When you think about Wisconsin, the first things that come to mind are typically beer and cheese. And while the state is famous for producing both, it is also home to more than 100 wineries spread throughout five different regions. As we were staying in Ephraim at the northern end of the Door Peninsula, our focus for tasting Wisconsin wine was on the wineries in the Door County Region. As always, we sought out the wineries that produced wines using locally grown fruit and found three to visit on a beautiful, sunny fall day. With a somewhat similar climate to South Dakota (check out our Taste of South Dakota), we found in each of our visits that the grapes grown locally were primarily hybrids, also known as cold hearty grapes, which gave us another opportunity to explore a world of grape varieties with which we have less experience and get a true taste of Wisconsin.
Door 44 Winery, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Sporting the red barn look that seems to be ubiquitous with Door County, Door 44 Winery is located in Sturgeon Bay at the southern end of the Door Peninsula. A satellite tasting room for the primary winery and 10-acre vineyard, Parallel 44 (named for its location on the 44th Parallel) located in nearby Kewaunee, Door 44 gives an opportunity to taste nearly twenty wines produced solely with grapes grown in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. Having grown grapes at elevation in a fairly mild climate, we can only imagine the patience and dedication needed to grow grapes able to withstand Wisconsin’s harsh winters.
A rosé made from mostly Frontenac grapes, the Frozen Tundra is one of the winery’s most popular wines since its release in 2009. Semi-sweet with what we would guess to be around 4-5% residual sugar, the nose had aromas surprisingly similar to some of our CWC rosés of years past. Pink grapefruit, strawberry, hints of green apple, and a slight foxiness on the nose were followed by grapefruit, banana, strawberry, and honey on the palate. Although it was definitively sweet, it was decently balanced with the acidity so it had a somewhat refreshing finish and ended up being the highest rated on the list of wines we tasted.
Created to showcase two of Wisconsin’s award-winning locally grown grapes, Marquette and Petite Pearl, the Vintner’s Reserve had the nicest nose of any of the wines that we tasted. This wine (vintage unknown, as it wasn’t labeled and the tasting room staff was unsure)* had aromas of dark red fruit, rhubarb, cherry pie, orange blossom, and very slight hints of vanilla and the foxiness that frequently accompanies hybrid grape varieties. Flavors of cherry, vanilla, raspberry, and cedar lead to a short, high finish. Unfortunately, the wine had too much acid to really showcase the fruit and we felt that it would have been improved by additional oak and oxygen. Although not something that we would choose to taste again, this wine provided an interesting opportunity to taste two locally-grown cold weather hearty grapes.
*We received a very nice Facebook message from Samantha, an employee of Parallel 44, verifying for us that the vintage of the Vintner’s Reserve we tasted was 2015; as well as a note from the winemaker, Steve, that the wine will improve with some time in bottle. Edited 11/8/16.
Lautenbach’s Country Orchard Winery & Market, Fish Creek, WI
Initially appearing to be more country market than winery, we were surprised to find more than thirty wines on the tasting menu at Lautenbach’s Country Orchard. Since 1955, this family farm has been growing fruit, including their own grapes, and has been making wine for the last thirty of those years. With an annual production of approximately 13,000 cases, most of the offerings were produced using estate fruit with a heavy focus on fruit wines. We each chose five wines to try and shared so that we could get a feel for the range of offerings- different fruits, dry to sweet, and even a sparkling option.
As this was our second winery visit and we’d tasted close to ten wines at our first stop, we didn’t spend much time on a select few wines like we usually do as our brains and palates were a bit tired, but rather opted to take notes of our first impressions instead.
A white blend of La Crescent grapes and Honeycrisp apples, we found the wine to be a bit overwhelmingly apple in flavor, but surprisingly and pleasantly dry.
Produced from Marechal Foch grapes and proclaimed by our server to be a “spaghetti wine” (as in a perfect pair to spaghetti), it was very light in body and slightly sweet with flavors of plum and a hint of foxiness, but a bit too simplistic overall.
Made from Honeycrisp apples picked on property, the flavor was bright and distinctively apple with a slightly funky nose and a noticeable sulfur smell. Despite the nose however, the wine was still interesting and surprisingly spicy.
Blended from Montmorency Cherries and undisclosed white grapes, the Cherry Sparkle was surprisingly our top choice. Semi-sweet with aromas and flavors of – you guessed it – cherry, we both agreed that this wine was fun, refreshing, and reminiscent of cherry flavored sparkling water though with more a concentrated flavor. This is the one bottle that we purchased with a plan to drink it while sitting on the beach in Florida sometime around 2:00pm on a Thursday- or something along those lines.
Door Peninsula Winery, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Another of the stops on our day of wine tasting was to Door Peninsula Winery & Distillery, one that was intriguing to us as this is something that cannot be done in Colorado. Under Colorado Liquor Law, you get one license and one license only, making it difficult at best for one producer to have wine and spirits in the same building. Intrigued and interested in trying some of the wines and the spirits, we instead found ourselves unable to get help or even acknowledgement from the staff on the winery or the distillery side, so we ended up leaving without having tried anything. We always hate to say anything negative about a local business, as we know how many factors are involved and that things happen beyond your control, but to be ignored on both sides just didn’t sit well with us. Feel free to check out our TripAdvisor review for more details.