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  • Writer's pictureSecond Opinion Magazine

Drink Locally This Season

By:  Abbie Burgess

Localvores, take note: locally produced isn’t just for food anymore. Why just eat local when you can drink local, too? Historically, wine grapes couldn’t grow in Wisconsin’s cold climate, so only fruit wines came from the region. With the development of cold-hearty grape varietals, Wisconsin’s vineyard production has boomed in the last decade, making it one of the nation’s leading emerging wine regions. Here are five western Wisconsin operations making wine from local vines.

65 Vines Winery

Julie and Scott Andrzejczak’s winery in Roberts, Wisconsin, is on a property they refer to as “our little piece of paradise.” 65 Vines Winery, named after nearby Highway 65, has the distinction of being the first winery in St. Croix Count. The localized naming trend continues with the wines. Creative names such as “Tippy Canoe,” “Up a Creek,” and “The One That Got Away,” are inspired by the Kinnickinnic River.

Using locally grown grapes is important to the Andrzejczaks. “We’re trying to introduce people to products made from cold-hearty grapes,” Scott says. “We want to sell a really good local product that’s custom crafted in small batches.” The 900 vines on the one-and-a-half acre vineyard are still maturing and have yet to be ready for their first harvest. In the meantime,the winery supports neighboring vineyards by sourcing grapes from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

65 Vines Winery seeks to stand out in the region with its sustainable practices. To help customers go green, the winery offers an exchangeable bottle. Pesticide use is kept to a minimum, with the long-term goal to become certified oganic.

Local wineries offer visitors the chance to take a break from routine. “People want to see the grapes, see where it’s bottled, find out how to pair it with local cheeses and sausages,”Andrzejczak says. Customers can even adopt a vine for the chance to customize an engraved plaque in the vineyard marking their vine, allowing them to be part of the grape growing experience. “Check out your vines, come taste the grapes. It gives a sense of place on the local scale.”

Villa Bellezza

This Lake Pepin attraction stands out with its distinctive Italian-style architecture. This is no surprise, since Julianne and Derick Dahlen turned their vacation home in Pepin into a vineyard after becoming inspired by friends in Italy. They invite visitors to “experience the Mediterranean on the Mississippi.” The Dahlens enjoy sharing the beauty of the area with vineyard guests, many of whom discover Pepin for the first time while visiting the winery and vineyard.

Villa Bellezza is open year round for wine tastings and private events. Julianne Dahlen says that the winery produces 60,000 bottles per year. About a third of the grapes come from two vineyards on premises, and the rest are grown locally up and down the river valley. “I hope more wineries come to this area and it becomes a destination,” she says. “It’s an exciting time to be part of this developing wine region.”

Autumn Harvest Winery  and Orchard

Nestled in the heart of Wisconsin’s apple orchard country, the McIlquham family has been growing apples since the 1920s. In 2005, third-generation owners Marykay and John McIlquham added a winery, becoming Autumn Harvest Winery and Orchard. This year, their cousin Chad and his wife Jean took over ownership and became fourth-generation McIlquham apple growers.

Jean McIlquham says their Chippewa Falls winery is continuing the Wisconsin tradition of fruit wines. The orchard’s own apples create several varieties of Autumn Harvest Winery and Orchard wines, and the blueberries, pears, blackberries, and raspberries grown onsite are also used in winemaking. The grapes are sourced locally when possible. One of their popular wines is made from Honeycrisp apples. “Everyone loves Honeycrisp, so why not drink it?” McIlquham says of the sweet wine. “Apple wines are great even for guys who only drink beer.”

The McIlquham’s six-year-old daughter Violet, has inspired many of the family-friendly features of the orchard. With a gift shop, corn maze, wagon rides, pick-your-own apples, and a wine tasting patio, the McIlquhams strive to offer something for everyone. The winery and orchard are closed in winter, but the wines are available at local retailers year round.

River Bend Vineyard  and Winery

A big red barn with a meticulously landscaped patio for outdoor seating welcomes visitors to River Bend Vineyard and Winery in Chippewa Falls. The rolling hills are dotted with active farms that yield fields of cornand soybeans. Despite the rural setting, it’s easy to get to from the highway. It’s a popular second stop for tourists of Leinenkugel’s brewery. Owners Donna and Al Sachs were part of the Wisconsin vineyard boom of the last decade. In 2006 they planted cold-hearty grapes developed by the University of Minnesota and were open for business by 2009. “We specifically wanted to have a real vineyard setting,” Donna Sachs says, “that makes visitors say, ‘Oh my word, this is what I would expect to see in California!’”

Sachs says that interest in local wines is growing steadily. Production has doubled since River Bend Vineyard and Winery opened in 2009, and Sachs anticipates that trend continuing in the years to come. “A lot of people are really into local foods, which helps enormously.”

Cottage Winery and Vineyard

What stands out immediately about this Menomonie winery is the European-inspired architecture. “Depending on where they’ve traveled, visitors will remark that it looks exactly like Italy, England, or France,” says owner Teresa Jorgensen. In reality, the buildings are all new construction complete with the geothermal heating.  Tom Jorgenson, Teresa’s father and co-owner of the property, became inspired after a trip to Europe with his wife. As a contractor, he created his own little piece of Europe in Menomonie to share with other wine lovers in 2012.

With gorgeous views of rolling hills surrounding the European-inspired farm, guests comment how peaceful and relaxing it is. Cottage Winery and Vineyard offers tastings of both locally produced and worldwide wines. “We’re a winery-meets-wine-bar,” Teresa says. “You must come out and do a tasting to see what you like!” The winery is open through December.

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