Vintner Mag Q&A: Mike Altesleben, Peninsula Cellars

This is a part of a continuing series of Q&As with members of the American wine community from across the U.S.
Vintner Magazine will share business and personal insights from Winery Owners, Vintners, Marketing Managers, Sales Directors, QCQA staff and others each month to help you get to know each other better in the industry and learn more to better develop your own brand.

Mike Altesleben, Winemaker, Peninsula Cellars — Traverse City, Michigan

VINTNER: How has your business strategy evolved to help grow and stay competitive?
ALTESLEBEN: We’ve been growing grapes, the grapes don’t know that COVID is happening. The vintage is actually really, really nice so far, it’s been dry and not a lot of rain. So we’re expecting some great wines that come out of this vintage. The only problem is we don’t know what the demand is. So we’re just going to do our best job to try to forecast. But I know I can make wines that are ageable. So I’m just going to go ahead and proceed as normal with those varieties. With the varieties that don’t age as well, we’ll probably make smaller batches. And then the wines that go through distribution are going to probably maintain the same level of sales. People are buying wine at the supermarket more than they are coming through the tasting room. Those sales are about the same, but it’s just the tasting room sales that are kind of down. It’s just one of those things we just have to take it day-by-day and adapt as we go because it’s all so new.

VINTNER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
ALTESLEBEN: My mentor is Coenraad Stassen over at Brys Estate. I had worked with him for five years. He was the first guy that really took me under his wing back in 2011 while I was still in school, and he showed me the right way to do things: cleanliness and timeliness and taught me some technical skills along the way. He taught me a lot about tasting and how everything plays off each other. He taught me how to balance a wine and to finish a wine. He had really high standards.

VINTNER: What idea did you or your team come up with lately that has been a big benefit to how your winery functions?
ALTESLEBEN: Based on Michigan’s variability and vintages, you can’t always make the still wines you’re looking for. So we decided that it would probably be a good idea to start making some sparkling wines. So that’s something that we’re planning on moving forward with.

VINTNER: If you had one business strategy to better the wine industry, what would it be?
ALTESLEBEN: That’s funny, because my personal business strategy would be more tasting rooms, and sales from there. But now with COVID, it’s completely out the window. So I really don’t have a good answer for that one at this point.

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