Race recap: What an awesome weekend and what a fun race! We were very excited to head up to Michigan for Labor Day weekend with a great group of friends to tackle a half marathon and tour the local wineries. The first mile of the race was a good warm-up where Kristin, Neal and I eagerly chatted about our upcoming weekend plans. Mile two was a slow and steady climb of ~110 feet, which wore us down a bit, but the hard work was worth it as we were rewarded with a run past the vineyards of Domaine Berrien and Lemon Creek. It was a pretty unique experience to run past the mesmerizing rows of grape vines at these wineries. Given the humidity and the hilly course profile we decided pretty early on that this would not be a record day for us, so we just enjoyed the run and soaked in the scenery and day-dreamed about touring these wineries. Around mile 6 we passed Free Run Cellars and enjoyed some nice rolling downhill terrain. As we ran, we met a fellow runner, Nicole Fritz, who was running her second half marathon of the weekend and planning to run her third the next day! Nice to know we’re not the craziest runners out there :). At mile 7 we had separated from Neal and Nicole and began the hardest hill section of the course. The next two miles were tough. It felt like every time we got to the top of a hard climb, the reward was short-lived as all we could see was the next impending climb. This is not a treacherous course, but the late stage rolling climbs give the legs a good beating. The cold towels volunteers handed out at 10 mile were awesome – absolutely perfect timing to give us just a little boost to keep going. The final few miles were flat to downhill and as we concentrated on avoiding the banked roads we smiled and joked as we headed towards the finish line. My favorite exchange occurred just after mile 12 when I flinched, broke stride and said to Kristin “Sorry, I thought I heard a dog panting.” Without missing a beat, Kristin responded, “Nope, that's just me.”
Highlight: Running our 50th ever half marathon with our friends Neal, Josh, Tasha and Matt. Impressive performances too – Josh, Tasha and Kristin all took home age group hardware and Matt captured the overall win and now holds the course record! No doubt, this group clearly claimed victory over wine.
Tip: Although the race has the word "trail" in the title, it’s entirely run on paved roads and "trail" simply refers to the Michigan Wine Trail (i.e. a whole slew of wineries in Southwestern Michigan). This was an inaugural race, but the race director and volunteers did a great job and we expect this race will grow into a much bigger event in the next few years.
Day 1 (Saturday):
While the appearance of St. Joseph Baguette De France wasn't much different than Subway, the reviews from Urban Spoon once again nailed it - this is a great stop for a super fresh sandwich. Kristin and I both sampled the Hawaiian ham with light garlic and were impressed and Matt devoured the buffalo chicken. Quality lunch for sure.
There was a tri-state regatta (i.e. boat races) going on in St. Joseph this weekend so we made a quick stop down by the Yacht club to check out the action. Unfortunately, it was a bit rainy that day so a majority of the boats were still in the harbor so we ended up just going for a short walk along the beach.
After a light rain shower, luckily the weather cleared up for our stop at the Round Barn brewery and winery. Here we met up with Neal and Ivana and all enjoyed some beer, wine and spirit samples (the vodka was pretty darn good when mixed with the cranberry wine; the rum was harsh). After grabbing a sampling of our favorite cocktail we found a table outside, talked and jammed out to a live band in the vineyard (ok, maybe some of the older and drunker people jammed out a little more, but we still enjoyed ourselves).
At dinner we met up with the remainder of our weekend crew (Josh and Tasha) and thoroughly enjoyed dinner overlooking the Tabor Hill vineyard. The food was extremely good and oddly enough all seven of us ordered a different entrée so we got to sample a ton of different dishes. Kristin’s sushi rolls were tasty and my breaded whitefish was very fresh. Ivana’s cheesy grits were awesome – just the right amount of cheese and spices. Very enjoyable dinner to kick off our Michigan weekend.
Day 2 (Sunday - Race Day):
After the race and a bit of a snafu with our original breakfast place being closed on Sunday (sorry again about that guys) we loaded the cars and headed to Sophia’s House of Pancakes. It was getting late and most of us had not really eaten anything that day so by the time the food arrived there was dead silence as we all kind of gorged. Decent food for a diner; the omelets were huge (5 eggs), the coffee was plentiful and the conversation was great! A big thanks to Matt for continuing his tradition of buying breakfast for the whole table when we wins a race – thanks Matty!
After cleaning up it was officially wine o'clock and we headed to our first winery of the day – Domaine Berrien. The tasting room was very small and the pourer actually made us wait until half of the wine bar was empty before they would serve us (strange, but that may be some sort of state law about serving liquor but not being considered a bar). The wines were ok, a few decent choices (Wolf’s Prairie Red) but a number of the white wines actually tasted like they had soured. We finished our samples and moved on to bigger and better things.
Hickory Creek’s tasting room was about the same size as Domaine Berrien, but we were basically the only people there, which was really nice. Hickory's wines are in some of the top restaurants in Chicago and with good reason. The 2010 Pinot Gris was incredibly well balanced and tasted more like a true Napa wine than a Michigan breed. These are full bodied wines which can be a turn off to new winos, but Kristin and I were impressed. Make sure to visit the tractors out front for some solid photo ops!
We arrived just in time for the last tasting of the day at Free Run Cellars. Kind of a fitting name for a winery considering we ran a half marathon earlier that morning. The tasting room was nice and spacious and the wines were decent to good. Some sweeter varieties but overall enjoyable; we really liked the cherry wine. The bourbon was ~110 proof and smelled as strong as it tasted – yowza! It had been a pretty busy day and I think the group was starting to tire out but we decided “when in Rome” and headed to the last winery of the day.
Gravity has a super unique concept on wine tasting, a huge tasting room and an awesome outdoor patio. Each wine flight (four wines in each flight) is paired with a specific chocolate or cheese to enhance the flavor of the wine. Kristin got the red wine and chocolate flight and I tried the white wine and cheese flight. Sitting outside in the sun as we enjoyed our wine flights was a perfect cap to our winery tour. Don’t pass up this winery, it’s a lot of fun (especially for groups)!
We decided to rent a house for the weekend (1374 Linden Drive St. Joseph, MI) and it worked out really well for our group. Everyone was a bit tired, so it was a great idea to stop at the grocery store and just relax with a home cooked dinner (burgers, sautéed zucchini and fries), a few cocktails and s’mores as we sat on the large deck overlooking the water. We also learned that aside from Josh and Tasha, the rest of us would likely be cold and hungry until the tribe voted us off Survivor.
Day 3 (Monday):
Downtown St. Joseph is a pretty cute little town. After posing with a local pirate for a quick photo we stopped into Café Tosi for a light breakfast. The Café is famous for its eggs espresso – two eggs cooked with the steam from the espresso machine topped with ham and cheese. The eggs were very airy and only ok, but the ham and latte were both awesome. Matt’s cinnamon French toast looked amazing – we’ll have to try that next time. Really good coffee.
We walked off breakfast with a long stroll along Silver Beach in downtown St. Joseph with Tasha and Matt. There was not a cloud in the sky, so the whole group was happy - especially those looking to bask in the sun for one last tan before the leaves begin to fall. A great way to end a great weekend!
Michigan Half Marathon Medals
September 2, 2012: Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon