there was a young man who grew up in a family that had orchards all around the state of Michigan, growing cherries, apples, plums and peaches. Michigan was always known as a great state for growing fruit and the young man would have continued in the family business. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1972 and would have had a very successful business if he had followed the easy path laid out for him. Though this young man during his college years decided to see Europe and was hitchhiking around and fell in love with the Burgundy region of France and though he knew that his calling was in farming, the farm started changing in his mind.
The young man was Larry Mawby and after graduating, he experimented by growing some vines in a small parcel of land on one of his family’s orchards in 1973 up in the Suttons Bay region of Michigan, and at that time hardly an area considered for serious grape growing. In 1974, he tried planting some French-American hybrids and he was on his way. He decided that he needed his own vineyard and in 1975 he bought his own land “Elm Valley.” In 1976, he planted on his own property and also took a three-day course at UC-Davis and from then on, the dream was manifesting. In 1978, he built a structure to handle the production of twenty-five-hundred gallons of wine, and living quarters above and he was on his way. He was growing Pinot Noir, Vignoles, Pinot Gris, Regent, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier on twenty acres of land.
The winery was bonded in 1978 as L. Mawby Vineyards and his first wine was issued in 1979. His first wine was “Picnic Rose” and he made three-hundred-seventy-eight gallons of the wine, and it was a blend of every varietal on his property. Ever since that fateful trip to Europe and especially to Burgundy he attempted to emulate those wines during the 1980’s. The more he got involved with wine making, the more he realized that his property was on the same latitude as the Champagne region of France. In 1984, he created his first Methode Champenoise Brut NV using Vignoles and he had found his calling. He kept investing in more equipment to make sparkling wines.
He was making a name for himself, especially in Michigan; and then he and two other Michigan wineries were selected to participate in a part of George H. Bush’s inauguration, quite a heady accolade. The Wine Enthusiast declared in 1998 Larry Mawby as a “Great US Sparkling Wine Producer.” In the year of 2003, he was only producing sparkling wines and in 2004 he created his M. Lawrence division using the Charmat Method and introduced his three newest wines as Us, Sex and Fizz. He was now producing sparkling wines in both methods and his name and fame was growing.
Larry Mawby was also instrumental in the creation of the Leelanau Peninsula AVA. He also served on the board of the Leelanau Conservancy and helped form the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association and the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. In speaking to other wineries, Larry Mawby has been referred to as the Godfather of the Leelanau Peninsula wine growers, as he has offered his assistance and guidance through the years. He was one of the true visionaries in changing the outlook of wine in Michigan. I might also add, as a personal aside, it is a winery that we always make a special effort to visit when we are in that area of the state.
This un-fairy tale was brought about by the Monthly Wine Writers Challenge. The theme “once upon a time” was proposed by the winner of the last winner by Mel of Wining with Mel.