Editor's note: Kalamazoo's Fred McTaggart originally wrote this appreciation of Leelanau Peninsula winemaker Bernie Rink for his blog, Artisan Wine on a Budget. I thought it deserved a wider audience. Photo courtesy of Sharon Kegerreis, Michigan Vine -- JG
by Fred McTaggart
Little has changed since I last visited the Boskydel Vineyards tasting room. But that was 1984, and much has changed in Leelanau winemaking over the intervening 25 years.
Boskydel's Bernie Rink: Making Leelanau wine since 1975
Compared to the fancy, tourist-centered wineries just a few miles away, Boskydel comes across as quaint and rustic. It's a small room on the lower level of a white barn with a cement floor. A crude wooden counter holds eight bottles, open for tasting.
Owner and winemaker Bernie Rink, 83, is a bit stooped these days, and fights a tremor when he pours your samples. He is affectionately known as the "Wine Nazi" (after Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi") because he allows no nonsense on the premises. When more than eight people arrive in his tiny tasting room, he starts to shoo them away.
One young woman asked which wine she should try
first. He replied gruffly, "How should I know? I don't know what you
like." Once she told him that she liked her wines on the sweetish side,
he directed her to the appropriate bottles.
When I visited in 1984, I bought a case of Bernie's 1982
Vignoles. It's a grape I'm partial to, and Bernie may be the last good
source for dry Leelanau Vignoles. It has that full-bodied spiciness I love
-- the high acidity of Loire white with the full body of California Chardonnay.
I asked Bernie how long the wine in that case would age,
and he answered, "I don't know because I've never had a bottle yet that
was too old."
I drank my last bottle in the late 1990s, and reported my
satisfaction to Bernie. He had been right; the wine had aged
beautifully and never tasted old, even in its second decade.
This time, I tasted and bought the current
vintage, 2006, But Bernie was offering no promises. "At my age, I'm not
interested in wine futures," he said.
I also enjoyed Bernie's red DeChaunac, which American Wine Review
called the best of its kind in the country. Having experimented with
making my own DeChaunac several decades ago, I can appreciate what he's accomplished with this high acid red grape. Boskydel's Roi du Rouge is also
DeChaunac, but a bit sweeter and aged in cherry barrels rather than
the white Michigan oak used for his other wines.
How about aging DeChaunac? "I don't know," he said, "but I have a man
who comes in every year and buys four cases and puts them away for 10
years before he starts to drink them."
Wine lovers make their way to the tiny Boskydel tasting room to buy any of Rink's wines for $7 to $8 a bottle, or $65 to $70 a
case. (That's a big-time case discount!) These are real wines for real
people and, to my knowledge, are no longer available anywhere but
Once the head librarian at Northwestern Michigan College, Bernie Rink
bought his land in 1965 and opened his tasting room in 1975. His was
the first winery on the peninsula, although Ed O'Keefe opened Chateau
Grand Traverse on nearby Old Mission a year earlier. Leelanau Cellars
(1977), L. Mawby (1978) and Good Harbor (1980) soon followed.
I visited those wineries regularly in the early 1980s. They're
still among my favorites, even though some serious
aspirations (and price tags) have sprung up among the 20 or more northern wineries in recent years. Thanks to these early pioneers, the Leelanau
Peninsula appellation now enjoys a reputation for high-quality wines,
particularly high acid whites, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
But DeChaunac? For that, you'll need to make your way to Boskydel Vineyards and Bernie Rink.