Fall Colors and Michigan Wine

I haven’t seen the leaves change in the Midwest since around 2004.  So when my brother set his wedding date in late October, I knew I would get to see my favorite season.  Geoff and I arrived a few days before the wedding and convinced my parents to take a road trip into southern Michigan to hit the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.

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Setting foot on the grounds of Hickory Creek Winery was like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting.  Corn fields in soldier straight lines waited to be harvested.  Vintage tractors perched on the edge of the driveway beckoning a photograph.  The trees that hadn’t yet become skeletons were fiery shades of red, golden yellows, and russet browns.  Red apples littered the ground in front of the red barn that held the tasting room and processing center.  But the most Midwestness of the scene was the tire swing begging me to take a seat and, of course, a picture.

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We had Hickory Creek Winery to ourselves, and for $5, we were supposed to be able to sample four wines, but since we were the only customers there, our hostess let us sample as many wines as we wished.  My two favorites were the 2013 Chardonnay and their Laughing Labs Rose’.  For every bottle of the Laughing Labs they sell, a portion of the sale goes to the Midwest Labrador Retriever Rescue.  Needless to say that after sampling about eight or nine wines, my mom and I were feeling pretty good.  So with my dad as chauffeur, we jumped back in the car to head to our next destination, Tabor Hill Winery.

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Tabor Hill was just as lovely as Hickory Creek, but more crowded.  Here my mom and I started with the wine tasting before the four of us took a break for lunch in their restaurant.  I sampled their Pino Gris, Lake Michigan Shore Rose’, Classic Demi-Sec, but my favorite was the Cherry Wine.  This bottle made the trip back to Florida.

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As Mom and I tasted, Geoff and my dad scoped out the chocolate truffles they import from Fort Myers, Florida.  Geoff bought us a box which didn’t last past lunch time.  The peanut butter and jelly and chocolate caramel being the favorites.

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Lunch at Tabor Hill, while a little pricey, was delicious.  They had everything you could imagine from Southwest salads, to gourmet burgers, to Shrimp Po’Boys.  The favorite of the table though was homemade potato chips drizzled with cheese, hot sauce, and blue cheese crumbles.

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After lunch we scoped out the grape vines yellowing in the autumn air before heading to Round Barn whose logo looks oddly like a smiling cheshire cat.  At Round Barn there is a wine tasting room that also serves vodka and other liquors.  In addition they have a brewery which you can buy by the glass or growler.

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Mom and I started with the winery.  At this point in the day, I stopped taking really good notes about what I was drinking.  I do know that I came home with a bottle of Farm Market Cranberry wine, which I am saving for Thanksgiving, and a bottle of DiVine Black Walnut  Creme which is sinfully delicious.  I can’t wait to open that bottle and make mixed drinks!  The only disappointment of the day was the DiVine Vodka which is made from grapes but tasted like gasoline.  I guess I’ll be sticking to potato vodka, besides, who knew vodka could be made from grapes?

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Our last stop on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail was Lemon Creek Winery.  Here we only had about twenty minutes before they were closing, so the wine tasting was very hurried.  Our limited time didn’t stop me from picking up a bottle of their Silver Beach Sauterne.

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I would highly recommend steering your car in the direction of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail in the fall for a sampling of great Midwestern wines and fall colors.  We only made it to four wineries, but there are eleven to visit and all within about 20 miles of each other.  For five to ten dollars at each location, we were provided with generous samples of wines made right on the property, and a few places even threw in a wine glass to boot which of course can be used for discounts on future trips.  Bottles of wine ranged from around $12 to $30 with many places offering discounts with multiple bottle purchases.  If we ever make it back to Michigan for a winery day, I would pack a picnic lunch as the only place serving food was Tabor Hill.  Most importantly, bring a designated driver (thanks Dad) because it’s very easy to overindulge.

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Paddling Mosquito Lagoon

We were recently gifted a set of matching kayaks (thanks Mel and Sydney), and since then we’ve been spending weekends exploring the different places to paddle around Central Florida.  Labor day weekend our destination was Canaveral National Seashore on the southern end of New Smyrna Beach.

The alarm buzzed at 6 A.M. on Labor Day so that we could make the hour and half drive to the national park.  Knowing it was a holiday, we didn’t want to make the drive only to be told the park was full.  We’d recently experienced this at Wekiwa Springs State Park a few weeks earlier.  So by 6:30 the kayaks were loaded and cooler packed, and by 7 we were on the road.

We arrived at Canaveral National Seashore about 8:30.  Five dollars later we were headed toward the visitor center to check out the boat launch.  Scoping out the area from the dock, we had our first wildlife sighting–a dolphin.  Instead of launching the kayaks here, we decided to make this dock our rest point.

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A day on the water

Back in the truck we drove to parking lot six and unloaded.  Carrying the kayaks a few feet we were quickly pushing off into the water.  It was then that I heard a giant splash in the mangroves to my right.  Immediately I saw a couple of manatees, so I decided to paddle a little closer.  Geoff launched right after me.  I hadn’t paddled more than twenty feet when I was surrounded by at least five manatees.  Instead of moving away from me, they decided that they needed a closer look at my kayak.  I stopped paddling as a rather large one swam right under me, nudging my boat on the way.  Now I know that manatees are pretty docile mammals, but my heart was pounding as I saw I was surrounded.

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Slowly I dipped my paddle and pushed backward putting a little more space between me and the herd of female-seeking males.  Later, I found out that I had interrupted a sea cow love-making session.  Most likely only one of the herd I found myself in was a female.    Once I had disengaged from the tangle of manatees, I paused to watch them from a safer distance.  Geoff was about twenty feet away from me watching as well.  Close, but not close enough for me to hear him breathing.  As I continued to hear these puffs of breath, I soon realized that there was a manatee snout next to the side of my kayak.  He or she just seemed to be scoping out my kayak.  So perfectly still, I grabbed my phone and got some of the coolest and closest shots of the manatee checking me out.  It was a moment I’ll never forget.

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My new manatee friend

Leaving that herd of manatees behind we explored Mosquito Lagoon encountering Florida brown pelicans, a blue heron, egrets and ospreys.  Three miles later, we pulled into the dock at the visitor’s center to stretch our legs and grab a snack.  We weren’t out of the kayaks for more than five minutes when I spotted another dolphin swimming right where we had been paddling.

Back on the kayaks we headed to our entry point and again paddled into a herd of manatees.  This time we saw them ahead of time because they had knocked a paddleboarder into the water.  Again, this group was feisty as well with lots of splashing and tail flipping.  I’ve never seen the massive manatee move so much.  Wilting in the humid and breeze-less day we decided to end our paddle.  So, we pulled out and loaded back into the truck.

After lunch we hiked to an ancient Indian shell mound.  While we weren’t sure if we actually found the shell mound, we did find dozens of banana spiders in webs intricately woven between mangrove and palm branches.

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I almost walked into one of these webs–yikes!

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Mosquito Lagoon

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A quick dip in the ocean cooled us off before he headed back for home.  This is the best place I’ve kayaked yet, and I cannot wait to get back and do it again.

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