When you live within sight of Lake Michigan's Sleeping Bear Bay in Glen Arbor, life seems simple. Beautiful. Relaxing. Especially on a July morning when refracting light makes the Manitou Islands look close enough to touch and the water a shade of blue that is somewhere between Caribbean and Mediterranean. The walk down South Lake Street to the public access/boat launch is a sensual bouquet of warm juniper oozing the piney scent of gin, the faint smell of fish in the breeze, whiffs of gasoline from a boat that has just pulled away from the ramp.
That is why, a very busy two weeks after I opened my new business, Glen Arbor Wines, I made time to paddle board out on Sleeping Bear Bay before I opened at noon. I live above my tasting room on South Lake Street, so I'd just come down to check on a few things before I left, when I looked up to see an entire family—from grandparents down to grandchild peering in the window.
They were the Vissers, Kim and Steve, daughters Kelly and Sara—and I'm sorry to say I can't recall the rest of their names. I threw open the door and invited them in—an entree to what turned out to be one of those 10 minute happy meet-and-greets that happen in resort towns in which everyone exchanges huge smiles and brief personal histories after the first handshake. "We are from ... ", "We have been coming here for ... " "I just opened two weeks ago ... "
It turns out Steve Visser remembers my grandparents who built the Western Avenue Grill—then called The Yarn and Soda Shop, because yes, they sold yarn and ice cream. Steve remembers how my grandfather, a man everyone called Doc, lifted him up by the ears, whistled through his hands, and showed him the sensitive plants (touch them and their leaves close) that grew on every table in the Soda Shop.
It was this brief but sweet visit with the Vissers that brought me back to my childhood summers in Glen Arbor. Paddling out into Sleeping Bear Bay through small, seafoam green waves a short time later, I allowed myself to savor those memories: barefoot, bathing suit days filled with the burn of hot sand under my feet, the delicious chill of Lake Michigan (that many years later I would associate with a cold glass of pinot grigio on a hot day), the earthy, loamy smell of the forest just beyond the beach. I know now that what I was soaking up through the very soles of my feet was the local terroir—the French term for everything in the environment that goes into wine. That was the early 1960s and just 20 miles up the Leelanau Peninsula, Bernie Rink, the father of Leelanau's wine industry was preparing to plant the peninsula's first vineyard.
In the fall of 1964, when I was 6 years old, my family moved from Glen Arbor, directly to Paris where my father studied architecture on a Fulbright Scholarship from University of Michigan. We'd rented our house in Ypsilanti and spent the entire summer in Glen Arbor with my grandparents—so my senses were full of that Leelanau terroir when I was introduced to the City of Lights.
In Paris I saw the Old World way of family, food, friends, business and wine blend seamlessly, enriching life with taste and flavor, laughter and lasting relationships. More than a half-century later I still find the brew of these two places, Glen Arbor and Paris, intoxicating. We have 10 varieties of wine at Glen Arbor Wines—but at their essence they all carry the environmental terroir of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Area. I hope too, that they invoke an emotional terroir of human connectedness to this land and to each other. Memories of family and friends and meeting wonderful people like the Vissers—total strangers until Steve and I discovered that we share the same memories of my grandfather.