One of the questions I am often asked is: What do you think about the growing number of wineries in the Grand Traverse region, or even throughout Michigan: is that competition making things difficult?

My quick and simple answer is no, I welcome more wineries.

Here is a more expansive, nuanced answer.

We find that we are our own best competitors as we strive to make better wines (largely by doing a better job of growing grapes and finding cultivars suited to out individual vineyards). We learn from our own experiences, and those of our neighbors (sharing information among vineyardists and wine makers is legendary, and very surprising to those who come to this life from outside, bringing with them notions of competition that are alien to the real winegrower).

Too, when I began making and selling wine, there were only four, soon to be five, wineries in the area.

It was difficult to get consumer’s attention, but we were fortunate to be in a tourist/resort area, so we did have visitors who were seeking new experiences. As the number of wineries grew our area did become known as a wine-growing region, and visitors came to our wineries seeking out the new and different wines this region produces.

This was all good for each winery, as the critical mass of wineries in the region had grown to the point we were getting attention, driving visitors (customers) to our tasting rooms. Good for everyone, as smaller, younger wineries mainly depend upon direct sales from their tasting rooms, so more visitors to the region, seeking wines to try, give wineries the opportunity to have new customers find them.

Some wineries were growing large enough to depend upon sales through distributors in Michigan and some other states, in addition to sales direct to consumers through tasting rooms. Those wineries, mine included, found that more wineries in the region brought increased attention to the region as a wine producing area, and that served as a sort of introduction to wine consumers in neighboring states, giving them a reason to try our wines.

While the principal of a larger group of wineries in a region bringing more wine-seeking visitors holds true, at some point — usually very early on — wineries realize that they must distinguish themselves from each other.

They do this in a variety of ways: by specializing in a wine type (as my winery has done by making only sparkling wines); producing a range of wines from a particular wine grape variety (becoming known as a reliable producer of riesling, or pinot noir, or chardonnay, or cherry wines); having a particularly pleasing tasting room experience (maybe involving wine and food pairings, music, winery tours).

In any case, this diversity of wines, wineries and tasting rooms is healthy for the region. We express the unique personality of each vineyard, each winery, offering to the wine consumer a range of choices, breaking free from the stifling sameness represented by fast-food chains or mass merchandisers.

Larry Mawby is CEO of L. Mawby Vineyards in Suttons Bay.

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