Leelanau Wineries to Celebrate Wine Pioneer Bernie Rink

The former owner of now-shuttered Boskydel Vineyards will be honored during a July tribute

Boskydel Vineyard, which, in the 1970s, became the first fully operating winery on the Leelanau Peninsula — and for many people inseparable from its curmudgeonly owner Bernie Rink — closed down in December 2017.

In tribute, fellow Leelanau wineries are throwing a big thank-you in July. And you’re invited.

Bernie Rink, now 91, is one of those indelible characters in the state’s wine world, easily identifiable at gatherings by his taut suspenders, high-top trousers, and plaid shirts — the outfit of the consummate man of the soil who just doesn’t give a damn what others think.

Rink played a big role in the growth of the state’s wine industry, due as much to the timing of his arrival on the scene, his commitment to using only certain grapes, and some innovations he introduced.

Rink could come across a little like someone’s crazy uncle. “Oh, he was fine with being rude to certain people,” says his son, Andy. “He had his idea about what a wine was, and if you didn’t like it, he’d tell you to get out.”

Part of the reason some people didn’t like Rink’s wines was the changing times. By the 1970s, French wines and dry reds and whites from California created a benchmark for how people believed wines should taste. Those opinions were shaped by noble European grape types: chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and Riesling.

That left many people finding it hard to like or understand Boskydel wines. It didn’t so much have to do with Rink’s winemaking as it did the grapes he grew: French and North American hybrids — baco noir, seyval, vignoles, de chaunac, chancellor — which was almost all that Michigan grew in the early days, some of which have a certain “foxy” character and a labrusca flavor.

Andy Rink says the European grapes couldn’t make it here. “The reason he stayed with them was the fact that they stayed heathy and ripened well. Dad wanted to make affordable wine.”

By the 1990s, cold-climate hardy strains of the popular European grapes could now survive in Michigan, and most wineries began switching over.

But Rink held firm to the hybrids, says Andy. Right up to today.

Bernie was also very interested in the science of wines, and embraced progressive techniques, such as a process that uses ozone to cold-sterilize wine.

“In recent years, my brother Jim and I have helped out at the winery where we could,” says Andy, now an architect. “But we just could not carry on. For us, Boskydel would to have to be much more profitable to make a living for us. And that would mean a substantial investment. It’s a small agribusiness … We couldn’t make it work.”

To save the property, the Rinks, as of this writing, were negotiating to sell the winery and land to the Leelanau Conservancy, which would guarantee that it remains in its basic present form, as a farm.

To honor the Rink family, fellow wineries are throwing a party at Aurora Cellars on July 7. Tickets are $75 per person or $130 a couple. In fine Rink tradition, wines will be from hybrid grapes. L. Mawby is making an off-dry sparkling De Chaunac. A dry white blend will come from Bel Lago Winery; Good Harbor Vineyards is making a medium-sweet Vignoles. And for a dry red wine, the hosts will serve Boskydel’s very last vintage 2015 De Chaunac.

Tickets may be purchased through mynorth.com.