Bonobo: A Must-See Winery With Mario Batali Small Plates

bonoboThe Mrs. and I will be staying at a wonderful B&B called the South Cliff Inn for four nights in early July, so stock up on the ingredients for those fabulous breakfast pastries and casseroles, Mr. Swisher!

The inn is located in St. Joseph, Mich., a fairly easy drive but a world apart from Chicago, the big city we’ll be flying into. St. Joe also is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Traverse City, Mich., and I am thinking seriously of trying to talk Michelle and the couple with whom we’re traveling into making the drive there.

Why? Because Traverse City is the home of Bonobo Winery, which has some familiar names behind it.

You may know the face and physique of Carter Oosterhouse from his hosting and carpentry skills on HGTV. You may know his wife, Amy Smart, from her modeling days or her film roles, which have included Tyler Perry’s “The Single Moms Club.” Mario Batali is among the most famous of America’s celebrity chefs.

The Oosterhouses, along with Carter’s brother Todd and his wife Caroline, had long wanted to bring something special to the region of their hometown of Traverse City, Mich. So they founded Bonobo Winery with the idea of offering world-class wines in a rustic yet elegant atmosphere with a breathtaking view. Their business model is inspired by the close harmony among the traditions, philosophies and ecological integrities of the area.

Making a commitment to the community that raised them, they employ local residents and utilize local resources to create an ethereal experience that captivates all five senses, with each element intentionally representative of the beauty, charm and sanctuary that is Traverse City.

Although the faces of the owners may be familiar, pretense is prohibited at Bonobo Winery. The goal is to bring a sense of approachability to the Michigan wine and vineyard scene, allowing for the ultimate educational and enjoyable experience.

The winery derives its name from the family’s support of the Bonobo Conservancy, whose mission is to protect bonobos (Pan panicus), preserve their tropical rainforest habitat, and empower local communities in the Congo Basin.

By working with local Congolese people through cooperative conservation and community development programs, and by shaping national and international policy, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative is establishing new protected areas and leading efforts to safeguard bonobos wherever they are found. You can read more about the BCI at

In striving to be a unique place to visit for an educational and enjoyable tasting, Bonobo Winery has partnered with Batali to curate its small plates menu. Batali is an American chef, writer, restaurateur and Northern Michigan enthusiast, as well as a golfing friend of Oosterhouse. Each plate is prepared using only the freshest seasonal ingredients, with flavors selected to ensure the perfect food and wine pairing experience.

The winery was designed with the comfort of guests in mind, with several spots where they can just hang out and enjoy wine (and small plates, if they wish) with friends. There’s a fireplace area with lots of seating, as well as a separate indoor-outdoor fireplace and a library. Some Traverse City locals say it trumps Starbucks as a safe and fun first-date destination.

A standard wine tasting costs $5, a premier tasting includes reserved seating and a souvenir glass, and the VIP tasting includes reserved seating, a souvenir glass and a private tour of the facility and vineyards (weather permitting).

Traverse City has long been a wonderful place for foodies, with Trattoria Stella being the go-to Italian restaurant and other enticing options including Harvest, Red Ginger and Mission Table.

And now that there’s another winery in the area — tapping the culinary talents of no less than Mario Batali — more people may begin thinking “Traverse City” when considering a wine country getaway.

  • Here’s the 4-1-1- on Bonobo Winery: 12011 Center Road Traverse City, MI 49686; 231-282-9463;
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Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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