Northern Michigan winery owners split land, work

Dan Nielsen
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northport — Ben Crow and Court Wengreen share 67 acres and a dream.

The two men, along with their wives, own and operate Good Neighbor Organic Vineyard and Winery in Northport. The quartet is working to transform the operation into an agri-tourism destination designed to attract both local residents and visitors.

“Come summer, it’s nonstop,” Crow said. “Every year it’s getting better.”

Good Neighbor was created by a previous owner. Crow worked at the winery for years after serving as a chef in Alaska and on the Dinner Train in Traverse City. The Wengreen and Crow families in early 2015 each bought about half of the acreage, which produces grapes, apples and other crops.

Wengreen said they’re still feeling their way toward a final business description. “The agri-tourism is kind of where we’re headed,” he said.

To attract tourists, they have remodeled the wine tasting room with fresh wall treatments, aged barn wood trim and a new children’s corner. Wengreen is a carpenter by trade, so he managed the job with help from Crow.

“That’s more of bringing tourists in so they buy the wine,” Crow said. The operation produced “thousands of gallons of cider and hundreds of gallons of wine” last year, he said.

Key to the business plan is the farm’s dedication to organic practices. They don’t use herbicides or pesticides.

They instead rely on materials and techniques to keep their crops healthy, and bill themselves as the first and only organic winery in Michigan. They believe that distinction will give them an edge in attracting agri-tourists with money in their pockets.

Good Neighbor also sells microbrew beer in small quantities.

“Not even enough to bottle,” Crow said of their small production capacity.

Brewing is just one segment of the diversified activities the pair plan at the farm, at the end of dirt road a couple of miles southwest of Northport. They have enlisted outside help to begin distilling rum, gin and white whiskey this year.

Everything is grown organically; that’s not easy.

“Pest control is a little tougher for us” than for farmers who use chemicals, Wengreen said.

One particular pest, the rose chafer beetle, can harm wine grapes. Chemicals easily deal with the bright green beetle. But Wengreen, who manages farm aspects of the operation, said they instead protect their grapes with various materials, including a type of powdered clay that the beetles naturally avoid. Wengreen said he is constantly researching organic techniques.

“I’m not an expert. I’m still learning. It’s a process,” he said. “It’s fun.”