Fox River State Trail bikers enjoy a sunny afternoon and a bottle of wine on the LedgeStone Vineyard patio.
Toasting Wisconsin's wine country.
Story and photos by Ellen C. Corso
Unique wineries and vineyards are cropping up across Wisconsin featuring their own personalities and distinct variations of red, white and fruit wines.
Wisconsin has a long history of grape growers, as the state's rich soil and sloping landscapes create a good environment for vineyards. European immigrants brought with them the tradition of growing and fermenting grapes to wine, although only special varietal grapes have the fortitude to survive our harsh winters.
According to a study by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the combination of wineries and vineyards has positive economic impacts, adding 700 jobs and $151 million in industry sales. The Wisconsin Wine Association indicates that wineries in Wisconsin have been increasing steadily over the last decade and are anticipating this trend will continue.
Wisconsin has five distinctive wine regions: Driftless, Door County, Fox Valley, Glacial Hills and Northwoods. Regardless of which area you decide to explore, you will find wine tastings, tours and events. Here is a sampling to get you started.
Botham Vineyards in Barneveld is named for the family that owns the vineyard and winery. This is a pristine vineyard with a large open tasting room, gift shop, gallery and terrace. The property features a rustic room decorated with automotive memorabilia and is used for private parties and events. Botham Vineyards offers tasting of their distinctive wines and recently added a line of cottonseed cooking oil. The oils are infused with flavors, have a low fat content and are great for cooking. Ten flavors can be purchased as a gift set or individually. This fall, take the time to sample a glass of wine on the terrace while looking over the rugged terrain, deep valleys and high bluffs surrounding the vineyards. For more information, visit Botham Vineyards & Winery or call (608) 924–1412.
Don't let the trolls keep you away from the Fisher King Winery in Mount Horeb. This winery is uniquely named for the pagan legend of the Fisher King. The complete story can be found on the winery website. The Fisher King Winery has a light, airy tasting room and gift shop located in the heart of downtown Mount Horeb. Along with friendly, knowledgeable wine stewards, Fisher King Winery offers live music on Friday nights. While in the area, you can easily access the scenic 40–mile Military Ridge State Trail. Trail parking is available within a few blocks of the winery. For a trail map visit dnr.wi.gov and search "Military Ridge.” For more information on the winery, visit Fisher King Winery or call (608) 437–6020.
Door County region
Door County has several boutique wineries and vineyards and a great way to visit is by joining a Napa Valley–style tour. Get on board the Door County Trolley Premier Wine Tour. The trolley stops at Door Peninsula Winery in Carlsville, Simon Creek Winery in Jacksonport, Harbor Ridge Winery in Egg Harbor and Orchard Country Winery in Fish Creek.
On tour you will meet the vintners one–on–one and be invited to a private wine tasting at each winery. Let the trolley take care of the driving and arrangements while you relax and concentrate on tasting these private–labeled wines.
This fall enjoy riding the trolley with a full view of scenic fall colors. Grapes are typically harvested mid–September through mid–November and visiting this fall you are likely to encounter harvesting events. For more information on this tour, visit Door County Trolley or call (920) 868–1100.
Fox Valley region
LedgeStone Vineyards in Greenleaf borders the Fox River State Trail, making this boutique winery a great place to stop when hiking or biking the trail. Owner Tim Abel says, "I woke up one morning and told my wife that I am going to start a winery and vineyard.”
It took several years to learn the craft and find land for his venture, but in 1999 Abel began operating this family–owned business. The winery makes and labels wine under two names: LedgeStone and Monarch Creek.
Monarch Creek is named for the creek that runs through the vineyards. Abel's children named the creek for the butterflies they saw while playing among the grape vines. Proceeds from sales of the Monarch Creek wines help support the Monarch Butterfly Fund (monarchbutterflyfund.org) fostering conservation of North American monarch butterflies.
In addition to selling their own exceptional wines, LedgeStone sells premium wines from around the world and grape juice that is fermented from grapes grown in the 15–acre vineyard.
Along with tasting and free music on Thursday nights in the summer and fall, the family grooms cross–country ski trails in the vineyard during winter. This friendly and comfortable winery is located in the heart of the Fox Valley and is surrounded by the LedgeStone Vineyards, rich farmland and hills. This is the perfect place to start or end your exploration of the Fox River State Trail. For more information about LedgeStone Vineyards, visit LedgeStone Vineyards or call (920) 532–4384.
Glacial Hills region
Vetro Winery is located in Jefferson with a vineyard 12 miles northeast in Concord. The Vetrano family grows a variety of grapes that are used to ferment the wines they make and sell at the winery. In addition they use fruits from local farms.
Vetro Winery has a large, sunny, upbeat tasting room and gift shop. It offers complimentary tastings in a friendly atmosphere. The Special Olympics of Wisconsin (specialolympicswisconsin.org) is very near and dear to the Vetrano family and they encourage contributions to Special Olympics for tastings.
The Sicilian art and tradition of wine making has been handed down in the family for over 125 years. Mikele Vetrano brought the tradition of wine making with him from Italy's Castelvetrano province.
Vetro Winery is located a few miles from the Glacial Drumlin State Trail, which runs between Madison and Milwaukee. The trail stretches for 52 miles through farmland and glacial topography. Treat yourself after this industrious ride with a seat at Vetro Winery's large outdoor patio, drink a glass of wine and enjoy the view of the lush area surrounding the winery. For more information, go to Vetro Winery or call (920) 674–9650.
White Winter Winery in Iron River is owned and operated by Jonathan and Kim Hamilton. This unique winery was started 18 years ago with a commitment to using locally–grown fruit and honey. Iron River is located near the shores of Lake Superior which is home to a unique 12 square–mile microclimate, which produces some of the finest fruit, honey and wild blueberries in Wisconsin.
White Winter Winery takes full advantage of this in the fermenting of their fruit and honey wines. They label several varieties of mead, an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water. Mead or honey wine is often assumed to be sweet, but White Winter has several varieties of dry mead, including a white that has the dryness of a Chardonnay. Mead is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in history; records show the fermenting of honey preceded the fermenting of grapes by centuries.
While enjoying a wine tasting you are welcome to relish a complimentary cup of Plain Jane Coffee, just the thing to warm up with on a cool fall day. The White Winter Winery tasting room includes a small coffee shop that sells Plain Jane Coffee in bulk, as well as offering daily lunch specials. Guests are welcome to enjoy a glass of wine on the outdoor porch.
The winery has regular hours throughout the year and will set up tastings by appointment if you call ahead. This charming winery and coffee shop with one–of–a–kind products is a great stop while exploring the Northwoods. For more information, go to White Winter Winery or call (800) 697–2006.
Ellen C. Corso is Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine's Business Manager.