Sam and Taylor Simpson of Northern Michigan’s Good Harbor Vineyards (located just south of Leland, Michigan) star in the reality television pilot, Wine Warriors. MyNorth has been following the brother and sister team since they took over the Leelanau County family vineyard in 2009:
Three generations of farmers have left their mark on Good Harbor Vineyards, a 300-acre family fruit farm on Leelanau Peninsula, but the current generation took over much sooner than planned. Sam Simpson and his sister, Taylor Simpson, returned to Northern Michigan in 2009 after the unexpected death of their father, Bruce Simpson, a well-respected winemaker here.
Though young, Sam and Taylor arrived home with remarkable experience. Sam graduated from Michigan State University in 2009 with a degree in finance and an emphasis in viticulture and enology. While studying international economics in South Africa, he explored the wineries of Stellenbosch and other renowned regions. His plan to travel and experience life beyond the peninsula for several years before returning to assume duties as a fourth-generation farmer were redirected upon his father’s passing.
He left behind a job as a financial analyst for General Mills in Minnesota and assumed the position of winemaker, the role his dad thrived in for 28 years after launching Good Harbor Vineyards, one of the peninsula’s earliest wineries, in 1980. Like his father, Sam is a farmer first, crafting wine from the vineyard, though he credits his smooth transition to longtime employees and to the marketing skills of his sister.
Taylor left a successful career in Chicago as a manager for one of the country’s largest wine distributors, where she honed a knowledge of wine and the wine business while traveling to renowned wine regions of the world. Under her watch, the winery is seeing growing demand, a growth curve that pushed Sam to boost vineyard acreage by 30 percent, to 87 acres, last year.
Together, the brother-sister team is driven to carry on their father’s legacy of producing quality wines that remain affordable. “We produce high quality table wine to enjoy with every meal,” Sam says. “We don’t manipulate our wines. We let the land be expressed in the wines and keep prices reasonable.”
Sam produces wines using the same style and approach his father succeeded with for three decades, but he’s also unveiled a few new products. Sleeping Bare is a blanc de blanc sparkling wine crafted from chardonnay. Collaboration, as the name implies, blends several red grape varietals. Sam has a balaton cherry liquor in the brainstorm stage.
Sam’s most noteworthy new wine is Tribute, in honor of Bruce. The white wine is crafted from the last batch of oaked chardonnay made by Sam’s father. The label displays Good Harbor Bay, North and South Manitou Islands and Pyramid Point, all visible from the family porch.