After months of anticipation, the newest Old Mission Peninsula winery, Bonobo Winery is now open for business. Founded by brothers Carter and Todd Oosterhouse, Bonobo “hopes to bring a sense of approachability to the Michigan wine and vineyard scene, removing any pretenses and allowing for the ultimate educational and enjoyable experience.” MyNorth staffers Eliza Foster and Dani Knoph checked in with Heather Fortin, Marketing Director and Tasting Room Manager to get the story behind the name, find out how Carter put his carpentry skills to action, and to discover their most popular wines. Little did we know Mario Batali would enter the picture—in one fabulously delicious way! Here’s what Heather had to say…
Heather, you must be getting asked this often…what does Bonobo mean and what’s the story behind the name?
Heather: Bonobo are an endangered ape from the Congo. The story goes that Carter was on a flight from LA to NY and read an article in National Geographic about the Bonobo. He and Todd hadn’t named the winery after 4 years of planning and as he read the article, he liked what they represented. They are thought to be highly evolved, hence our tag line of “Evolved Yet Primal.” They have been named the “make love, not war species” and well, Bonobo is fun to say. It begs the question, “Why Bonobo?” and has been a great conversation piece. It ends up being very memorable.
Did Carter put his carpentry skills to action as the tasting room was being built? Any stand-out features?
Heather: Yes, Carter was instrumental in the design of the interior. He and Todd (brother) collected 3 old barns from the area and have used the reclaimed wood throughout the building. One of the most notable features in the tasting room are the barn-style sliding doors that hide the kitchen. The kitchen is still under construction but we will be working to complete it and our small plates menu throughout the winter and in time for May 2015 tourist season. Food will be a very important component to Bonobo. We are thrilled to have received our first round of recipes from Mario Batali (yes, THE Mario Batali) who is acting as our food curator. (That means he will oversee the recipes and menu items that pair nicely with our wines.) All items will be easy to share and will complement our wines.
What varieties of wine can people taste at the tasting room? What have been the top sellers so far?
Heather: We have 7 wines to offer at the moment and we are adding more in the coming weeks to total twelve exciting wines our first year open. Our flagship wine is Chardonnay. We have 4 on the menu at the moment, all very different form the next. We offer three styles of Chardonnay; fully stainless steel aged (2012 harvest), a blend (2012 and 2013) of stainless and barrel aged and fully barrel aged, 2013 Pinot Gris, 2013 Pinot Blanc, a dry 2013 Riesling and a medium 2012 Riesling. We will be bottling our fully oaked Chardonnay in the coming weeks and expect our red wines Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to be bottled by March 2015.
With our facility being a brand new construction and only recently completed, we relied on the helping hands of other local wineries to make out first two harvests for us. The 2012 wines were made for us by 2Lads Winery—from our grapes but made by them. The 2013 wines were started by 2Lads Winery and Brys Estate. Chateau Chantal made our sweetest Riesling for us. Our best sellers are the 2012 wines.
2013 Chardonnay Select– a nice blend of oak-aged and stainless-aged chardonnays blended together before bottling. Bright and fruity to start, with crisp acidity from the stainless aged wine, and warm spice notes form the barrel-aged part. This wine we sent to Food and Wine Magazine and they recently visited and did a day long photo shoot with us. We will be featured in their April 2015 issue!!! Great exposure for us but really good exposure for this area and the wineries here. This is perfect timing, just before the busy spring rush.
And 2012 Riesling Select- a medium dry wine that displays soft sweetness which is whisked away by brisk acidity. This wine was also a Food and Wine Editor’s favorite.
All of our wines are “known to induce passion.” This is our ode to the Bonobo.
We saw that you guys have been working with Light of Day Organics. Can you tell us more about this collaboration?
Heather: Amy Smart-Oosterhouse and Angela, of Light of Day Organics, have become close friends and spent a great deal of time together this past summer and fall season. Angela has been advising on how best to embrace our ‘as close to organic as possible’ farming practices. She’s given us good advice on bio-dynamic methods of pest control, cover crop suggestions and composting.
What are the next couple of months looking like for Bonobo?
Heather: We are looking forward to new visitors, local and otherwise, coming in to enjoy Bonobo. We are doing things differently in that you don’t have to go to the bar for your tasting. We encourage visitors to take a seat anywhere in the 6,000 square foot tasting room.
The tasting room was designed to be a communal space for locals and travelers to kick back in a comfy seat and enjoy a tasting, then a glass of their favorite wine. We have several seating areas for visitors to enjoy; the library, the den, the ladies’ settees. Play scrabble, cribbage or just take in the space and the views that overlook rolling vineyards and West Bay.