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Stateside: The winemaker's harvest

The temperature outside starts to chill as we approach October, and many Michiganders' first instinct is to visit the apple orchard or cider mill. But this time of year is also the harvest season for many wineries and fruit farms.

Lee Lutes is a winemaker at Black Star Farms in Leelanau County, in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. He said every season is different because of the variable weather conditions. This year, he said, has been “spectacular.” Because spring and summer weather has been drier, grapes have developed on the smaller side, but Lutes said that's not necessarily a bad thing.

“Lack of rain also helps with disease management,” Lutes said. “Fungal pressure is our biggest issue with growing grapes in Michigan and having a dry season helps keep that fungal pressure down.”

The pandemic has forced Black Star to think a little differently in the farm's approach to customers. Lutes said that means emphasizing the visiting experience for patrons.


“In the past, we were all working off a model that said, ‘If we get people to taste our wine, they’ll find something they like and they’ll support us with a purchase.’ ” Lutes said. “Now it’s more about spending some time with people to help them appreciate the experience and what goes into some of these wines." That time, he said, can nurture a long-term relationship rather than a one day purchase.

Supply chain issues are as present here as anywhere in Michigan. Lutes said he had been ordering glass for bottles for next year’s crop, but some glass-making facilities have shut down in Eastern Europe due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine. Sourcing cork has also proved problematic.

“It is definitely a challenge. And it’s a challenge across the board because everything is coming for the most part, from Europe,” Lutes said. “But generally people understand that some of these things are beyond their control and we’re doing what we can.”


  • Lee Lutes, head winemaker and managing member at Black Star Farms

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Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.
April Baer is the host of Michigan Public’s Stateside talk show.
Dan Netter joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2022 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Social Relations & Policy.