Late August and early September was grape harvest here in Wisconsin, so the stomps are mostly over. But now is an ideal time to visit local wineries, enjoy the coming fall colors, and sample some of our state's homegrown adult grape juice.
This summer I crossed paths with a number of indigenous bottles, and that might be due to the fact that new wineries are popping up nearly as fast as new distilleries.
Just outside of Madison, Lewis Station has sprung up in Lake Mills, where sommelier Rob Lewis is leading wine classes and making his own mixed-fruit wines. There are bottles like Mandarin Orange Muscat and Tropical Fruit Viognier. Cringe-worthy? Well, it's better than taking winemaking in Wisconsin too seriously.
On the other side of Madison, Fisher King Winery in downtown Mount Horeb is celebrating its one-year anniversary. The winery is a bright, welcoming tasting space. Unfortunately, customers used to the slow life sometimes stake a claim at the small bar and make it hard to get a tasting. There should either be a bigger bar, or the bar should be standing room only. If you can get a spot, however, it's an enjoyable way to prep for antiquing.
Speaking of taking winemaking seriously in Wisconsin, Wollersheim is ablaze with medals from San Diego's international wine competition this year. And, truly, Wollersheim makes some of the best-known and better Wisconsin wines. The dry Riesling is good; the always available Prairie Fumé is still a decent local drinker. A visit to the huge winery at Wollersheim wasn't for me, however, as even the beautiful location and historic buildings couldn't quite make up for the bachelorette party clientele and frenetic gift-shop atmosphere.
I preferred Botham Vineyards out in Barneveld. Just a big barn on a hill overlooking the valley, it feels simpler, quieter - more reminiscent of traditional wine country. I like, too, that Botham isn't afraid to let the flavors of the grapes come out in its wines. Some are a bit tough, taste-wise, but they're refreshingly unabashed and diverse. As a result, the Botham tasting was the most memorable, and I even came away with a few bottles.
Seven Hawks on the Wisconsin border in Fountain City was oddly the most compelling Wisconsin wine I sampled this summer. Its Frontier Red is pure Concord grape on the nose, and then it follows through like a normal red table wine. It actually has good acidity and body, and it feels primal. There's a roughing-it vibe to this bottle that will be perfect for fall camping. Enjoy with bear.
Lewis Station Winery 217 N. Main St., Lake Mills, 920-648-5481
Fisher King Winery 102 West Main St., Mount Horeb, 608-437-6020
Wollersheim Winery 7876 Wisconsin 188, Prairie du Sac, 608-643-6515
Botham Vineyards 8180 Langberry Rd., Barneveld, 608-924-1412
Seven Hawks Vineyards 17 North St., Fountain City, 608-687-9463