Kris and Ryan Sterkenburg, and their two kids, picked up and moved to Leelanau County from Milwaukee seven years ago. Their dream? To grow grapes and start a boutique winery. We talked to Kris about the fruit of their labor, Gills Pier Vineyard and Winery on M-22 north of Leland.

On Riesling

Our only Riesling is semi-dry. If you ferment it too dry you lose a lot of the fruit character.

On winemaker Bryan Ulbrich, who, in addition to his own Left Foot Charley wines, makes all of the Gill’s Pier wines

We hired him right out of the barrel, and it is one of the luckiest things we did.

On their vineyard

Every vineyard has its own microclimate. We have a lot of wind—good at preventing diseases, and very acidic soil, which actually works to our advantage.

On the screw cap

It’s easier in the cellar (no cork taint), it’s tamper resistant, and you never need to have a corkscrew.

On keeping their dream of a family-owned winery alive

Ryan has a day job in Traverse City, I run the business, and we both run the vineyard. We were doing 10 wines, including fruit wines, and sort of lost our focus. I love being in the vineyard and was barely out there. So this summer we’ve pared back to five wines.

The Gill’s Pier Wines

  • Cabernet Franc-Merlot (gold winner at Indy International Wine Competition)
  • Riesling
  • Just Unleashed (table red)
  • Whitewater (a semi-sweet blend)
  • Royce (Auxerrois, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc)

Gill’s Pier Vineyard & Winery is located at 5620 N. Manitou Trail (M-22), 3 miles north of Leland, 231-256-7003, gillspier.com.

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Quick Links to More Fun in Leelanau County!

  • The Leelanau Vacation Directory: Listings to lodging, galleries, restaurants and more along with an interactive map.
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  • The Leelanau County "Don’t Miss" List
  • The Complete Restaurant Guide for Leelanau County: Just type in any Leelanau County town and browse the wonderful array of restaurant options.
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