Larry Mawby of MAWBY Vineyards and Winery

Bubbles Up

As the Mawby of MAWBY Vineyards and Winery, Larry Mawby is enjoying the fruits of his labor as a wine pioneer in the Leelanau region and embracing the retired life in Northern Michigan

Larry Mawby might be retired from his namesake landmark winery, MAWBY Vineyards and Winery, but he’s certainly not slowing down. In 2023, MAWBY Vineyards and Winery celebrated its 50th anniversary, marking a major milestone for Leelanau County’s oldest winery.

As a pioneer in the state’s thriving wine industry – which generates nearly $6.33 billion in economic activity for the state – Larry played an integral role in planting the seed.

Today, after spending decades helping to build and shape the wine scene in the Leelanau region, Larry is still a proud member of the Suttons Bay community, where he’s fighting to address housing challenges with his nonprofit, Peninsula Housing. Cheers to that!




You first planted grapevines in the 70s. What made you decide to embark on this venture and choose the Leelanau area in particular?

My family had been fruit growers for three generations, and in the early 1950s my parents and grandparents decided that they wanted to diversify from the growing of apples and peaches in the Grand Rapids area. They wanted to add cherries in Leelanau, and so they acquired a farm in 1953 to grow cherries on. We moved there as a family from our apple orchard outside of Grand Rapids to Leelanau 10 years later. When I got out of college in 1972, I was interested in exploring the possibility of growing grapes and making wine in Leelanau, as something different than what my family was doing. In the spring of 1973, I planted a small vineyard on some property that my family owned. Then we planted more vines in 1974 and more in 1975, and that year I purchased another parcel and then we had six planted vines there. That parcel is where the winery tasting room is now.

It was really a matter of horticultural familiarity with the area and thinking that wine grapes were a crop that was not being grown at that time, but it seemed like it would be possible to do so. And because of the area's tourism attractions, it seemed possible to do this on a small scale and market directly to consumers. We didn't know what grape varieties would work, we didn't know what kind of wines we could make, we didn't know what kind of wines people would be interested in consuming. It was a matter of experimentation at the beginning.


Was your family supportive of this venture?

My parents were very supportive of me and my siblings in whatever we wanted to do. My dad in particular was innovative for growing and thought it would be wonderful if we found another crop that worked well. And I supported my viticultural enterprise and winemaking enterprise for a number of years by working with my parents to run our family farm. I could not have just gone off and started this without that kind of support.




Traverse City is a wine destination for the state. What do you think about the growth the area and industry have experienced over the years?

Fifty years ago, I was looking at it as a place to grow really nice wine grapes and make really nice wine. The idea that people would come to the winery, enter the tasting room and acquire wines was great, but we had no anticipation of how big that would become. We assumed that selling directly to consumers was a way for a small operator to begin, but that he ultimately had to take his wine to metropolitan areas around the state, the Midwest and around the country. We also knew that because the Grand Traverse Bay area was a beautiful, scenic place and people love to come here, this would be another reason for people to come. The interest in wine, we thought it was a lifestyle thing that people would be interested in wine with meals and in the European tradition. It's certainly partly that, but partly it is also a celebration for folks to get out of their urban area, come to a different place and have a party. That aspect of it is not something that I think anybody anticipated in the 70s or 80s. That really grew in the last 25 or 30 years.

People come here to vacation and to relax. They enjoy the local wines and other products of the area and then they take them home to wherever they live, anywhere on the planet. They share with their friends and get to relive their vacation. That's an important way that we spread the message of what this region is all about; they’re able to recall the pleasure that they had on vacation in the Traverse City area.


Celebrations and bubbly drinks go hand in hand. What does it mean to you to be a go-to wine for special occasions in the state and beyond?

Clearly, we're pleased. In the 90s when I decided to focus exclusively on sparkling wine, I said that we had to have goals. My goal for the brand when we decided to become exclusive sparkling wine was that at some point, anybody who was celebrating anything in Michigan would think about MAWBY as the first choice to celebrate with. And when people came to one of those celebrations, if MAWBY wasn't there, they'd be disappointed in the choice that the host had made.




Since retiring, what has life been like in Suttons Bay?

I think this area is the best place in the world to live, so why would I not want to live here? As a retired ex-grape grower and wine grower, I've been involved in a lot of public things over the course of my life. Currently I'm very involved with Community Land Trust working to provide affordable housing for the working families that work here and would like to live here. It’s a big challenge in Leelanau County.

I’m spending a significant amount of my time on that right now. And I have no particular interest in going south for the winter. The winter is wonderful here. It's a beautiful part of the world, and I think we're going to see with climate change more and more people from other places around the country recognizing that this is the place to be. That's going to be a challenge for us to accommodate all those folks who want to live here. We’re a climate change refuge. There are a lot of bad things associated with climate change, but we're probably one of the areas of the planet that's less negatively impacted by that than some others. There are economic opportunities here, and one of the things that I want to do is to make sure that we can keep thriving communities where people doing a variety of different things that support the community can afford to live here: teachers, the road commission, EMTs… they can't afford to live here. In the long run, that destroys communities. We don't want to see that happen.


What do you enjoy most about being in the Northern Michigan area?

One thing that I think is wonderful is forest bathing. I like the idea of forest bathing, which is just being out in the natural environment. And it’s like soaking in a tub, whether you're sitting or walking. Bathing in the forest – what a great, soul-satisfying thing that we can do here.