In Vino Veritas! A local winemaker in Elk Rapids is bringing back-to-basics farming to the Up North vineyard scene by producing biodynamically grown grapes in an optimal soil matrix. And the Northern Michigan food and drink industry is taking notice.

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At first glance, the modest white farmhouse tucked off the main highway through Elk Rapids could simply pass as another quaint wine tasting room, though one planted far off the wine trails of Northern Michigan.

A flower and vegetable garden blooms behind the 1920s-era house, but no vineyards surround the tidy property. And that’s not uncommon among Michigan wineries—many tasting rooms are located along main roads or downtowns, near potential customers but away from vines and winemaking operations.

The first clue that something truly different is sprouting at BOS Wine can be found with a closer inspection of the handsome green-and-white sign on the front lawn. It reads BOS Wine Garden. While the flowers out back offer an idyllic spot to sip outdoors, the garden is just as much a metaphor for what owners Dave and Jackie Bos are striving to accomplish with their vineyards, and beyond.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

The couple, who moved to Northern Michigan from California four years ago, is passionate about farming and biodynamic agriculture—methods Dave became familiar with while tending vineyards in Napa Valley. A form of organic farming, biodynamic agriculture eschews pesticides and chemicals, turning instead to natural composting materials from the farm to nurture the soil.

“The BOS Wine Garden gives us a great way to talk about farming and what we’re doing with biodynamics,” says Dave, who got his wine feet wet decades ago in the cellar at Chateau Grand Traverse on Old Mission Peninsula. “It’s like a chef tasting and talking about arugula or carrots fresh from a garden, all grown biodynamically. There’s such a difference in taste and quality, and it’s the same with wine.”

Biodynamic methods, Dave says, bring health and vitality to a farm. They involve composting, planting cover crops and using biodynamic preps—made from herbs, mineral substances and manure—in field sprays and compost to influence the soil. It’s also about working with the rhythms of nature, and learning that chores like planting and pruning are better on some days than others.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Their mission, as you might have guessed, is to produce world-class wine through biodynamic farming and to encourage others in the state’s flourishing wine industry to follow suit.

“For me, it’s super exciting,” Dave says. “The greener we can make Northern Michigan, the more appealing we are to tourism of all kinds. The garden is a great and useful tool for us, an example of what we’re doing.”

It’s not just their farming methods that separate BOS from other Michigan wineries. The couple is also working with growers in both California and Michigan to source biodynamically grown grapes for their wines, which are all made by Dave. The California wines are tended at a winery in Rutherford, California; in Michigan, Dave oversees his wines in the facilities at Mari Vineyards.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Producing and serving Michigan and California wines is a business model like no other in the Great Lakes State. It’s one that might raise eyebrows among die-hard Michigan vintners (though getting wine grapes from other states is not uncommon, especially during difficult growing years), but given the paths Dave and Jackie have traversed in life, their Michigan-meets-California concept makes sense.

Dave grew up in Holland, Michigan, and Jackie in California. They met while Dave was working as a vineyard manager at Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley, where all 367 acres of vines are cultivated biodynamically. Jackie was a senior project manager at a landscape firm. (Grgich Hills Estate, by the way, was co-founded by Mike Grgich, the winemaker behind the famous 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, a Napa Valley wine that bested French white wines in a 1976 blind tasting that has become famous as the Judgment of Paris.)

The couple married in 2008. Their passions and talents aligned and they created a vineyard consulting firm. With access to high-quality fruit, it wasn’t long before Dave and Jackie began producing their own wine—their first vintage, a California Syrah, in 2010—and planting the seeds to create their own winery.

Looking to grow their family and their business (they have two children, Della, 10, and Olsen, 8), Dave and Jackie began searching for property outside of expensive Napa Valley, mostly up and down the West Coast. However, frequent visits North during family trips, and solid connections with Michigan winemakers and others, convinced them to settle just outside Traverse City.

“The wine industry has really taken off in Michigan,” Dave says. “When you look at how exciting the last four or five years have been here, the potential for Northern Michigan to grow more wine grapes and grow grapes in other areas of the state is phenomenal. We haven’t been at this very long. There’s so much more to figure out.”

The couple bought a 10-acre farm in Williamsburg with the intent of opening a winery there. Unfortunately, labor issues related to the pandemic prompted them to change their minds and they purchased the renovated farmhouse—a former coffee shop—in Elk Rapids. While they have planted mostly flowers at the wine tasting room’s garden, they do plan to plant vines on their farm in the spring, as well as orchards, and create a working biodynamic farm. They believe the region east of Grand Traverse Bay and Old Mission Peninsula, from Traverse City to Elk Rapids and beyond, has the potential to grow wine grapes.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

“I’ve long been a proponent of that’s the coast to be looking at,” says Bryan Ulbrich, owner and winemaker at Left Foot Charley in Traverse City, who has been helping the couple as they establish roots in the industry. “We’ve been actively farming there with a couple of different farms for quite a while. There’s no reason that area would not be great to grow grapes.”

The region, Bryan says, has the right soil matrix, varying topography, and lies east of East Bay, which is deeper than West Bay, helping moderate growing conditions. To the west lies Torch Lake, the deepest inland lake in the state, which Bryan says also has an influence. In addition, the region grows the same fruits as the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas, both well-known grape-producing regions.

“It’s fun to see that side of the bay get some more momentum—good things are happening there,” Bryan says.

For Dave and Jackie to locate their winery in Michigan, Bryan adds, is a good indicator of where the industry is headed. “Dave could have gone anywhere. He was working in one of the best growing regions in the world. Why would he come here?” he says. “It’s flattering and it’s a good sign that we are continuing to grow and get more complex as an industry.”

