Leelanau Peninsula’s Good Harbor Vineyards
Last summer Good Morning America viewers voted Leelanau Peninsula’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the Most Beautiful Place in America. The significance of this national recognition reverberated through the region’s quaint villages, including the town of Lake Leelanau where one of the peninsula’s oldest wineries, Good Harbor Vineyards, overlooks the rich blue hues of Lake Michigan’s Good Harbor Bay.
‘With the Good Morning America coverage, we’ve had a lot of people come in and ask, ‘Where are the Dunes?'” says Debbie Simpson, proprietor and tasting room manager at Good Harbor.
These same visitors are exploring Leelanau’s growing wine region as much as they are seeking sand and water. In recent years, Simpson says travelers are spending more time on wine tours, planning several day long trips to ensure multiple winery stops.
‘You can’t do all of them in a weekend,” says Simpson of Leelanau County’s more than 20 wineries.
As one of the first five wineries to open on the peninsula in 1980, Good Harbor Vineyards established itself as a strong family-owned operation, a tradition that carries on after the passing of its original owner Bruce Simpson three years ago.
‘It was really hard,” Simpson, 58, says of losing her husband within a few months of his being hospitalized in late 2008. The couple, who knew each other while attending high school in northern Michigan, were married for 31 years. ‘He was a gentle giant. Bruce always had a lot of class. He was my first date who brought me a bottle of wine with a cork in it — a Christian Brothers Napa Rose.”
‘My husband was a pioneer in the wine business,” Simpson says of the early days of winemaking in Leelanau County.
Twenty-five years ago, Bruce Simpson helped found the Leland Wine and Food Festival, an annual event that attracts 5,000 people each summer. He also was integral in starting the Leelanau Peninsula Vintner’s Association and was one of the first members of the Michigan Grape and Wine Council.
The few wineries that were around in the late 1970s and early 1980s didn’t compete with one another, Simpson says: ‘Everyone helped each other.”
Today, that camaraderie continues. Bruce and Debbie’s two grown children, Taylor and Sam, opted to move back home following work in Chicago and college graduation to help their mother run Good Harbor Vineyards.
Today, Sam serves as winemaker and viticulturist while Taylor oversees sales, distribution, and marketing efforts for Good Harbor. They’re the third generation to grow up on the same land; in the 1950s, their grandparents John and Millie Simpson started a cherry farm where the vineyard is currently planted. Later, their father returned to help his father grow vines after learning to grow grapes and make wine at the University of California-Davis.
Good Harbor Vineyards has more than 65 acres planted to vine and includes one of the largest Pinot Grigio plantings in Michigan. The Simpsons expect to plant another 12 acres over the next three years including more Pinot Grigio.
The family also manages seven acres near the village of Leland and has 35 acres contracted between Leelanau County and southwestern Michigan. All told, the family grows over 119 acres of grapes and cherries on five different farm plots.
The farming practices utilized by Good Harbor Vineyards include integrated pest management (IPM), differentiated canopy management, hand harvesting, and the use of bio-diesel fuels. Committed to recycling, the family encourages patrons to return their bottles to be recycled through their tasting room.
Good Harbor Vineyards produces 18,000 cases a year, with its most well-known bottles being Fishtown White, a dry white blend of Chardonnay, Vidal, Vignoles and Seyval; Trillium, a semi-dry blend of Riesling, Vignoles and Seyval; Harbor Red, a soft blend of Marechal Foch, Chambourcin, and Leon Millot; and Cherry Wine, a blend of two varieties of tart cherries, Balaton and Montmorency, giving it a sweet-tart balance.
The winery is also known for its wine bottle labels, all of which feature local artists’ work.
‘Trillium was what I feel started all the labels out here,” Simpson says of the white flower drawn against an apricot-colored background.
‘We want to make it fun,” she says. ‘We’re not all serious “we’re serious about making wine, but you should have fun.”
A limited number of cases of a particularly special bottle – Tribute, a 2008 Chardonnay – was produced by Good Harbor to honor the memory of Bruce Simpson. Rich and complex, this wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French Oak for one year.
The label features a painting of Good Harbor Bay and includes a bit about Bruce Simpson’s impact on the region’s wine making. It reads, ‘…This label is a view from his front porch, his favorite place to sit and enjoy a glass of Chardonnay with his family and friends.”
The family, in following their father and husband’s legacy, strives to produce high-quality and reasonably-priced table wine. It can be challenging, yet incredibly rewarding work–especially in northern Michigan, Simpson says.
‘I feel very blessed to be living here and to have my children here. How many people have their kids come home, and to help with the family business?” Simpson says. ‘The winery affords us a lovely way to live. I don’t think there’s a more beautiful place to live.”
Home page photo: Pyramid Point in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as seen from Good Harbor Vineyards