How the Leland Wine & Food Festival Got Its Start

Devon Kessler
June 5, 2023 | Features, Tasting Room | Devon Kessler

How the Leland Wine & Food Festival Got Its Start

For nearly 40 years, the Leland Wine & Food Festival has been bringing area wineries to one location for visitors to learn and taste what the Michigan Wine Industry is all about. Join us as we take a look back at the iconic festival and what is planned for the 2023 event!

The idea for the festival came about after Cris Telgard, one of the founders of the festival, went to a wine festival in Monterey, California and thought it would be a great idea for Leland. At this time, there were only four wineries on the Leelanau Peninsula - Good Harbor Vineyards, Boskydel Vineyards, MAWBY Vineyards, and Leelanau Wine Cellars.

Good Harbor Vineyards at Wine Fest 1955When the festival started in 1986, there was nothing like it in the state of Michigan. This is when Bruce Simpson, the founder of Good Harbor Vineyards, one of the founders of the festival, went to the Michigan Wine and Grape Industry Council to ask for a grant to help kickstart the idea. The Council awarded the group a $10,000 grant - as long as they could match it - to bring their idea to life. The founders’ goal of bringing something like this to the area was to call attention to the wineries and the area as a food and wine destination. 

“It was a soft educational opportunity for people to learn about food and wine pairings,” Larry Mawby, founder of MAWBY Vineyards and co-founder of the Leland Wine & Food Festival, explains in a podcast about the history of the festival. “[It also] encouraged the exploration of the wine industry in Michigan.”

Since there were only four local wineries, the inaugural festival consisted of the founding wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula and several wineries that were already established in Southern Michigan. In total, there were about 30 wineries that took part in the first festival. It wasn’t until about 24 years into the festival that there were enough producers in Northern Michigan - specifically the Leelanau Peninsula - that “we were able to say goodbye to the Southern Michigan wineries,” festival founder, Kathy Telegard, explains.

Telegard describes the first festival as amazing. “BATA would give tours to the wineries, amateur winemakers would give seminars in the Bluebird Dining Room.  There were wine tastings and then we would end with a dinner at The Leland Lodge to thank everyone.”

The Leland Education Foundation (LEF) was one of the first groups to volunteer for the festival. This partnership came about after Kathy went to a prime rib fundraiser for the foundation and spoke with them about volunteering for the festival. LEF helped by pouring wine for the wineries and in return, the festival board made a donation. Still to this day, the LEF and Leelanau Christian Neighbors (LCN) volunteer for the annual gathering. The founders believe that the long-running festival has been such a success thanks to the amazing group of volunteers that have continued to give their time to making the event continue. If you would like to volunteer for this year’s event, you can sign up online.

Leland Wine & Food FestivalThe festival has been held on the second Saturday of June since the beginning. Mawby explains that this is the perfect time because the first weekend is usually graduation. He thinks this is one of the factors that has made the festival so successful the past 37 years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the festival wasn’t held for two of the 37 years it has been in existence.

This year, there are 14 area wineries and 5 food vendors taking part in the festival. There will also be a brand new experience for people to enjoy! During the festival, there will be a reserved tasting event held in the cellar at The Leland Lodge. The event will include wines from all the wineries and a cheese pairing for each wine curated from The Cheese Lady in Traverse City. Tickets for this event are limited to 20 people. 

The 37th Annual Leland Wine & Food Festival is being held on Saturday, June 10th at The Leland Lodge. Tickets are still available! If you’d like to purchase a ticket, go to the Leland Chamber of Commerce website. If you would like to listen to the full podcast with two of the founders of the festival, you can do so here.

Comments's Gravatar
@ Sep 5, 2023 at 1:22 AM
Lovely, Thanks for the post.

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