Wisconsin has more than 100 wineries for tourists to explore and a great variety of wines to taste. Each winery has its own personality and offers more than just a drink. Depending on the destination, visitors to these four selections will enjoy scenic views, live music, farm-fresh food and even some history.
Art and wine
Doug and Kathy Jackson combined their love of art, music, and wine to create Studio Winery in Lake Geneva. North of the beach and city center, Studio Winery is, in fact, part recording studio and part art studio - with wine - set in a contemporary space with a hip vibe.
Doug is a self-professed Francophile who loves Old World wines. He buys grapes both locally and from the West Coast and processes them in small batches on-site. Kathy is a professional artist who built a career designing home décor products for big-name stores. She designed all the bottle labels for Studio Winery and also leads Corks & Canvas sessions, where people enjoy wine while painting a masterpiece.
The winery hosts live music, including Doug's blues and funk band, on Saturday nights and, occasionally, a touring act. In addition, artists can rent time in the professional recording studio, which houses a top-notch mixing console.
Wine tastings are offered daily (closed Tuesdays), and visitors can select from two flights: the musician series, wines that fittingly bear names such as Amadeus and Hendrix, made from Wisconsin grapes; or the premier and reserve wines, traditional-style wines made with imported grapes. Two styles of port are also available.
Studio Winery is about an hour's drive from Lake Country and is just the start of places to explore around Lake Geneva. Across the road is the Next Door Pub & Pizzeria, a casual restaurant that specializes in thin-crust pizza baked in a stone-hearth oven, or just a short drive away is Gino's East, a Chicago transplant serving up deep-dish pizza.
Scenery and wine
The picturesque view of the hillside vineyard is almost as much a draw as the award-winning wine at Wollersheim Winery. Located in Prairie du Sac, about 90 minutes' drive from Lake Country, the winery dates to the 1840s, when Hungarian nobleman Agoston Haraszthy first planted grapevines.
The property changed hands several times over the years and became a dairy farm around 1900. In 1972, Robert and JoAnn Wollersheim bought the property, replanted grapevines, and hired French vintner Philippe Coquard in 1985. Coquard subsequently married Julie Wollersheim, Robert and JoAnn's daughter, and the pair runs the business today.
The winery's Prairie Fume - a semi-dry white wine - became a household name when it debuted in 1989. Since then, the original winery has been designated a National Historic Site. The modern Wollersheim Winery has also added a fermentation room, expanded the tasting and shopping space, and created a historic exhibit in the original wine cave. A guided tour of the winery lasts about an hour and concludes with a tasting.
Tastings are available without the tour, and the Wine Garden overlooking the hills is open daily. Wollersheim Winery produces seven wines made with grapes grown in Wisconsin and imports varietals from New York, Washington, and California for other blends. Visitors can purchase wines from both Wollersheim and its sister business, Cedar Creek Winery located in Cedarburg, in the store.
The winery's beautiful setting reflects the natural beauty that abounds nearby: Devil's Lake State Park, Parfrey's Glen State Natural Area, and Natural Bridge State Park are all within a 20 minutes' drive. The Merrimac Ferry, the state's only free ferry, is also close by. It crosses Lake Wisconsin and adds a fun adventure to any day trip.
Water and wine
As if people need another reason to visit Door County, add Von Stiehl Winery in Algoma to the list. With views of Lake Michigan and more than 30 wines made with local fruit and grapes, the winery is the southernmost stop of eight wineries on the Door County Wine Trail.
Von Stiehl Winery is housed in a former brewery: German immigrants brewed Ahnapee Lager there from 1868 until 1886. In the following decades, the building served as a warehouse and factory until it fell into eventual ruin. Charles Stiehl bought and restored the building, opening a winery there in 1967. A doctor by profession, Stiehl's hobby was making wine from Door County cherries.
In 1981, Bill and Sandy Schmiling bought the business and added additional fruit wines. They also planted a vineyard on their own property and branched out, literally, into non-fruit wines. Today, their sons, Aric and Brad, own the business. Aric studied oenology and viticulture in graduate school and is the winemaker. Brad, who has a background in theater, runs the daily operations and plans events, such as the annual Wet Whistle Wine Fest in Algoma: a costume party, grape stomp, and wine tasting all rolled together.
Visitors to Von Stiehl Winery can tour the modern, 10,000-square-foot facility and three Civil War-era underground cellars. Visitors can sample wine either in the tasting room or enjoy a glass on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Algoma lighthouse. The winery also offers a wine and chocolate flight featuring handcrafted treats from Indulgence Chocolatiers in Milwaukee paired with three wines.
Bonus: Two doors down is the revived Ahnapee Brewery Tap Room, a converted garage that serves up small-batch craft and seasonal beers. Visitors can sample a flight and/or take a growler to go.
Food and wine
A half-hour drive west of Lake Country is Lake Mills, a quaint city on the eastern shore of Rock Lake. The historic storefronts and village green are reminiscent of another era. So, too, is the vintage gas station as drivers enter downtown. It is, however, Lewis Station Winery.
Rob and Michelle Lewis moved into their current space in 2011 after the success of their first boutique wine store, which opened in 2008. As business grew, Rob attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Miami, became a certified sommelier, and established the Wisconsin Wine School to teach people about wine. Rob also learned oenology at the University of Missouri and began crafting his own wines.
Today, Lewis Station Winery offers more than just wine: the store carries Wisconsin cheese, chocolates, cigars, olive oil and vinegars, more than 200 wines from the far reaches of the globe, and Rob's own wines.
Lewis Station produces small batches of sweet, dry, and dessert wines. With names like Lost Pyramid Red and Grist Mill Red, the fruit wines pay homage to Lake Mills' past - true or otherwise. Other wines play on flavors, such as a chocolate-cherry port and a Cabernet Sauvignon that is aged in used Jack Daniels oak barrels.
Food and flavors are a big part of the experience at Lewis Station Winery. Rob continues to teach a four-week wine-appreciation course during the year and also partners with Chef Jason Dunn in a cooking education and wine class. Dunn prepares a multicourse dinner in front of guests, shares tips, and demonstrates techniques, and, ultimately, each course is paired with a Lewis Station wine.
On Wednesday evenings, Dunn and Lewis also offer a farm-to-table tapas-style buffet. Other days, customers can order from a seasonal menu of salads, cheese platters, pizzas, and desserts.
Lewis Station Winery is within walking distance of several other Lake Mills attractions. For a taste of nostalgia, the American Legion Post 67 hamburger stand serves up old-fashioned sliders to the masses on Fridays during summer. Commons Park across the street has picnic shelters and serves as a central location for exploring antique shops, Lakefront Park, and Ephraim Pottery.