Bonobo Winery’s vintner Josh McCarthy shares intel on Old Mission Peninsula wine—and game changer pinot blanc—with this Q&A originally published in the April 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

With roots in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Josh McCarthy has cool climate wine in his blood. While working IT for Lockheed Martin, he took an epiphanic bike ride through the Columbia Valley and decided to devote his life to the making of vino. After an intensive master course in Walla Walla, Washington, McCarthy spent four years as a winemaker and was recruited by Old Mission’s Bonobo Winery in 2015. With a new growing season in the works, we sit down with Josh to get his perspective on Old Mission winemaking and talk pinot blanc.

As a fresh set of eyes on the scene, what’s winemaking like here compared to Washington?

“The climate in Washington pretty much guarantees you’re going to have ripe fruit. To be honest, winemaking there can be pretty boring; the fruit comes in perfect so you don’t have to do much. Here you really have to be on your game to make good wine, pay a lot of attention to physiological ripeness and work with every little aspect in the vineyard and the winery.”

With a new winery and a blank slate, what style is Bonobo going after?

“Carter and the whole team here are really committed to making wines that stand up on the world stage. I’m working to make complex, classically styled chardonnays, rieslings, pinot blancs and pinot noirs, as well as some experimental Old World varietals like blaufränkisch and Müller-Thurgau. In the winery, this means we’re refining our barrel program and allowing our wines more time to age or rest on their lees and develop character.”

You mentioned pinot blanc. Why should we be growing and drinking it?

“In my experience pinot blanc has always seemed to exist in the background as just another mutation pinot noir, but I think it could be a game changer in what this region is known for. It takes on a lot of tropical fruit tones like pineapple, pear and melon, and with a little neutral barrel aging it has a lot more texture and complexity than most pinot gris and unoaked chardonnays.”

Is there a perfect pinot blanc pairing out there?

“Personally this is a wine that I usually like to drink on its own because it has such great character and flavor, but in working with The Cheese Lady to build pairings for our tasting room, I’ve found that it’s awesome with Ossau Iraty, a Basque sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese has subtly grassy unripe grape notes that match beautifully with the wine.”

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Photo(s) by David Weidner