‘On the Map’ visits Michigan’s winemaking region

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France, Italy, Spain and California are all known as popular wine regions. And in recent years, a new location has been added to that list: Michigan.

In 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, the wine industry contributed over $300 million into the Michigan economy, much of it coming from northwestern Michigan.

Some people are born into wine making… while others discover it later in life. That was the case for Tom Knighton and his family. They’re not originally from the Leelanau Peninsula, but did vacation in the area for over two decades, before finally deciding to build an additional home in Leland.

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“As we lived up here, we started watching the industry, because when we built our house up here there was like five wineries” Knighton says. Tom and his wife still traveled after moving to the Leelanau Peninsula. During their travels, the Knighton’s say themselves being drawn to wine regions.

While they had already enjoyed wine, they started to become fascinated with how the wine was actually was made, along with the “experience” of wine tasting.

It was around eight years ago that the Knighton’s decided they wanted to be part of the “experience” closer to Leland.

Around 8 years ago, Tom and his family found a smaller farm they could see themselves managing. The 40 acre property already had 8 acres of mature vines, and it was one of the few vineyards that were growing grapes and then selling them to other wineries in the area.IMG_0854

As visitors pull into the driveway of the Knighton’s Blustone Vineyards, they instantly know that their on a farm. At the bottom of the drive sits the winery’s fermentation building, and atop a nearby hill is the tasting room. There, patrons can gaze through the massive glass walls, taking in a stunning panoramic view of the vineyard.

Knighton explains his vineyard is perfectly situated for grape growing. It’s nearly on top of the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the north pole.

“We’re sitting here probably probably 100 feet away from the 45th parallel. The 45th parallel all around the world are wine regions. There’s something the way the sun hits the earth at the 45th parallel, is great for growing grapes” says Knighton.

Some of the world’s most famous wine regions are located at the same latitude: upstate New York, Willamette Valley in Oregon, Bordeaux in France and Piedmont in Italy are just a few.

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Winemaking really took off on the Leelanau Peninsula about 25 years ago. Over the years, some25 wineries have been built and Knighton says some of them are quite close together.

“We have a cross country ski trail in between here and 45 North, so you can ski between our two tasting rooms. Our vineyards touch in the back.” 45 North is another vineyard and winery out of Leland, who also have received a number of state and national awards.

As the number of vineyards have grown, so has the number of wine aficionados visiting the region. Today, well over a million people visit the Leelanau Peninsula annually.IMG_0851

Knighton says “that whole culture is just building to where people now see these as a destination. The term a lot of people use is agrotourism. And we really work together up here, because we all work together because we know if we create a region that people want to come, it’s going to benefit all of us.”

The area is increasingly seeing younger visitors, especially millennials who are now finding themselves with more disposable income says Knighton, “they’ve embraced wine as something that they believe is enjoyable and part of their culture.”

For more information on other wineries in the Leelanau Penisula, like Blustone, visit http://www.lpwines.com/.