News & Classical Music from Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Today in 1976, Boskydel Vineyard opened

Michigan Wines

Bernie Rink had been growing wine grapes on his property overlooking Lake Leelanau for more than a decade when he opened his tasting room in 1976. His vineyard was the first commercial vineyard in the region.

Jim Rink says his father wanted to put his five sons to work.

“He claims he wanted to put us to bed tired, and that’s why he started the vineyard,” says Rink, who helps run the business today. “Frankly, I’m still tired 50 years later.”

Rink says his father tested more than 30 types of grapes before he settled on about a dozen that he initially planted. He says they are still experimenting with grape varieties that are cold hardy.

“We recently planted some Minnesota hybrids which can stand even colder temperatures, down to minus 30,” he says.

In the 1960s, planting grapes in northern Michigan went against the advice of experts who thought the climate was too cold. Stan Howell started working at Michigan State University in 1969 and says the senior researchers in his department were skeptical about wine grapes, and even warned Stan that the university would get in trouble if he helped people make alcohol.

“I was told that I would be committing professional suicide if I decided that I was going to work with Michigan’s [wine] industry,” he recalls. “I could work with Welch’s grape juice and make all the Concord grape juice that we wanted.”

Howell dismissed that warning and went on to help pioneer vintners like Bernie Rink at Boskydel. There are now more than 30 wineries in northern Michigan.

But the original plot where Bernie Rink tested his first wine grapes has been planted with chestnut trees. His son Jim says they have even sold Christmas trees, so you could buy a tree and have chestnuts roasted on an open fire.  

“Part of the Boskydel experience, I guess,” he laughs.

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio.