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Grossnickle 45 North Farm/Winery

100-Acre Farm on M-204 Adjacent to New Courthouse Forever Preserved…Now Home to “45 North” Winery

From our 2008 Spring Newsletter

The Leelanau Conservancy has preserved another farm—its fourth farm project for 2007 wrapped up just before year end. The 100-acre farm has frontage on M-204 and is adjacent to the new courthouse. It is also home to a new winery called 45 North that is scheduled to open to the public in June.

The land, previously owned by Dean and Cindy Robb, was purchased by Steve and Lori Grossnickle in 2006. The Grossnickles began working with the Leelanau Conservancy soon after to donate a conservation easement on the land that will restrict it from development and keep the land in farming while providing tax benefits to its new owners.

Steve Grossnickle’s family has been vacationing in the Little Traverse Lake area for the last 40 years. He says his love for the peninsula is what inspired him to want to permanently protect the 100-acre farm. “Leelanau is beyond spectacular,” he says. “It should remain pristine, as it is.”

The land, in addition to its agricultural and scenic values, also takes in 2,200 feet of frontage on the north branch of Beaudwin Creek. “The water in that creek ends up in Lake Leelanau and in our Leugers preserve at the Narrows,” says Conservancy land protection specialist Tom Nelson. “The stream and the wetlands on the property are all part of an ecosystem we’re trying to protect. There’s a whole lot of conservation value in this land. We’re grateful to the Grossnickle family for helping to protect the rural character of Leelanau County.”

An ophthalmologist from Indiana, Grossnickle’s passion for wine and Leelanau County are being played out on the newly planted vines off Horn Road. Fifteen acres are already in production; 30 more acres will be planted in the next two years. He’s hired longtime Leelanau County winemaker Shawn Walters, who has won numerous awards for vintages produced during his 16-year tenure at other county wineries.

Walters is overseeing the 8,000-square-foot, state-of- the-art production facility on the property that Grossnickle built last year. One hundred tons of local fruit were processed through the building last year. Plans for 2008 call for doubling that amount. Walters projects that the farm will likely employ six people year round and up to 20 on a seasonal basis.

While waiting for their own vines to produce, 45 North is purchasing grapes from other Leelanau growers to make their own private-label wines. They are also making wines to order for other wineries, and are even producing one for a California winery that wants to carry a Leelanau vintage because of the area’s growing notoriety in the wine world.

In fact, it is Leelanau’s increasingly fine reputation for wine making that convinced Grossnickle to make a substantial investment in the land and the new processing building. Grossnickle’s best friend is a prominent California wine judge, who encouraged him to follow his passion. “He’d come out here to visit and say, ‘Hey, this wine is really getting good,’” says Grossnickle.

Plans also include rescuing and moving an old barn that will serve as a tasting room. “The barns and farmsteads of Leelanau County, as architectural forms in the landscape, are a critical component of agri-tourism here,” says Nancy Kotting, a professional preservationist and owner of N.L.Kotting & Co based in Leland (www.nlkotting.com). “Their preservation is often directly connected to their economic viability. Making them economically viable either for agricultural purposes or adaptively reused for residential and commercial purposes is an accepted and proven practice by professionals in the field of preservation and conservation. Throughout England, barns are routinely converted in high tourism areas and are highly coveted as homes, restaurants and Inns.  I am very proud of the Grossnickles for having the vision to bring this concept to Leelanau Wine Country.  This tasting room, coupled with the conservation easement, solidifies their commitment to what so many of us hold near and dear to our hearts about this place.  They are leading by example.”

With the protection of the 45 North land and the nearby Newton/Spinniken Farm, the Conservancy has protected 1,100 feet along M-204 that takes in a much wider panorama of orchards, vineyards and open space visible from the state highway. The two Bardenhagen family farms in East Leland that were permanently protected in mid-December bring the Conservancy’s farmland protection work for 2007 to nearly 500 acres.

“It’s been an incredible year for land protection,” says director Brian Price. “In this last week of the year we worked feverishly to close a number of other land protection projects.”