By Current Staff
We chatted with Mike Laing, “Director of MAWBYness,” on what it’s like to own a Michigan winery and also growing up in Ann Arbor with his brother, Pete…
After hearing his answers, we’re ready to take a trip Up North…..in the meantime, we’ll have to settle for sipping some of their delicious Michigan wines (available at several Ann Arbor retailers) at home in Ann Arbor.
How did you come to own a winery?
Our parents entered the wine business in the early 2000’s when they planted vines in Lake Leelanau. Both Pete and I were working in other careers, however we had visited Northern Michigan all of our lives. They brought us back together with the opportunity.
Did your family always have a love of wine?
No. We were not a wine drinking family. We are an entrepreneurial family with a passion for working together. Grape growing and wine production was a great place to focus to be together in this place.
Best thing and worst thing about owning a winery?
I’ll lead with the hardest thing, ultimately we are farmers, so we are at the whim of mother nature.
The best thing is working together and working with the great team we have at the winery. In essence, we are a manufacturer, not so sexy sounding, but creating a product from the ground up and watching people enjoy it is also quite rewarding.
Tell us about growing up in Ann Arbor.
We grew up off Newport Road near Rudolf Steiner School. We played outside a ton, in the woods, the creek, yard sports, etc… with our neighborhood friends. Ann Arbor was a great place to grow up, we still enjoy visiting our hometown.
What are some of your favorite memories from growing up in Ann Arbor?
Summertime chasing fireflies, pond hockey, mowing the lawn on football Saturdays with the planes overhead, hockey practice, and donuts at Dimo’s afterwards, the list goes on…
What schools did you attend in Ann Arbor?
We both went to Wines. Pete went to St. Francis then Pioneer. I went to Forsythe and Pioneer. Pete graduated in 2000 and I in 1997.
Tell us about your brands and their offerings.
bigLITTLE is a boutique wine brand making still and sparkling wines. Our wines are mostly dry but vary in style. I suppose Alsacian is the best descriptor for the varieties we use, though the wines are New World in style.
Our wines are all names after childhood memories; some of those memories stem from our time in Ann Arbor and some from Northern Michigan. The stories on the back of our bottles are 20% BS and 80% who we are.
What are some things most people don’t know about your winery?
We have won a lot of awards for our wines; most notably a 91 point score in Decanter for our 2018 Treehouse White Pinot Noir.
We are affiliated with MAWBY, and operate under the same winery license. We are also part owners of MAWBY Sparkling Wines. Our production is only about 2000 cases per year. Our brand is over 10 years old. We released our first wines in early 2011. Some of the vines we work with on our parents farm are almost 20 years old.
Tell us your current favorite go-to wine & food pairing:
Wild mushroom polenta with Treehouse White Pinot Noir.
Some “must-see” recommendations for those visiting Up North.
Take your time, don’t rush. Ask a local where their favorite beach is.
Wren for dinner in Suttons Bay.
Beach fires, skinny dipping, rent a house, wander, hit the hiking trails, be nice.
Your favorite spots in Ann Arbor…
Frisbee in the Arb (Nichols Arboretum) off Geddes. Radrick Farms Golf. Paddling the Huron River from Dexter to Ann Arbor. Zingermans. Lowell Road where we grew up. Top of the Park (now A2SF). Hockey at Buhr Park. Yost. Backroom Pizza. The list goes on.
Your favorite spots in Northern Michigan:
Crystal Downs Country Club. Frankfort. Empire. Our vineyards. Traverse City before and after the tourists. Our tasting room.
Your recommendation for a sparkling cocktail for this holiday season:
How often do you get to Ann Arbor?
We get there once or twice a year each between Pete and I. We both have dear friends that have moved back to Ann Arbor over the years.
Who is your mentor and why?
My parents. They are the reason we have our opportunity.
How do you know when you’re done for the day?
As a business owner, you are always working, unfortunately.
How do you deal with stress?
I have to exercise to stay sane. I play hockey, swim, run, and wrestle my two boys.
What is on your bucket list?
Probably travel: Croatia, Israel, Japan, and Norway. I would like to run a marathon. I would like to work with my boys some day. I suppose playing Augusta National would also be high on the list.
What would your life’s theme song be?
John Prine speaks to me, no song specifically.
As a winemaker, what bottles are you saving in your personal cellar?
I have a hard time saving bottles. Not that I drink a lot. But I’m excited to try a lot of different wines all the time so nothing really grows grass in my cellar.
Where do you plan to take the winery in the future?
We are not seeking aggressive growth. We would like to focus on quality and the customer experience and see where the road takes us.