The Heritage of Fruit Farming on the Leelanau Peninsula and Why It Is Important to Good Harbor Vineyards

Devon Kessler
August 8, 2022 | Tasting Room | Devon Kessler

The Heritage of Fruit Farming on the Leelanau Peninsula and Why It Is Important to Good Harbor Vineyards

Fruit Farm on the Leelanau Peninsula

The Simpson Family has been fruit farming on the Leelanau Peninsula since 1950. Our history of fruit farming started with John W. Simpson and his wife, Millie.

John is the founding father of Harbor Hill Fruit Farms and Good Harbor Vineyards. After selling his construction company, John bought large amounts of acreage to begin fruit farming on the peninsula.

His vision to begin fruit farming started with fruit trees, pears and plums, to sell to Gerber. In the 1970s, cherries joined the list of fruit farmed by John, like many people in the area. It wasn’t until the late 70s - early 80s that Good Harbor began to plant and farm wine grapes - with the vision of opening a winery.

While the pears, plums, and cherries were sold as commodities, it was the wine grapes that changed the shape of the business.

When John's son, Bruce, returned from the University of California, Davis, grape farming continued for Good Harbor. Bruce studied viticulture and oenology.

Once he completed the program, Bruce and his wife, Debbie, returned to the Leelanau Peninsula. This is when they started to plant vineyards and opened Good Harbor Vineyards.

The exterior of the Good Harbor tasting room in Lake Leelanau, Michigan.

Good Harbor was the fourth commercial winery established on the Leelanau Peninsula.

As the winery continued to grow, so did the need for more grapes. As cherry trees came of age, grapes were planted in their place. Bruce and Debbie continued to operate the cherry far. They did this while growing the winery and establishing the Michigan wine industry.

Their actions and many other pioneers in the Michigan wine industry helped carve a path for others to get into and grow the industry.

Bruce and Debbie had two children that grew up on the farm surrounded by farming.

Taylor and her younger brother Sam, had different roles growing up. Taylor spent more time helping in the tasting room with her mom, Debbie. Sam worked more with his father Bruce, on the cherry farm helping with cherry harvest in the summers. As he neared the end of high school, Sam spent time learning more about grape growing and winemaking.

Both kids left the farm to attend college. Following graduation, Taylor moved out of state and worked for Southern Wine and Spirits in wine distribution for years in Chicago. Sam also graduated and had plans to work for General Mills, but, life had a different plan.

After the early passing of their father, Sam and Taylor’s career plans changed. Both siblings moved home and made a commitment to keep the family farm running.

Following a few years of running the business, Sam saw the need for a farming service focused on wine grapes. This led him to create Harbor Hill Vineyard Services to help fill the demand in the wine industry.

Today, it is the largest vineyard service operating on the Peninsula, servicing a total of 300 acres.

The love of family and community is what pushes the two to look for opportunities to grow the existing business and Michigan agriculture.

Growing and producing an authentic Michigan wine is a core focus of Good Harbor Vineyards. Our customers are offered an experience they can't get outside of the area when they drink our wine.

“The only way to offer a wine that is expressive and represents the terroir is to use fruit that is grown in the soil on the peninsula,” explains Taylor Simpson, Co-Owner of Good Harbor Vineyards.

Growing fruit is a labor of love.

Three grape clusters in one of the Good Harbor vineyards.

It requires a year round commitment and a team of skilled vineyard managers and winemakers. A team that understands what is needed to achieve a vision for each vineyard block. It is the teamwork, hard work, vision, and execution that allows us to provide a genuine Michigan product to our loyal consumers.

Our wines are able to stand out with a distinct level of quality. Good Harbor is able to showcase the best qualities of the fruit in each bottle thanks to all the measures taken in the vineyard and the years of experience in the cellar. Every bottle shows the most authentic expression of each vintage due to the use of grapes from our vineyard sites.

Come into our tasting room to learn more about our vineyards and how our decades of history of fruit farming on the Leelanau Peninsula has shaped our wines and winery to what they are today.


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