LAKE LEELANAU — The "hobby" vineyard may outlast the wine it has produced.
Since announcing it will cease winery and tasting room operations Jan. 1, 2018 on its website, patrons have flocked to Boskydel Vineyard, the first bonded wine cellar in Leelanau County.
What began as a "hobby" for the now 90-year-old Bernie Rink to make affordable wine, Boskydel may run dry. That's just fine with Jim and Andy Rink, the two of Bernie's five sons that have been running the day-to-day operations for the property that overlooks South Lake Leelanau.
"We'll continue to sell what we have in stock until Dec. 31," said Andy Rink, 48. "We might run out of a few things here and there. We're in our (third) week of all-hell breaking loose with the news and we've been selling just a massive amount of wine, which is great. I'd rather our customers and our good clients and friends have it instead of just sitting in our cellar just going to no one.
"We're out of our semi-sweet whites. For summer and the fall color tour, there's a lot of semi-sweet wine drinkers. Even toward the end of the year, I think we'll sell a good portion. So Jim and I decided it was a good idea to bottle it. Otherwise I have some bulk wine in the tanks that will probably have to be liquidated, pun intended I guess."
"We should have closed years ago," Jim Rink joked of Boskydel's "final farewell tour."
Both the eldest and youngest of Bernie Rink's sons said it was time for them to do different things and running the labor-intensive vineyard wouldn't allow it.
"It's probably been evolving over the last couple of years," Jim Rink said. "Andy and I aren't getting any younger and, speaking for myself, I'm 60 and I'm starting to have grandkids. It's a question of priority."
Jim Rink said the vineyard and winery required attention, care and feeding but when grandchildren enter the picture, that attention gets diverted away and he questioned how he wanted to spend his time.
"This is heresy I know, but life isn't just about growing grapes or making wine and you make choices the older you get," he said. "When you die, are you going to regret not having done these things? It's just a question of priorities and moving on and pursuing other interests really."
Andy Rink started working at the vineyard when he was 11 years old and worked every day in the summer either in the vineyard or giving tours of the winery, totaling about 37 years of work, he said.
"We've been putting a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this vineyard for all of our lives," he said. "Both Jim and I have been juggling this stuff in as kind of a hobby thing, which is nowhere near a hobby. It's a full-time, very demanding kind of operation. I think Jim and I have done pretty well considering. We just reached the end of our rope."
This winter, the decision was made to close Jan. 1 over several conversations among the five brothers: Jim, David, Tom, Chris and Andy. David lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Tom in Tulsa, Okla. and Chris in the Milwaukee area.
"It seemed to be the right choice," Andy said.
Both Andy and Jim Rink both work other jobs in addition to their work at the vineyard and winery.
Jim Rink, who lives on the farm, has been the editor of American Wine Society Journal for eight or nine years and has been involved with the organization since 1987. Andy Rink operates the one-man A. Rink Architects out of his Traverse City home.
Even though the decision to close was agreed upon by the Rink brothers, it was not taken lightly. And it hasn't been received that way, either.
"We've had a lot of emotional customers," Andy said. "It's hard; it's bittersweet. It makes the most sense for us and there's a lot of competition out there now, too. There's a lot of choices. I think it made more sense to bow out and retire, so to speak. It'd take a lot more time and energy ... to bring us into the current market. We've been running things the way dad has for all these years, which worked very well, but things changed."
Family patriarch Bernie Rink purchased the farm in 1958, Jim Rink said, the year after Jim was born.
"He bought the farm, the original 16 acres, a house and a lake lot for $14,500," Jim said. "Not a bad investment."
Bernie Rink first planted an acre of grapes with friend Bob Herbst in 1965, experimenting with French hybrids that would thrive in shorter growing seasons. In 1970, Bernie Rink planted grapes on 16 additional acres.
In 1975, construction began on Boskydel Vineyard, which now had 25 acres of grapes. The tasting room opened the following year.
In a lot of ways, Boskydel remained the same, staying true to its mission. It's open from 1-5 p.m. daily.
"It started out as a hobby," Jim Rink said of his father, who was the long-time librarian at Northwestern Michigan College. "He had five sons. It was very labor intensive, so the five sons came in very handy in helping to establish the vineyard ... (We) have 25 acres and we never really expanded beyond that. As vineyards go, that's fairly small and we stayed small.
"We developed a very loyal following over the years and that was our model, just make good wines at a good price. Affordable wines so people could drink every day and not break the bank. That's what we've done all these years."
Just like in the past, Jim and Andy Rink will tend to the grapes as the family hopes to receive lease offers. And as true wine makers, there's no hurry to get things done.
"We're currently taking care of the vineyard this summer," Andy said. "Between Good Harbor (Vineyards) and (L.) Mawby (Vineyards), most of the grapes will be used or brokered out.
"I think if we're able to pay the taxes and keep the farm in the family, I think that's a pretty strong goal between all the brothers and dad. That's our goal anyway. We'll see what happens. We've got plenty of time."