Is the Old Mission Peninsula one of the best places on earth? Our correspondent makes the case
- Last Updated: 7:03 PM, September 28, 2011
- Posted: 7:24 PM, September 26, 2011
My last trip was in the dead of winter. Everywhere, it is quiet. It seems like the world is sleeping, biding its time until the thaw. It is serene.
On that visit, I meet up with Bryan Ulbrich, owner and winemaker of Left Foot Charley, a winery that does not have a palatial estate but instead works directly with a number of different farmers who carefully tend small plots of land on Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, yielding exceptional fruit that has been lovingly nurtured to maturity.
I stop in the Left Foot Charley Winery and Tasting Room in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, the largest historical preservation and adaptive reuse project in the country and the former site of the Northern Michigan Asylum. First I run into Matt and Megan Gregory, new friends I made the day before while leisurely making my way through the empty tasting rooms of Leelanau Peninsula. Megan works at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay; her husband Matt is co-owner of Chateau de Leelanau. We have a pint of hard cider (a big seller for LFC, made with Michigan apples, of course), then Bryan and I sit down for a glass of wine. Then two. Then three.
“Doesn’t it freak you out to be here, to be in this old mental hospital where half the buildings still have boarded-up windows and rusty gates?” I ask him, remembering the first time I ever visited three years before, when I walked around the grounds both fascinated and frightened, eventually stopping here, at Left Foot Charley, and demanding the same thing of the unsuspecting girl working the room that day.
“The tunnels are great for storing barrels!” he laughs. “But being in an asylum makes you think about things differently.” He explains to me that asylums such as this were built to have a lot of natural light and air flow; it was believed that beauty is therapy. They had gardens and greenhouses where they grew their own food; patients had fresh flowers in their rooms every day, were allowed to work and play, and even had vocations that gave them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. “We like to look at the original intent,” he tells me, “the original meaning of ‘asylum’ – it meant peace, getting away, bringing asylum to the people that needed it. We’re trying to bring a sense of that back.”
I’ve looked at the Village a little differently ever since then.
There are many who consider Bryan one of the best winemakers in the region, but he is quick to point out that it starts with the grapes and the farmers who raised them. There is a whole page on his site dedicated to describing the individual vineyards and farmers, and each label designates where the grapes were grown and the person who cared for them.