Winemaking: The How Behind the Wow
At MAWBY we’re not serious about much—except creating high quality sparkling wine. We are honored to continue the practice of tradition, evolution, and innovation as we focus on the production of fine sparkling wine in our northern Michigan paradise.
MAWBY makes world class Sparkling Wine
When our founder Larry Mawby first planted wine grapes here, he was unsure about what varieties would grow best. Decades of experience and experimentation made it clear that sparkling wine was the right style for the region. But why is Leelanau Peninsula so perfectly positioned to make particularly good sparkling wine?
Keep a Positive Latitude
The Leelanau Peninsula lies at nearly the same latitude as the classic sparkling regions of France & Italy, sharing the same long summer days and cool nights. As we have discovered over the years, the wines have some striking similarities as well!
The Soil is the Solution
Our local geography was defined some 12,000(ish) years ago, when the glaciers covering the area retreated, leaving well draining sandy soils and frost shedding slopes in their wake. These sandy, acidic soils help keep vine vigor in check, promoting balanced growth and, eventually, deliciously balanced wines.
The perks of living in close proximity to Lake Michigan go beyond water skiing and fishing for trout—it helps the grapes too. In the spring, cool air coming off of the lake keeps the vines dormant, delaying bud break until the threat of frost has passed. And in the winter months, the lake’s tremendous heat capacity keeps the air from reaching damagingly cold temperatures.
Where do the bubbles come from?
It's all about the second fermentation, our wines are not artificially carbonated
It’s Good to be Picky
A bottle of wine is only as good as the grapes, and when it’s time for harvest we pick them by hand, so as not to damage the fruit. Industrial farming machines may be faster, but they’re less selective—and we’re in no big hurry.
A Gentle Squeeze
After we pick the grapes we gently whole-cluster press the grapes in a bladder press, releasing the cuvee, a pure, clean, and bright juice with great acidity that’s used for our Methode Champenoise wines. We use harder pressings, which carry more varietal flavor, for our more fruit-forward Cuve Close Method wines.
We ferment in stainless steel using Champagne yeast strains. As the yeast consumes the sugars from the grapes, alcohol is produced. If we were making still wines we would almost be done. But there’s more work to do to make the sparkle happen!
To create natural bubbles we need pressure, and that happens from a second fermentation in either the bottle (known as Methode Champenoise) or in a special tank (Cuve Close Method). To our base wines, we add a little more yeast and some extra sugar, and seal the wine in the bottle or one of our tanks. As the yeast consumes the sugar it creates C02 (and a little more alcohol) which is absorbed into the wine, ready to be released in the form of perfect little bubbles in your glass .... eventually.
Getting Better with Age
We age our Methode Champenoise wines for 2 to 7 years in the bottle, in close proximity to the yeast. The aging process increases the complexity of the wine through a process called yeast autolysis. Basically, the yeast break down and add a specialness to the wine.
D&D (Disgorgement & Dosage)
Time to remove the yeast. For our Methode Champenoise wines, we tilt the bottle to collect the yeast in the neck, this is called riddling. We unseal the bottle and out pops the yeast, this is called disgorging! We top off the bottle with a little more wine and sugar to achieve the desired sweetness, this is called dosage. The wine is then corked, cleaned and labeled.
We source fruit from our own properties in Leelanau County. We also purchase fruit and base wines from a select group of growers and producers in Leelanau County as well as from Southwest Michigan, California and Washington State. The desired flavor profile in the finished product helps inform the choice of variety, site, source, and fermentation method. Our partners are committed to growing and producing the highest quality grapes.
Caring for Our Vineyards
We care deeply not just for our little corner of Michigan, but the whole environment, and today we use sustainable practices to ensure both the vineyards we manage and the surrounding lands are protected:
We are committed to the preservation of Leelanau County through a conservation easement on our Elm Valley property (approx 30 acres).
We have been utilizing cover cropping as our primary weed management strategy in the vineyards we manage since 2020.
We grow cover crops (clovers & low grasses) under our vines to outcompete weeds, increase plant diversity, improve soil structure, increase organic matter, and sequester carbon.
We work with Morgan Composting, to create a custom blend of compost to promote soil health.
We are MAEP certified in four cropping and farmstead systems. More information here.
The majority of our vineyards are dry farmed (not irrigated).
Methode Champenoise and Cuve Close Method
We make our bottle fermented wines using the traditional method aka Methode Champenoise. These practices have remained largely unchanged for centuries, and we love the aspect of tradition this brings. But the Cuve Close Method can make for incredible results too, and for some of our wines we use sealed tanks to perform the second fermentation and create the lovely naturally-occuring bubbles. Using this modern method is simpler and faster, but just as delicious!
Methode Champenoise Wines
Our Methode Champenoise wines are made from grapes grown on the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas. We ferment a second time in the bottle and age the wines for 2-7 years before release.
Cuve Close Method Wines
Our Cuve Close Method wines are bright and fresh, made with grapes sourced from Michigan, California and Washington State. These wines are made by fermenting a second time in a pressure tank. They are then chilled, filtered, bottled, and ready to drink.