Sprawling over 25 acres (with a 4-acre vineyard) between Leland and Northport along M-22 lies the picturesque property of Dune Bird Winery. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans mingled with the earthiness of fine wine greets visitors at the door.
A craft espresso bar with house-made simple syrups, cold brew, and more sets Nicole and Bo White’s winery, which opened on Thanksgiving weekend in 2021, apart from other Leelanau Peninsula establishments. Since Bo isn’t a wine fan, the idea for a full coffee bar sprang to mind as the couple worked on their plans for the space. Friends and family advised the Whites that a coffee shop housed inside a winery was a bad idea, but the owners took a gamble on catering to guests like Bo who wanted a different experience.
So, why not coffee? The couple’s coffee roasters, Morning Song of Grand Rapids, offer great brews and are designing another new blend specifically for Dune Bird that will be launched as a new coffee subscription option in the winery’s Flight Club. Both coffee subscriptions and wine club memberships are available, with shipping options to 42 states.
Dune Bird’s collection includes nine wines: three reds with aviation-themed names, four refreshing whites, a rose, and a classic bubbly. The red wines range from lighter-bodied and fruit-forward to bolder and more complex.
A robust option last season was Woolsey’s Red, named after Capt. Clinton Woolsey, a Northport-born pilot and aviation pioneer who died in 1926 as a result of a Pan-American Good Will Flight crash in Argentina. “It was a limited release and is currently sold out and not coming back online, at least in 2023. It was very popular and we loved having that nod to a hometown hero,” Nicole says.
The crowd-pleasing sparkling wine — and the top-seller — is Pure Leland, made with 100 percent pinot grigio grapes. The white wines consist of a dry and late harvest Riesling, a refreshing unoaked chardonnay, and a dry pinot grigio.
Nicole likes to rave about Dune Bird’s winemaker, Drew Perry. “Cool things are going to be happening with our reds this year,” she says.
The Back Story
The Whites (Bo is from Michigan and Nicole is from Montana) dreamed of living in Leelanau County, but never planned on being the entrepreneurial young owners of a winery.
When Bo, a military pilot, was granted a position as a defense contractor in 2016, they finally were able to move to their dream location. But Nicole remembers the overriding question back then was: How do we make a living in northern Michigan?
The couple purchased Gill’s Pier Ranch, which raised alpacas and yaks, from a friend in the spring of 2021. The property was developed as the former Gill’s Pier Winery about 20 years ago.
“Seeing as we put all of our eggs into the grape basket, it was most essential to make the tasting room as comfortable as possible,” Nicole says. They sold their Maple City home and invested everything they had in the vineyard. The couple and their two children, Finley and Forrest, lived in an RV on the property for 18 months, while renovating the property’s old structures and figuring out how to open a tasting room. The Dune Bird tasting room became their family room.
An inviting gathering space was their priority from early on, as they worked to elevate the wine-tasting experience for the community. “We wanted to draw people in and get face-to-face, especially after Covid,” Nicole explains.
Sam Ellis, a local wine expert from Tandem Ciders, says “the atmosphere and staff offer a warm, inviting space which lends itself well to their rich red wines.” The ambience is that of walking into the White’s living room; it’s comfortable and cozy, with flickering fireplaces, lounge furniture, and live music.
In 2021, for the first time in 15 years, Bo wasn’t deployed. That allowed the couple to work tirelessly shoulder-to-shoulder, with their two children in tow, getting ready to open the doors of their new business.
Inspired by Bo’s passion and profession, flight wings serve as a playful logo for Dune Bird’s wine bottles and glasses. Future plans include a new event facility for weddings and community activities such as yoga classes and vendor shows.
“If you have a babysitter and want to go out or if you don’t have a babysitter and still want to go out, visit Dune Bird,” Nicole says. You can relax around the pond, snuggle in by the fireplace, listen to music, sip on some cider, wine, gourmet coffee, or a specialty drink, and enjoy the at-home ambience. A plus: they offer fontina-filled mac ’n’ cheese for kids of all ages, and a tapas-style menu of small plates that includes gluten-free options.
Dune Bird Winery