Take This Job and Love It: Winemaker

May 30, 2019

Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery is just outside of downtown on 20 acres of land. The owners live right on the vineyard.
Credit Ariana Strzalka

On the farms just outside of downtown Petoskey, 11 acres of land with Minnesota cold-hardy grapes belong to Petoskey Farms Vineyard and Winery. It is here where Head Winemaker Josh Morgan creates the wine that the small business sells.


 

Morgan never planned on becoming a winemaker. He was working a variety of jobs, while also attending the fire academy, after his job working for a food service management company didn’t pan out.

 

Eleven years ago, he got a job working in the cellar of a winery in Traverse City as an apprentice to their winemaker. Morgan stayed there for 9 years before coming to Petoskey in 2017 to begin working as head winemaker for Petoskey Farms.

 

Morgan works in the cellar of Petoskey Farms making a variety of wines.
Credit Ariana Strzalka

Morgan said that people think his job is romantic, but there is more behind the scenes than many people think. He said about 90 percent of his job is mostly cleaning.

 

Morgan said his job allows him to continue to learn, especially since he’s never had formal training.

 

“Today actually, I learned something that I have been doing wrong for ten years, and I learned something new, so I was like oh, cool. So this is definitely an industry that you’re always learning and something new comes up every year,” Morgan said.

 

He said that although his job does involve some science, he jokes that winemakers might more accurately be described as wine protectors.

 

“I don’t do a lot of the work; the yeast do the work. We babysit the yeast and make sure they’re happy and they have their nutrients they need. And from there, we always have this joke that after fermentation’s done, we’re just wine protectors,” Morgan said.

 

Morgan also explained that the wine industry in Michigan is a little different than elsewhere. The vineyards and wineries are fairly new in Northern Michigan, and the wineries can’t be completely self sustaining.

 

Last year, Morgan said the winery used about 35 tons of grapes to make their wine, with about seven of those tons coming directly from Petoskey Farms’ vineyard.

 

Petoskey Farms Head Winemaker Josh Morgan says that grapes will begin to be more visible in the next few weeks. "Come back in about a month and this will all be full of grapes," Morgan said, motioning at the vines.
Credit Ariana Strzalka

Morgan hopes that within the next five or six years, Petoskey Farms will be self-sustaining and the winery won’t have to outsource any grapes from wineries in Traverse City or Old Mission.

 

As a Northern Michigan winemaker, Morgan earns about $50,000 each year. He says that in other regions, winemakers can earn up to double that amount.

 

He also said Michigan wine is unique because the growing season is so short.

 

“Michigan (wine) is cleaner. It’s more of a fruit forward, aromatic whites, lighter bodied fruit forward reds. You’re not going to get these big, bold tannen bomb, big barrel reds like you would out in California,” Morgan said.

 

He said Michigan’s short season can have it’s unique challenges. He and the other full-time employees at Petoskey Farms are typically out in the vineyards in February, pruning vines to begin preparing for the season. This is a cold and snowy task in the tip of the mitt.

 

Morgan said the Petoskey Wine Region is up and coming but Petoskey Farms still has a feel of a small business.

 

“If you’re looking for a quieter, more intimate, one-on-one with the owners and one-on-one with the winemakers during your wine tasting, this is the area to come to,” he said.

 

Petoskey Farms' Semi-Sweet Apple Wine ages in barrels for six months before it is bottled.
Credit Ariana Strzalka

Morgan says since Petoskey Farms is still a small operation with only four full time employees, wine tasters can tour the cellars and learn more about how the wine they’re tasting gets from vine to glass.