John Crampton told me back in 1992 that when he and his wife Jo planted the first vines for Willow Vineyard, they had no idea of the incredible growth that was just around the corner.
“We were the fifth winery on the scene,” Crampton said. “We were so focused on what we were doing, and there had been just four wineries for so long. All of the sudden when we looked up there were a bunch of new wineries.”
That bunch of new wineries was followed by many more. In the space of 25 years the Traverse City area has become the heart of Michigan’s winery explosion with little sign of a slowdown anytime soon. One of the wineries slated to open late summer 2014 is Todd and Carter Oosterhouse’s Bonobo Winery.
“My brother and I looked at what the wine industry was doing in Traverse City and in Michigan from a business perspective,” Todd Oosterhouse said. “It’s not a niche or novelty anymore: this is an industry that’s adding to Traverse City.”
Along with full glass sales, smaller wineries are now allowed to sell at farm markets and take the product to a new audience. Another aspect that’s changing the wine business here is quality. Part of it is simple DNA. Northwest Michigan is the Cherry capital of the world because our climate is fantastic for growing fruit.
But it’s more than that. As good as the fruit is, Black Star Farms winemaker and partner Lee Lutes said our winemakers today know a whole lot more about how our unique soils and vineyard sites work for specific grape varieties and have developed growing practices that will yield better wine. To get growers to buy into these methods, the winery has been set up as a cooperative, getting 95 percent of its fruit from growers who are also partners in the winery ownership.