Not the Last Toast for Bruce Simpson

All of Leelanau County and beyond is mourning the death of Bruce Simpson who died on March 11 at the University of Michigan Hospital. Simpson was many things–devoted husband to his dynamic wife, Debbie, father to two bright children, now young adults. But most folks knew him as the owner and founder of Good Harbor Vineyards in Leland. Simpson was the county’s fourth winemaker–when the industry was still in its pioneer stages.

This weekend I chatted with Simpson’s friend, neighbor, business partner and fellow vintner Dan Matthies(Chateau Fontaine) about Simpson and his passion, wine. Simpson’s theory, Matthies told me, was to make “as good a wine as he possibly could at a fair price.” Matthies told me that he’s talked to people all over the world about Northern Michigan wine and many of them tell him that yes, they have tried a Northern Michigan wine–and that it is good. “And 90 percent of the time the wine it turns out that the wine they tried was Good Harbor’s Trillium,” says Matthies.

Even when people criticized Simpson’s wine, Matthies says his friend never lost the good-natured approach to life he will be remembered for. “His famous saying was, ‘It is what it is,'” says Matthies.

Matthies went on to praise another of Bruce’s signature wines, Fishtown White. And then, choking up a bit, he told me about a meeting of the Leelanau vintners several days ago. Matthies brought along a 1993 vintage of Simpson’s Good Harbor Red. “I said, guys, this we have to do–a toast for Bruce, This is his wine, it’s only fitting.” And so the vintners of Leelanau County toasted their friend and fellow winemaker, Bruce Simpson. “I wasn’t sure how the wine had held up,” says Matthies. “But you know what? That wine was phenomenal.”

That toast was only the first of many toasts for Bruce Simpson. They will happen all over Leelanau County
for years to come. On boats in Lake Leelanau or out on Lake Michigan, on shoreside picnics, on the decks of summer cottage, in restaurants. People will toast this man who worked so hard to bring one more very fine thing to one of the finest spots on earth.

I can’t sign off without sending Debbie Simpson–a woman who has always been such a loyal friend when her friends are in need–an enormous, heartfelt hug. Debbie, my deepest thoughts and prayers …

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