State Profile: Wisconsin Wine Country

Wisconsin’s history as a wine region goes back to the mid-19th Century when future California wine pioneer Agoston Haraszthy planted grapes near the Wisconsin River and created what is now Wollersheim Winery. The first modern era winery, von Stiel, opened in 1967, and today the state has more than 100 producers.

Wisconsin is part of the multi-state Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA as well as having two of its own: Lake Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Ledge. The Wisconsin Winery Association works to promote the state’s wines, which are made from grapes and several other fruits. Wisconsin wineries focus on cold-climate “Minnesota” varieties, food, and fun.

Dancing Dragonfly got its playful name when retired actuarial Bill Bluhm went on a solo canoe trip, survived bad weather, and was later surrounded by a bunch of dragonflies in the Wisconsin wilderness. He and wife Christine’s home winemaking experiment turned into a 60-acre vineyard, and their wines have playful names like Frontessa (made from Frontenac grapes) and Marquessa (Marquette).

Spirits of Norway Vineyard—located in Norway, WI which was created by 40 Norwegian immigrants in 1839—is owned by Randy Larson, and has tons of awards from many competitions around the country. The wines include “Attitude Adjustment”, “Best of Times”, cold-hardy varietals like Brianna, and fruit wines like Tropical Lime and Honeydew.

Vines & Rushes Winery, owned by Ryan and Megan Prellwitz, uses the Minnesota grapes both as varietal wines and blends like Ceresco (Itasca, St. Pepin and LaCrescent). They also have a wood-fired brick oven made in Italy, with a floor temperature of 800 degrees and dome at 1,000, making it possible to cook a pizza in 90 seconds. They offer specialty pizzas, but you can also build your own from scratch.

White Winter Mead, Cider and Spirits, established in 1996, specializes in those products (especially mead) made from locally sourced ingredients. Owners Jon and Kim Hamilton  have garnered more than 110 awards in different competitions.

Wollersheim Winery, the granddaddy of Wisconsin wineries, sits on a hillside overlooking the Wisconsin River with Prairie du Sac on the other side, and is where Hungarian wine pioneer Agoston Haraszthy first planted grapes in the 1840’s before moving to California. Robert and Ann Wright purchased the winery in 1972, hired Beaujolais winemaker Phillippe Coquard in 1984, who with his wife Julie (the Wright’s daughter) now run the operation. They focus on quality and sustainability, as well as being official sponsors of the Green Bay Packers!

Great Grapes: Itasca

Named after Lake Itasca, the source lake for the Mississippi River in northwestern Minnesota, the Itasca grape is known for its extreme cold hardiness, high quality fruit chemistry and low acidity, and disease resistance. The elegant white wine can take on notes of pear, quince, kiwi, starfruit, and honeydew melon. It is marketed as a varietal and as part of blends.