Note: Please note a couple of corrections on statistics regarding Wollersheim. I double checked those with Philippe Coquard Monday morning.
MADISON, Wi. – Wollersheim Winery is a must visit for any wine fan in the Midwest. I had done my homework before visiting the Wisconsin icon and had seen photos, but I wasn’t prepared for the size of the operation and estate.
The first vineyards were planted on the site in the mid-1800s. Bob Wollersheim took over the property in the 1970. The state’s biggest winery is now run by Beaujolais native Philippe Coquard, who married Wollersheim's daughter.
I spent nearly two hours with Philippe Friday morning touring the winery, the buildings from the 1800s, and tasting his wines. The gregarious and opinionated Frenchman was extraordinarily generous with his time and knowledge.
See a photo album from the Wollersheim visit here.
Wollersheim produces 52 percent of all the wine produced in Wisconsin. He does have distribution into Northern Illinois and more recently Chicago. One of many interesting points about Coquard’s winery is a single wine caused the explosive growth.
Philippe’s signature Prairie Fume, a Seyval grape wine, has won a list of awards the envy of any winemaker in any state. Prairie Fume has an interesting contrast of orange and grapefruit on the palate. It has a unique richness you don’t normally find in that wine at other Midwest wineries where Seyval is grown.
Wollersheim’s business is dominated by one wine. When he first started making the Fume he bottled about 500 cases. Today the Prairie Fume makes up 32,000 of his 94,000 production. You read that right!
“Our business has grown because of the Prairie Fume,” Coquard said. “Without Prairie Fume, we wouldn’t have anything.”
He also makes beautiful wines from the often-funky Marechal Foch grape. Except Philippe’s Foch has no funk – and that’s a good thing. He is making some great port and a very nice, also award-wining, Rose.
My second stop of the day was a nice drive to Mount Horeb, Wi. The town of 7,000 is known for its Norwegian heritage and charming downtown. But watch out, there are Norwegian trolls everywhere!
A quick aside, I had lunch in a small diner called Schubert’s that has a 100-year history in Mount Horeb. They served freshly breaded, deep-fried cod with Swedish rye bread. I wanted the pie – it was beautiful – I resisted.
Back to the wine. Alywn Fitzgerald’s Fisher King Winery is about to become bonded and take off in a downtown Mt. Horeb location. It will be an urban winery in a small, tourist-heavy little town. It’s interesting because his small effort follows much bigger ones in cities like Portland, Or.
See photos from my Mount Horeb visit here.
Fitzgerald served up a glass of 60 percent Millot (mill-oh) and 40 percent Marquette that he had made at home. It was remarkable in that I’d never tasted the grapes and couldn’t really compare it to any other flavors. The wine was balanced, with smooth fruit and a rich feel on the palate. It was initially quite acidic, but really opened up with just a little time.
The two stops today show Midwestern states can grow different grapes and make very nice wines consumers are going to enjoy.
I learned in just one day Wisconsin is different than Indiana or Michigan, which I visited last summer. The industry here isn’t as mature. Wisconsin hs more than 50 wineries, but like most Midwestern states the growth has occurred over the last decade.
Lots more to come on these two visits in the future. I’ll be doing a piece for Palate Press on Wisconsin wine and will have plenty of material for a newspaper column or two and certainly the blog.
Tomorrow morning it’s up early and off to northeast Wisconsin for stops at LedgeStone Vineyards and Parallel 66 out near Lake Michigan.
In photos, top to bottom: The Wollersheim historic and new buildings. Coquard talking about the bud break in his vineyard. Alywn Fitzgerald with his unique Millot/Marquette blend.
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