Twenty-five years in, a father’s vision is his daughter’s passion. Black Star Farms in Leelanau County north of Traverse City is marking its 25th anniversary this year. Now under the leadership of managing owner Sherri Campbell Fenton, daughter of founders Kerm and Sallie Campbell , the winery with its 10-room inn and horse paddocks set on 160 acres of rolling countryside has become both a landmark and destination for those traveling to northwestern Lower Michigan wine country.
“It was one of my father’s favorite properties in the region and when it popped up for sale, he bought it not really having a plan,” Fenton says of her dad’s 1998 purchase that led to Black Star Farms. “He kind of laughed when people say ‘you must be such a visionary’ and would say ‘sometimes things just come together.’”
And how they did. The property was an equestrian estate including an indoor riding arena and centennial barn, built in the early 1800s as part of the original farmstead. As it evolved into Blacks Star Farms, the home that came with it was easily converted to become an inn—each bedroom already had its own bathroom—starting with several rooms to rent and expanding over time. The family was already growing grapes on the nearby Old Mission Peninsula and found a winemaker, Lee Lutes, who remains as both winemaker and managing member.
A small tasting room opened in what had been the bar that was part of the original home’s living room and operated until the actual new tasting room was built a year in. Since then, Black Star has only grown—in offerings, stature, and as a destination to its own. A second tasting room opened on the Old Mission Peninsula in 2009. “People typically tend to choose one or the other (Leelanau or Old Mission) to go wine tasting on for a day, so that was key for us,” Fenton says.
Fenton’s parents bought out their last partners in 2015 and she came on as general manager in 2016. Starting out handling marketing and public affairs, she moved into a general manager slot that paved the way to her current role. “I know it was never envisioned that it would be like this, but the way it’s come together really is quite a testament to the people who have been involved in the business in those 25 years,” Fenton says.
A landmark event happened when the winery won Best in Show at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge for its 2017 Arcturos Dry Riesling. “That put our region and Black Star Farms on the international map with a win at such a prestigious competition,” Fenton says.
Black Star Farms has a variety of event spaces, with the option to rent out the entire property when available. Its restaurant is newly reimagined this year as a bistro with Mediterranean-inspired cuisine under the direction of Chef John Korcyki. Chef dinners will be offered Wednesday and Thursdays starting in June.
To commemorate its silver jubilee, Black Star will offer a special limited release of a 25th Anniversary Blanc de Noir. Special events include vertical wine tastings, a Great Lakes Fish Boil July 14, a Chef’s Table-Themed Wine Dinner Aug. 9, educational tours with dates to be announced, an End of Summer Soiree Sept. 1, family-friendly wagon tours through the estate in late October, a Nouveau Release Party Nov. 17, and other activities. For more details and tickets to special events, click here.