From Argyle in Willamette Valley and Lamoureux Landing in the Finger Lakes to Cali outfits like Iron Horse and Schramsberg, coastal winemakers still dominate the American sparkling wine scene. But something’s bubbling up in the Midwest these days, with the emergence of Mawby, an ambitious sparkling winemaker on the picturesque Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan. A 2019 rebrand (the wines were formerly marketed under two labels, L. Mawby and M. Lawrence) has given Mawby new focus, and the wine world is taking renewed notice of the nearly 50-year-old Suttons Bay-based winery’s products. Wine Enthusiast recently named the NV Talismon Traditional Method Brut one of its 12 top-rated American sparklers. As Mawby’s tasting room reopens to welcome bubbly fans, we spoke with partner and “director of Mawbyness” Mike Laing about why connoisseurs ought to have Michigan wines on their radar.
Michigan is still under the radar. Why should wine lovers pay attention?
First of all it’s absolutely beautiful up here in Northern Michigan. Aside from the wine, it’s a great place to travel, and folks that haven’t been here are amazed when they arrive. The wine experience has become a major reason that people visit over the past 5 to 10 years. As a region, we are figuring out who we are and what wine styles work best. Overall we’re still a very young growing region and it takes time to work out our terroir and focus our craft. We have a lot of talent making wine here, and that has helped and has led influencers to pay attention to what we are doing. Wine lovers should pay attention because our wines are super food-friendly and easily approachable. Our acid-driven and light-bodied wines are pleasant paired with a variety of culinary styles. Also, our wines are not overpriced and that creates a relatively low barrier to entry for most wine lovers.
What in particular makes the region particularly suited to sparkling wine production?
Sparkling styles are right for the region because our growing season is so short—that’s the big reason. We can crop our sparkling wine grape vines higher because we don’t need the fruit to ripen as we would for table wines. We are looking for 18 to 19 brix and even lower for some hybrid varieties, and those ripeness levels are consistently achieved here in Northern Michigan. We are looking for lower alcohol and lower pH in our base wines. Additionally, we can grow varieties that are suitable for sparkling wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and others.
What makes Mawby stand out?
We focus on sparkling wine—that’s the core of our story. Also, our staff are amazing and folks return to see their favorite tasting room people. Lastly, we like to have fun and take our wine very seriously, but keep our packaging and wine names easily approachable and fun. Sparkling wine is and should be fun—at least we think so.
What can visitors to the tasting room expect?
Currently it’s a bit different from our norm. Folks need a reservation and they need to wear a face mask to their table; once they are seated the mask can be removed. Our tasting room is surrounded by our vineyards. The views are amazing, especially from our porch. In the summer, most of the tasting happens under a roof but outside, somewhat similar to Iron Horse if you’ve been there. At the moment we are all table service and offer a choice between flights, glass pours, or bottle service. We have expanded our food offerings and all food is pre-packaged and a la carte. For now we are 21+ and no pets are allowed. We hope these changes are temporary and much of the experience is similar to normal times. bigLITTLE (a small-batch winery also co-owned by Laing and his brother Peter) is also on the same property and offers flights in a very cozy setting.
Unity/inclusivity is a big part of the winery’s messaging—why is that important to Mawby?
The United Bubbles tagline was used last year when we combined a few brands under one name, Mawby, thus uniting the brand. However, we are all about unity and personal expression and freedom of speech, so all of that ties in nicely to the story. Bubbles are for everyone (21 and over, of course) and we want people to feel at home whoever they are in this house of bubbs.
What Mawby wine would you recommend to someone new to your product?
If they are new to bubbly, our new canned wines are super fun. They are wine based, but 6% alcohol and infused with organic botanicals and fruit juices. Additionally, we pour Sandpiper, one of our wines, for everyone that walks in the door. It’s a $13 wine and often referred to as the best deal in the county by our guests. It’s only available online and in the tasting room. It is a sweet/tart blend of all varieties we press; we use the rebeche [final pressing] fraction of our pressings and ferment the blend together.
Aside from MI, what other wine region are you loving right now?
I’m a big Beaujolais fan—Gamay is a personal favorite. I love Anderson Valley wines as well. Some of the red blends out of southeast Washington are outstanding values as well in my opinion.
What are you excited about for the rest of 2020?
Being open, telling our story, engaging new customers. I’m pumped about our canned wines and the way they have been received. I hope to get through the year a stronger and healthier business. I’m hopeful that we will be positioned well to take on future adversity, whatever that might be. These are challenging times and it’s been hard working through it but we are better for it.