Taking Flight, the Dune Bird story

Dune Bird Winery owner Nicole White wrote Taking Flight at Dune Bird Winery, a Family’s Life-Changing Journey for the May issue of Traverse Magazine. It begins:

When a guest visits Dune Bird Winery in Northport, the renovated tasting room blurs the line between cozy and industrial. Any austerity from the modern stainless steel, glass garage doors and subtle aviation theme melts away against a layered, hygge feel centered around two fireplaces, comfy leather chairs, sheepskin throws and blue suede. You may see a couple at the bar with a compendium of glasses in front of them engaged in a lively discussion about the similarities between these cool climate reds and those coming out of the Loire Valley in France. Before heading out to the lawn with eyes on the vintage croquet set, you notice a remote worker in the “library” room with a cappuccino and locally made macarons. Hmm, round two, you think. The grounds are bustling, but the expansiveness elicits a poignant peace. You pause and breathe deeply before settling under a big maple tree with the vineyard in your peripheral, listening to the distant squeals of kids playing on a swing set. “Land of delight” is right.

It’s a delight our family doesn’t take for granted.

It’s hard to know where to start with a story like Dune Bird. We aren’t people who start where we’re supposed to, anyway. Before 2021, opening a winery had never even crossed our minds. With little business experience, minimal resources and no financial backing, we weren’t likely candidates.

But every once in a while, an opportunity comes along that makes you narrow your focus, gather your wits and throw all your chips on the table. And, despite all we lacked, what we did have was vision—and a sink-or-swim proposition. It would take everything we had, but we knew Dune Bird might be just the opportunity we were looking for; an anchor for our family.

We first looked at the 25-acre property just north of Leland on M-22 in February 2021. A thick blanket of snow lay across the land. Cattle fencing protruded defiantly from the expanse of white, and a long, snaking driveway gave way to a smattering of paddocks, barns and leantos.

Two decades earlier the property had been cultivated as Gill’s Pier Winery and Vineyard; later it became home to herds of yak and alpaca as Gill’s Pier Ranch. The old tasting room-turned-farm store was tired and mostly abandoned, full of leftovers from both previous businesses. The property was laden with debris and treasures alike—evidence of hard-working dreamers before us.

Read on for much more in Traverse.