Meet Nathaniel Rose: One of Michigan's new breed of winemakers

Nathaniel Rose  makes the specialty wines at Brengman Brothers Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula. (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

Nathaniel Rose makes the specialty wines at Brengman Brothers Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula. (Photo by Sandra Silfven)

So you build a new winery and you need to hire an in-house winemaker. Where do you find one?

For Brengman Brothers Winery on the Leelanau Peninsula, somebody walked in the door to inquire about buying extra grapes for making his own wine — and landed a job along the way.

Meet Nathaniel Rose, 28, who makes the reds and yet-to-be released Artisan Series at the winery on Center Highway at Crain Hill Road.

“I live right up the road,” Rose said recently. “I pay attention to every vine that grows in the region. I am always interested in somebody selling grapes. I stopped in at Brengman to taste the wine and I was blown away by the Gewurztraminer — it’s the test of a vineyard.”

But his first love is red wines — bold, robust, inky monsters made from Michigan grapes — and he must have a knack for them because his 2012 Pinot Noir in barrel at Brengman’s has unbelievable color and tastes like Russian River meets Monterey. It won’t be bottled till 2014.

Rose has a mile-wide smile and personality that bubbles like fermenting grape juice. He is not camera-shy and springs on top of barrels to get his picture taken. He brims with youthful optimism laced with unrelenting determination — and if he finds an audience, he pulls out a wacky hat.

He is dead-serious about making wine and you can almost see the wheels turning when he’s presented with a challenge. In fact, he got his job at Brengman last year when he successfully saved a batch of frozen peaches from Brengman’s orchard by turning it into a sparkling honey peach cider. You see, he makes mead too. Rose has been making wine in small batches for years.

Rose graduated from Western Michigan University in 2009, where he studied biochemistry with a focus on microbiology and plant physiology. He formulated many of the recipes for the opening of St. Ambrose Cellars, a meadery in Benzie County, and made the grape wines. From 2009 to 2011, he made wines at Leelanau’s Raftshol Vineyards where he was schooled in red winemaking techniques by “the master” — Warren Raftshol.

For the Nathaniel Rose label he sells at Brengman’s tasting room, he uses grapes from Wally Maurer at Domaine Berrien Cellars in Southwest Michigan — Marsanne, Roussanne, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Syrah. And he pushes Maurer to let the grapes hang on the vines as long as possible to develop flavors.

In his own words, his goal is to make “serious, heavy Michigan reds.”

Contact Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.