Since returning to Michigan, Dave has been working with several other vineyards, including Mari on Old Mission, where more than 60 acres of vines are being transitioned to organic farming.

“Michigan is going greener,” Dave says. “If you look at some of the best wineries in the world, many of them are doing biodynamic farming. A lot of people see the benefits—it has taken sick vineyards and made them healthy again.”

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

And there’s no better stage to taste the difference than at BOS Wine Garden, where even the tasting protocol differs from most wineries. While walk-ins are welcome, BOS has opted for seated tastings, by reservation. The contemporary wine room is decorated in neutral colors and minimal artwork, emphasizing the wine and food experience. The room seats just 22 people. Guests can choose from two tasting options: one focused on small-batch wines; the other, wines paired with a curated charcuterie board.

“We like to push the envelope,” says Jackie, who designed the company’s wine bottle labels. “We are highly focused on the wine tasting experience and our wine club. We want people who come in here to be part of the wine club and to learn about the farming process, to learn about where the grapes come from. Wine is like the art on the walls. Wine is an art form.”

That experience was top-notch for Jenna Veiga and Ben Gulow, both of whom have ties to Michigan’s wine industry. “The experience was unmatched,” says Jenna, a former marketing and events manager at Mari Vineyards. “You really don’t see such cultivated tasting experiences in this area. I felt like I was having a one-on-one tasting, and the food pairing was excellent.”

Ben, who is the tasting room manager at 45 North Vineyard & Winery in Lake Leelanau, noted the extra care and attention to detail. The tables were already set for their group upon arrival and tasting notes had a personalized message for each guest.

“It set the tone for the experience from the beginning,” he says. “The wines were presented with finesse and an education on what they were and what made them special. It made for a connection to each wine that I think in a rushed tasting or flight setting is hard to do.”

That blend of California and Michigan wines in a Michigan tasting room hasn’t bothered customers either.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

“What I like about the BOS Wine model is its transparency,” says Gina Shay, a member of the Michigan Wine Collaborative, a nonprofit group that supports and promotes the industry. “The BOS wine family celebrates their origins and history in both California and Michigan while being a sound business model in a cold-climate wine-growing region.”

Jenna, noting that some wineries hide the use of non-Michigan grapes in their products, was also impressed with the transparency.

“I think it’s a wonderful way to compare and contrast the two regions, while managing expectations for those who are only used to the ‘big California red’ style of wine,” she says. “His tasting structure allows guests to enjoy each individual wine for what it is, and not follow suit of comparing Northern Michigan grapes to California ones.”

The reaction has tickled Dave.

“I get people who say, ‘I really don’t like Michigan wine,’ or ‘I don’t like California wine,’” he explains. “I say, ‘Why not? Let me tell you about Michigan wine. Let’s talk about California wine.’ It’s part of our story, part of our narrative.”

The tasting room experience and that garden in the back are equally part of the narrative. Working with family and friends, the couple created the garden while preparing the grounds for opening. That garden, where the sunflowers stood tall late last summer, connected Dave and Jackie to the place their journey began, in California, where they planted their first garden together. That garden was a tool that helped them tell the story of biodynamic agriculture and wine. Now their garden, and their story, are planting roots in Michigan.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

3 BOS Wines You Won’t Want to Miss

The BOS portfolio includes sparkling, rosé, white and red wines. The white wines are produced from grapes grown in Northern Michigan vineyards. The reds are culled from vines in California’s Mendocino County and Napa Valley. The first Northern Michigan red to be featured in the BOS Wine portfolio will be a blaufränkisch from Vineyard 15 on Old Mission Peninsula that’s expected to be released as early as this spring.

2020 BOS METHODE AGRICOLE
The name of this light sparkling wine is a play on the original way of making bubbly, known as the pét-nat method (natural fermentation is interrupted and finished in the bottle). This bubbly, ripe with floral and citrus notes, is made from Valvin muscat, a hybrid grape, with a little chardonnay and gewürztraminer blended in. The Valvin muscat comes from Crystal Vista Vineyards near Interlochen. “This wine is so pretty, with these aromatic whites,” Dave says. “It’s not overly acidic and has light bubbles. It’s very approachable.”

2017 BOS WISHFLOWER
The primary source for this popular (and unusual) blend of co-fermented pinot gris and gewürztraminer with riesling is Bridgadoon Vineyard on the Leelanau Peninsula. Wishflower showcases the characteristics of distinctive vines and the differences that occur between vintages. Dave likes co-fermenting grapes, saying, “You cannot control what comes of that. It’s exactly what I want sometimes.” This blend showcases the floral attributes of gewürztraminer and the weightiness of pinot gris, with lemon oil and honeysuckle. The name comes from his children’s reference to dandelions, hard to come by in California, as wish flowers.

2017 MOON BOS
One of three California reds, Moon is a blend of syrah and petite sirah from biodynamic vineyards in the Golden State. The wines produced from these vines are good examples of reds from outside Napa Valley and are driven by acidity at the front of the palate. Dave finds a freshness in Moon BOS that you don’t always get in California reds. “I want people to come into the tasting room and experience this amazing California wine that tastes great and is affordable,” he says. The blend is fermented in natural oak and shows notes of lavender and dried cherry.

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

Greg Tasker is a Traverse City-based freelance writer and works part-time at a winery on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Jacqueline Southby is a commercial, architectural and portrait photographer based in Traverse City.

Photo(s) by Jacqueline Southby