Casks of award-winning vintages tempt guests at Bowers Harbor Vineyards, which earned Best of Class for its 2007 Cabernet Franc at the 2010 Michigan Wine & Spirits Competition, among multiple other awards and pleasantly slurred compliments. Surrounded by verdant hills near the lapping tongue of Lake Michigan, Proprietor Spencer Stegenga oversees the harvest, fermentation, and self-defense training of a delicious range of reds, whites, and sparkling wines, as well as hard cider. Visiting sippers can silence their thirstily jabbering tongues with Bowers’ signature reds—the 2896 blend of merlot and cabernet franc, touched with a bit of cabernet sauvignon, or the Meritage blend, whose soft tannins create a smoothly quaffable mouthful. Or try the 2009 Rosé, redolent with the flavors of flowers, berries, and wine.
Two Lads Winery's grape-laden, sustainably farmed fields yield 11 wines in a variety of vintages, with a focus on dry reds and sparkling wines. The 1.5–2 hour visit starts with a tour of the 58-acre hilltop complex, during which guides explain the wine-making process using diagrams painted by children, before the tour moves to the 22-acre vineyard, where the grape connoisseurs teach about grape varieties and grape-milking techniques.
As the trees take on the fiery hues of autumn, the pilots at Grand Traverse Balloons help guests watch the transformation from the best seat in the house—a basket. For the last 25 years, the Fall Color tour soars above the tree line, awarding hot air balloon passengers a view of the forest at heights between 2,000 and about 3,000 feet. The tours aren't limited to the season, either, as the Federal Aviation Administration–certified staff flies its inflatable fleet year-round.
Group rides take up to 10 people for one-hour jaunts over Traverse City and the surrounding countryside of northern Michigan. The seven-story balloons float over scenic stretches of lakes, bays, vineyards, and woodland.
In addition to group flights, the pilots also host private charters and tethered rides, for which a balloon is tied to the ground and soars up to 150 feet and down again on a vertical path. But no matter what, every aerial errand ends the same way—with the captain celebrating a successful landing by sharing champagne and razzing the nearest flightless bird.
Captain Lee Robinson spent his childhood fishing Alabama’s inshore waters for trout, redfish, flounder and tripletail. His passionate pastime turned into a career—now a USCG-licensed boat captain with 15 years of fishing experience, Lee leads fishing trips for Mobile Bay Charters through the same shallow waters where he spent his youth. At the helm of his 24-foot Pathfinder, powered by a Yamaha 300-horsepower engine rather than a chariot of seahorses, he takes passengers to prime fishing spots in waters from Mobile Bay to Orange Beach.
Tarka Kumal always loved the water. After a childhood spent on the rivers of Nepal, he was inspired to not only lead the nation's freestyle kayaking team to the world championships in 2001, but also to take rafting trips in more than a dozen countries. Today, Tarka has transformed his passion into a globe-spanning career—his Nepal- and Wisconsin- based company schedules adrenaline-pumping sojourns from rock climbing and safaris to whitewater rafting. Tarka's experienced guides have led hundreds of trips, and they each hold certifications in CPR, river rescue, and wilderness first aid to keep guests and nearby fish in safe hands. The company's website is stocked with helpful tips for watery adventurers, from advice on what to wear to details on trips down American and Nepalese rivers.