This tale of how Glen Arbor Wines' Farmstead Red came to be named will have you packing up a German-inspired picnic: a good hard sausage from (Bunting's in Cedar) German Mustard, a wedge of Emmental cheese (The Cheese Lady, Traverse City) and a loaf of pumpernickel bread (Bay Bread, Traverse City). Read on and we'll tell you where to spread your picnic. Hint: It's a perfect bike trip.
The First Settlers in Port Oneida
In 1852, just six years after they'd crossed the Atlantic from their home near Hanover Germany, Carsten and Elizabeth Burfiend moved to the northern shore of Sleeping Bear Bay. They'd come to Michigan, probably with infants in tow, via the Erie Canal, through Buffalo, New York, sailing across Lakes Erie and Huron and then (cruising right past Mackinac Island and no, not underneath the Big Mac Bridge 'cuz it wasn't built yet!) down the Lake Michigan coast to North Manitou Island.
The Burfiends settled first on North Manitou Island where Carsten fished and probably cut and sold cordwood to passing steamers. Several years later, they bought 275 heavenly acres on the mainland, across Sleeping Bear Bay at the foot of the tall dune bluff sailors had nicknamed Pyramid Point.
May I say the man had an eye for real estate? Carsten built a three-story cabin on the beach—as idyllic as it sounds, well, it wasn't. Storms would come crashing into the house, and there are tales of Elizabeth fetching her baby's cradle from the surf. The family was also prey to passing marauders—Great Lakes pirates—who would steal anything that wasn't nailed down. One story passed down through generations tells of Elizabeth and her children hiding under a bed until the thugs left.
Eventually Carsten and his sons built a solid clapboard house on the bluff of the shore—safe from storms and pirates. Friends and relatives of the Burfiends joined them in the valley below Pyramid Point. They cleared land and built barns. Solid Lutherans, they nevertheless continued the Old Country pagan tradition of cutting small holes in the exterior wall of their barns, up under the eves to let the evil spirits out. Tour Port Oneida--what the valley has been called since it was named for a grounded steamer sometime early in the last century—and you can still find barns with the spirit holes.
From Farmland to Sleeping Bear National Park
Port Oneida was farmed into the 1960s when the National Park came to Sleeping Bear. Eventually, most of of these picturesque farmsteads were sold to the federal government and boarded up--included in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, all but forgotten. The valley, which is also graced with two one-room schoolhouses and a cemetery, became a time capsule of 19th- and 20th- century agricultural life.
In the 1990s someone in the park service got the brilliant idea to tear all those farmsteads down. It seemed like a crime to me, so I (Lissa Edwards, owner of Glen Arbor Wines) helped found a group called Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear—an organization that is still safeguarding the farmsteads of what is now the Port Oneida Historic District.
Life in the Port Oneida valley can be as beautiful and idealistic as a sun-filled July day and as brutal as November storm—such as the fury of 1911 that shipwrecked the schooner the Rising Sun off the coast of Pyramid Point. In my long career as a writer, I have interviewed a number of the valley’s early settlers. And brutal weather or beautiful, what they recalled about living their lives in Port Oneida is a life rich from living close to the land. Sowing crops with neighbors in the spring; barn raisings; harvest; putting up sauerkraut, sausage and wealth of other canned goods. And at summer’s end, gathering the wild grapes that grow in lush tangles in the sunny, sandy bluffs and shoreline around Pyramid Point to ferment into casks of red wine. Our Farmstead Red celebrates that pioneer wine.
Finding the Red Barn
You'll find the red outbuilding that is the subject of the photographer known as Northern Way of Life, on our Farmstead Red label about halfway down Basch Road off Port Oneida Road (four miles north of Glen Arbor off of M22, and about one-mile from the Pyramid Point Trailhead). The farmstead it belongs to is known as the Schmidt Farm. Click here for more info the Schmidt and other farms in Port Oneida.
Take it a day by biking the Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail from Glen Arbor. Do you have a favorite farm or place to adventure in Port Oneida? Tell us in the comments below.