There really is a great deal to love about the Mitten State, and I think that the popularity of the Leelanau Peninsula is due in large part to the presence of so many of those things that we love about Michigan as a whole: the serenity of nature juxtaposed with bustling small towns. Breathtaking beauty around every corner and kind, hard-working people who are excited to make your experience as good as it gets. These aren’t just Leelanau things; these are Michigan things, and they are present in every square mile of the peninsula. Suffice it to say that I loved every minute of my recent trip to the area. But, I have to admit: when I walked into Good Neighbor Organic Farm on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was quickly reminded of the single greatest aspect of life in Michigan—that is, the pride and the passion with which residents of the state tackle their work.
Let me back up. The Good Neighbor “experience” begins, one might argue, with a quick turn off of M-22 onto a dirt road that cuts through what appears to be an abandoned field. Then, as your car crests a hill you will find yourself in a valley surrounded by acres of grapevines and apple trees. I wasn’t sure where to look, honestly. But I knew where to go: to the lone building in the middle of it all that served as the farm’s tasting room. Inside was Ben, the friendly co-owner of the operation, who, it seemed, was the only figure for miles in every direction on that quiet afternoon.
The Good Neighbor Organic Farm’s website declares proudly their status as the only certified organic vineyard, orchard, and winery in Michigan, but I didn’t have to go to the website to learn that. Ben made sure that we knew about the farm’s organic status. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t bragging—far from it. He was excited; eager to tell us about the farm’s wine-making process and not afraid to show how much he loved it. He made sure that we got to try any and all of the libations that we wanted to try, which included a number of different styles of wine, two unique ciders, and even an organic IPA and, in doing so, demonstrated that Michigan pride and passion that I love so much.
Talking to Ben about his craft, I experienced a refreshing combination: on the one hand, the honest admission that his farm had created something truly good; on the other, a modest gratefulness to the land that was so important to his craft (“A lot of people don’t realize that all of the flavor in wines comes from the grape,” he reminded me at one point). I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of wine is limited (like many from West Michigan, craft beer is my first and favorite vice), and I often find myself nervous to talk to the proprietors of tasting rooms as I am largely ignorant of the wine-making process. That was far from an issue at Good Neighbor Organics, where I was given patient explanations of the careful process that informed each drink that I tried, and was delighted to discover a new love for wine and cider both.
It’s no secret that a trip to the Leelenau Peninsula is not complete without a trip down the wine trail, whereby you will encounter a number of delightful wineries and tasting rooms with a plethora of fantastic libations to enjoy. Really, you can’t go wrong, but next time you’re near Leland, I urge you to make Good Neighbor Organic Farms one of your stops. It will remind you why you fell in love with the Peninsula in the first place.
-Guest Writer, Christian Genesky