Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Visiting Bernie Rink at Boskydel Vineyards

Little has changed since I last visited the Boskydel Vineyards tasting room. But that was in 1984, and much has changed in Leelanau wine-making over that 25 years. Compared to the fancy, tourist-centered wineries only a few miles away, Boskydel comes across as quaint and rustic. It is a small room on the lower level of a white barn with a cement floor and a crude wooden counter holding eight open bottles of wine for tasting. Bernie Rink, 83, the owner and wine-maker, is a bit stooped, and he fights a tremor when he pours wine for you. He is affectionately known as the "wine nazi" (after Seinfeld's "soup nazi") because he allows no nonsense. When there are more than eight in his tiny tasting room, he starts chasing people away. When I was there, one young woman asked which wine she should try first, and he replied gruffly, "How should I know? I don't know what you like." When she told him that she liked her wines on the sweetish side, he was able to direct her to ones she might like.

When I was at Boskydel in 1984, I bought a case of Bernie's 1982 Vignoles. It's a wine I'm partial to, and Bernie may be the last good source of dry Leelanau Vignoles. I tasted and bought the current vintage because it still has that full-bodied, spiciness that I love. It has the high acid of a Loire white with the full body of a California Chardonnay. When I bought the 1982, I asked Bernie how long it 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 of 1982 Boskydel Vignoles in the late 1990s, and I reported to Bernie my satisfaction. He had been right: the wine had aged beautifully and never tasted old, even in its second decade. He would not give me any promises on the 2006, however. "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 Rink has accomplished with this very high acid red grape. His Roi du Rouge is also DeChaunac, but a bit sweeter, Bernie says, and raised in cherry barrels rather than the white Michigan oak used for his other wines. How about aging of 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 where you can 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!) They are real wines for real people, and, to my knowledge, they are no longer available anywhere but at the winery. 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), Larry Mawby (1978) and Good Harbor (1980) followed Bernie Rink on Leelanau proper. These are the wineries I visited regularly in the early 1980s, and they are still among my favorites, even though there are some serious aspirations (and prices) among the 20 or more wineries that have sprung up in recent years. Thanks to these early pioneers, the Leelanau Peninsula appellation now enjoys a reputation for producing high-quality wines, particularly high acid white wines, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. DeChaunac? Only if you make your way to Boskydel Vineyards.


  1. This post made me smile as I remembered going to Boskydel for the fist time this summer and meeting Bernie. I really enjoyed your post and posted a link to it from my blog www.michiganbythebottle.com. Keep up the great work.

  2. Just got back from a weekend in Leelanau! It was great and our first stop was Boskydel! Bernie may be the "wine nazi" but his wine alone is worth the 6 hour drive. This was the first time we have been there that Bernie wasn't behind the counter pouring the samples. It actually made me a little sad. I hope his family continues the Boskydel tradition and doesn't make it a fancy pretentious winery like so many new ones on the penninsula.

  3. I have been traveling to Bernie's for the last 9 or 10 years and I wouldn't miss the trip for anything. Yes, Bernie is a bit of a character, but once you get to know him (this could take a few years) he is delightful. On my last trip earlier this week, we even had a small conversation in the back room as I helped him load my cases of wine on the dolly.
    A trip to anywhere within 50 miles of the winery is not complete unless you make a stop at Boskydel's for a short stay and a few tastes. Bernie and his wines are an absolute treat and asset to the entire peninsula - - - NO make that the state.

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