The owners of a U.P. winery and vineyard have been building their business over several years, but recently, they've started to build it in a different place--Stephenson. They talk about the reasons behind the move and what keeps them making wine in the U.P.
Says so on the label: Honestly U.P.
The wines and honey mead raised, grown, nurtured, harvested, fermented, bottled, and served at Threefold Vine Winery
is all Upper Peninsula, and owners Andrew and Janice Green are proud of it.
In 2002, the Green family, including five children, broke ground to begin planting four of their 510 acres on their farm on the Garden Peninsula. More than 30 varieties of grape cuttings were planted, and a great deal of trial and error led to a line of red and white wines that quickly earned the devotion of wine drinkers in and beyond Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Now, however, the Greens have watched their at-home family (and their labor force) shrink as children inevitably grow and leave the nest. With that, they have decided to downsize their farm as well.
"We are now open for wine tasting at our new farm in Stephenson," says Andrew Green. "The wines we are selling now are from last year's harvest, reds and whites, from bone dry to very sweet."
The new Threefold Vine Winery is located at S232 Menominee Street in Stephenson, in Menominee County. The winery and tasting room are located at the historic bank building just off U.S.-41, 21 miles north of Menominee and 42 miles south of Escanaba.
It's a soft opening, Green says, without fanfare, as they are still working on renovations. Regular hours of noon to 5 p.m. will begin in May through October, and by appointment the remaining months.
"Local grapes, that's what people know us for," says Green. "But you can't take grapes with you, so the guy who bought our old place is allowing us to go back for a couple of years to gather cuttings and get them established here. We're down to 160 acres here, but the vineyard size will remain the same."
While vineyards require a more painstaking process to transplant--one that Green expects will take three years at minimum--he was able to move his beehives. Along with being vintners, the Greens are also beekeepers.
"Our honey meads are among our best sellers," he says. "We harvest our honey and ferment it, put it in bourbon barrels we brought up from Kentucky, and we let it age for about nine months. We ferment different U.P. fruit and berries together with the honey: raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries grown in Paradise. Our raspberry honey wine took best of show at the Colorado State Fair a few years ago."
Part of the Greens' move to Stephenson involves building a new network with local fruit farmers. "We plan to provide a market for fruits that our neighbors haven't been able to sell. You know, the bruised fruits, the ones left over. They're perfect for wine."
Farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) are very active in the area, says Green, and the Greens are a determined part of the local food movement, which is growing in popularity most everywhere. Green wants to do his part in keeping his new community fiscally healthy and his customers healthy.
"People want to know where their food comes from these days," he says. "They want to know who is growing it. With bees, we've been seeing colony collapse. Bees can travel a few miles, so it's hard to control if they go where there are pesticides. People are beginning to think about why we are seeing so many food allergies. As farmers, we get mad when we get accused of poisoning people, but we need to wake up. I'm thankful for the organic movement."
He greets the changing market with its lean toward local and organic and looks forward to building his brand within it.
"We're smarter now," he laughs. "The learning curve since our first vineyard is shorter. Jan and I are developing a system that the two of us can handle. The demand for local product is expanding, and we will build on that. There's a need and a want, and it can be a challenge to make a profit while meeting that, but I'm looking forward to it."
One of Threefold Vine Winery's popular wines is connected with local history, too. Their Christmas Tree Ship red table wine, with label created by Jan Green, is sold annually to help raise funds for the Thompson Historical Advisory Committee.
"They get a dollar for each bottle sold," says Green. "The bottle commemorates a ship that carried Christmas trees from the U.P. to Chicago about 100 years ago. We work with the Coast Guard every year on that."
Green is keen on creating flavors in his mead and wines that customers will not be able to find anywhere else. It's why he and Jan created the Honestly U.P. label.
"I could bring in fruit from Brazil if I wanted to," Green shrugs. "But I want to keep it local and support other locals. You're not going to find anything like a California cabernet here. Fruit tastes different depending on where it's grown, the soil, the weather. Honey is like that, too. You blend it all together with U.P. grapes and you have a unique flavor that tastes like the U.P. and nowhere else."
The Threefold Vine Winery label doesn't mean the wine or mead is entirely local, however, Green adds. "It's about 90 percent. We buy the citric acid elsewhere, because it's important to us to have that non-GMO."
That means without any genetically modified organisms, another growing concern within the organic and local food movement.
Another local touch is the local art by area artists and photographers the Greens sell in their historic tasting room: pottery and watercolors by Jane Wilke Turner, photography by Paul Rose, and hand-turned wooden wine stoppers by Doug Smith.
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.