Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dear Michigan (Some Things Just Stand Apart),

Every now and then you encounter someone who just stands out for some reason. Maybe it’s their sense of humor or their kindness or even their smile (and I don’t mean overall physical appearance as much as the way some smiles seem to reveal a true sense of character that’s more than charm or sex appeal, that’s more a manifestation of spirit for lack of a better word). It’s ironic, but for all the time I spend with words, they seem to abandon me most when I try to write about Q and how special she is. What I’m left with it seems are the ordinary, everyday words that never quite capture the essence of what I feel. Sometimes I tell her, “thanks for being you,” and sometimes she responds with a quote she came across once and she says, “Everyone else was taken.” But that’s one of the most beautiful things about the woman I love, her humility. It’s sort of like in the musical Billy Elliot when he shares the letter his dead mother left for him with his dance teacher. The letter reveals just how much Billy’s mother loved him and the teacher says, “She must have been special.” Billy says, “No, just me mum.” She was special and it’s easy for other people to see that. But, to Billy, that’s just the way she always was. That was just mom being mom. Q looks at herself that way. She doesn’t see anything that she thinks or says or does as special in any way, even though it’s easy for others to see just by watching the way she is with the mice or the way she genuinely wants to help people. It’s just her being her. And that’s part of what makes her so special to me.

Now, I mention this in part because you’re a lot like that too, Michigan. Not all of you, I’m sure, but there are parts of you that are special just being what they are. For example, you can go into any liquor store or wine shop in most states these days on a Friday evening and sample wines. Heck, Q and I just learned about a grocery store where you can drink wine while you shop (wonder if people buy more after imbibing). As fun as a wine tasting can be, some places make it an experience. Black Star Farms, in Suttons Bay, is one of those places that stand out just by being what it is. Q and I had the pleasure of stopping by the winery over the winter when we pretty much had the place to ourselves. As summer approaches, however, more and more people are looking for wine tasting experiences. I’m not sure you’ll find too many more memorable than Black Star Farms. As a matter of fact, I hope to take Q back there sometime soon and overnight at the Inn.

You can tell a lot about a winery by the wine. That’s a given. But you can also tell a lot by the place itself and by the people who work there. If you’re looking for one of those eye-catching-do-a-double-take-when-you-see-it places, you’ll want to stop by Black Star Farms. As you turn off the main road and enter the drive, for a moment, at least, it’s like being in Kentucky with the charming horse fence framing the soft slope of land. The drive curves down a slight hill and there you’ll find the Inn which is stately and grand, but never feels like too much. It fits the setting well and is really quite inviting. As you drive to the tasting room, you’ll pass the small café (aka Hearth & Vine) and farm market and the stables and you might even witness some sleek equine grace. There’s something majestic and potent and yet calming about the beauty of a horse. As an aside, I’ve never ridden myself, but that’s another of the many things I hope to do with Q one day (maybe in Wyoming or Colorado or Traverse City).

Black Star Farms is one of those places where you could spend most of the day. After a luxurious evening sleeping in the elegant Inn and having breakfast, you might be tempted to take a stroll and watch the horses. Apparently “the facility is designed for training,” but guests at the Inn are also encouraged to stable their horses. If you’re one of those guests, you may want to enjoy the grounds from a slightly higher point of view. Later, stop by the tasting room and watch cheese being made through a large window. You can even buy a sample of cheese to enjoy while you sample wines. The tasting room is spacious, yet comfortable.

And if you’re all about accolades, if you only take time to indulge in the best of things, well, Black Star Farms might just be your place. In addition to award-winning cheeses, the farm itself won an award for the work environment. That’s right, they seem to have figured out how to make work one of those things employees look forward to doing. And you can tell by the way they treat you. Q and I enjoyed an educational and yet fun tasting. When we were done, we mentioned that we were hungry but weren’t familiar enough with Traverse City to know where to have dinner. Two of the tasting room employees asked what we liked and then, in concert, suggested the same restaurant which turned out to be perfect. It wasn’t a big thing really, but it was the manner in which the two girls approached the situation. They didn’t just blurt out their favorite spot, but inquired first about our preferences. And that’s the way they made us feel during the tasting. Of course, if the results at the Great Lakes Wine Competition are any indication, 22 award-winning wines might suggest they’ve got pretty good wine too. I know Q and I enjoyed their wines enough to buy a few bottles. I work in wine country so I’m very familiar with wine tastings. There’s no question the biggest reason I enjoyed Black Star Farms was because I was there with Q. It’s that simple really, but the other reason that day stands out to me is because Black Star Farms is an experience.

We weren’t there when the café was open and we didn’t have the chance to enjoy the farm market (which I know Q would love), nor did we stay in the beautiful and tastefully done Inn, but I know we’ll be back and we will see what those elements of the overall experience are like. Q mentioned a quote to me last night that she encountered at the yoga studio and it was about the fact that you don’t go to yoga for this specific experience or that specific experinece. You just go for an experience and you allow yourself to be there in the moment and it’s that genuine experience that is meaningful (I paraphrase rather poorly). The same could be said of our visit to Black Star Farms. It was unexpected. We went to another winery first with no idea where to go next. We started our adventure late in the day and only had time for two or three stops. The girl at the first winery said, you should stop by B.S.F. and we did. From the moment we turned onto the property we felt drawn there. The fact that I’m writing about the experience months later indicates that I’m still drawn there.

When I write about how Q is this and how Q is that, I am of course very biased. But there’s a reason for that. I’ve met so many people over the years and few of them these days seem genuine. Few of us, I dare say, are just ourselves all the time. We usually have roles and responsibilities and for one reason or another they sometimes influence our personalities. So when you meet someone who doesn’t even know any other way to be, it’s more than refreshing. It's inspiring. Q says I’m sweet and romantic and wise. I don’t actually feel like I’m those things when I do anything in particular. It’s not something of which I’m cognizant of being or doing. And maybe that’s why it means something to her the same way watching her being a mom or listening to talk passionately about nutrition or about the many ways she wants to help people as a health coach all strike me as special. She’s just being herself and I just happen to find that self to be someone I want to be with. Black Star Farms is a small part of you, Michigan. But it’s one part that stands out. It’s one of your many wonderful bright spots. And I thought you should know that I see it for what it is, that I appreciate it for just being itself.

*photos provided by Black Star Farms


  1. Thank you very much for this lovely review. We are truly lucky to live in such a beautiful region. Your passion for it is no doubt shared with many of us here at Black Star Farms.
    Regards - Coryn Briggs, Winery Promotions Coordinator

  2. You have truly found a piece of what Up North Michigan is all about.
    But then I am biased since my son is a Chef there.
    I hope you return soon.
    Amy Schleh Dayton