PBS’s ‘Wine First’ Travels to Traverse City

Three Michigan wineries will represent the region on the international wine show
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The film crew captures a scene for the Traverse Wine Coast episode of Wine First. All photos courtesy of Traverse City Tourism unless otherwise noted

A television show highlighting wine regions around the world has made a stop at the Traverse Wine Coast. In mid-July, the team behind PBS’s Wine First traveled to northwestern Michigan to film an episode for the show’s second season, which will air later this year.

The episode was coordinated by Traverse City Tourism, with funding provided by TC Tourism and Pure Michigan. Mike Kent, public relations manager at TC Tourism, says the organization couldn’t pass up the opportunity to showcase the Traverse Wine Coast alongside famed European wine regions and others. And the area was a perfect fit for the program.

“We have this fantastic story to tell being on the 45th parallel, same as Bordeaux, France,” Kent says. “It is a dramatically growing wine scene with tremendous recognition coming from wine competitions. Plus, it’s gorgeous.”

The show, created by Norwegian production company Tellus Works Television, introduces viewers to one wine region per episode. In each installment, the hosts, Liora Levi, president of the Norwegian Sommelier Association; sommelier Maya Samuelsson; and food consultant Yolanda Año, visit three wineries in the region, where they are given a tour and learn about its history. TC Tourism selected the three wineries to be featured on the Traverse episode: Black Star Farms, Chateau Chantal, and Brys Estate.

At each winery, the hosts meet with the winemaker to taste three wines and choose their favorite. Then, they sample three local ingredients and select one. Once they’ve visited all three wineries, a local chef prepares a meal, using the selected ingredients, to pair with each of the wines the hosts chose. That’s where the show gets its name — instead of choosing a wine to pair with a dish, the chef starts with the wine first.

The hosts also get to have a little fun: At each location, the winery’s staff shows off some of its distinct characteristics with an activity for the hosts. At Black Star Farms, one of the hosts rode a horse through a cherry orchard; at Chateau Chantal, everyone enjoyed a live concert at sunset; and at Brys Estate, the hosts took a “wine wagon” through the vineyard and down to the secret garden.

Two of the Wine First hosts with Sherri Campbell Fenton (second from left) and Kerm Campbell (third from left).

The goal for the Michigan wineries was to represent the region well.

“We’re just going to showcase who we are and what we do really well,” says Sherri Campbell Fenton, managing owner of Black Star Farms and president of the Traverse Wine Coast. “I’m very interested and looking forward to the growth and awareness of [the] Traverse Wine Coast and this wine region and the depth and the quality of wine that people can see that is occurring here. … It should be fantastic awareness of our region.”

The program will spread the word about the region’s food, in addition to its wine. The final tasting ceremony took place at Aerie, Grand Traverse Resort’s signature restaurant, and its former chef de cuisine, Auston Minnich — now executive chef at Grand Traverse Resort — was the featured local chef.

“It’s a great opportunity for me for the challenge of the show but also [to] showcase what we do here at the resort,” Minnich says.

Caroline Rizzo, the resort’s public relations manager, agrees. “It’s really cool to put not only our wine region but our food offerings on an international stage for people to see,” she says. “And we are always featuring local wines and local food fare and all of those components and ingredients. For us to be able to then do that and be the one selected in town to be part of this, alongside those three spectacular, long-storied wineries — it’s fantastic. It’s really exciting.”

Wine First host Maya Samuelsson (left) at Chateau Chantal. Photo by Kyle Brownley

The filming for the show took place the week of July 11. The film crew spent a full day at each winery capturing its unique character, plus an additional day at Aerie for the final tasting ceremony.

“[The filming] was great; they were awesome to work with,” says Kyle Brownley, director of marketing at Chateau Chantal. “The director was really easy, very efficient. The hosts were lovely. We got to enjoy some time with them both before and after shooting, which was really, really nice.”

Patrick Brys, president and CEO of Brys Estate, notes that while film crews have come out to the winery before, this was his first time shooting a reality show with hosts.

“The hosts were just so wonderful and made you feel so comfortable, and when you’re basically hanging out with them all day, you kind of forget that the cameras are even there,” he says. “It was a lot of fun. We had a great time with them.”

The Traverse Wine Coast episode of Wine First will air on PBS stations around the country starting later in 2022 and will be available through PBS for the next three years. TC Tourism’s Kent says the majority of PBS stations will show the episode, so viewers across the U.S. will get an inside look at what makes Michigan wine country special.

The Wine First crew in the vineyard at Black Star Farms.

“I’m really looking forward to bringing awareness to our wine region and Michigan in general as a wine region, … just having the attention on that Michigan can grow grapes and does amazing things with wine,” Brys says.

The spotlight, of course, will be on Northwest Michigan.

“It’s really great for the region,” Brownley says of the show’s reach. “And in particular, it’s great for the Traverse Wine Coast, just letting people know about this area and what kind of great wine we can produce here.

“It’s a show that’s gone to wine regions all over the world, so for them to pick Traverse City, it’s really important to us to showcase the best of who we can be as a wine industry. And I think that we did that with the help of a few other wineries.”

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