a beloved distillery and two different and gorgeous wineries. The exclusive experience is offered on special dates, so stay tuned to the social media pages for each spot to snag your seat on what is an outing you won’t forget.
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