Wisconsin Wine Overview

Wisconsin’s wine legacy goes back almost 170 years, but it hasn’t been until the last decade that the state’s wine industry has become a travel destination.

Grapes have been grown in the Wisconsin River valley since the 1840s, but many were deemed not suitable for wine. Instead, settlers of German origin used local Wisconsin fruit to make their wines, a tradition that carries on to this day. In fact, one region of northeast Wisconsin, Door County, is closely identified with cherries, which are used in all manners of food products, including wine.

With the introduction of cold, hardy grapes, local vintners can expand their horizons beyond Wisconsin fruit and grapes brought in from other states. Wisconsin’s winery count has grown tremendously as a result. The latest statistics from the Wisconsin Wines indicates there are 44 wineries in the state. Several of these wineries, like Wollersheim and Spurgeon, place an emphasis on the use of Wisconsin grapes. Some of the varieties being grown in Wisconsin vineyards include St. Pepin, La Crescent, LaCrosse, Edelweis, Marquette and Chambourcin.

Of course, Wisconsin is also well known for their fruit wines, and it’s a rare Wisconsin winery that doesn’t offer one or more on their wine list. Cherry wines, apple and pear wines, and cranberry wines are a few of the most common.

Like many states this far north with harsher winter climates, many Wisconsin wineries (most, actually) bring in grapes from other states to make styles of wine people normally buy. Be sure to ask when you taste and before you buy if the grapes are Wisconsin grown, or locally grown as the case may be. In truth, though, the bottom line is whether or not you like the wine, regardless of grape origin. We prefer to compare wines from state to state and always look for wine made from local grapes, but don’t let us steer you — great wine is a wine you think is great!

Wisconsin’s wine industry just received a positive boost by the designation of an official American Viticultural Area, or AVA, in the state. Eleven counties in northeast Wisconsin, including Door County, will now be known in the wine industry as the Wisconsin Ledge AVA. This will allow winemakers in these counties to identify their wines as such, as long as local grapes are used. You should start seeing bottles marked with the Wisconsin Ledge AVA in 2013.

Wisconsin is also well-known for fruit wines, and it’s a rare Wisconsin winery that doesn’t offer one or more on their wine list. Cherry wines, apple and pear wines and cranberry wines are a few of the most common.

Wisconsin Wine Trails

Wisconsin now has two wine trails — three if you count the wineries included in the Great River Road Wine Trail — which is primarily a Minnesota wine trail. We expect more wine trails in the future, as there are several areas of Wisconsin where wineries are clustered together.

The newest Wisconsin wine trail is the Fox River Valley Wine Trail, which includes five wineries in the eastern portion of Wisconsin. The area covers roughly from Green Bay just south of Door County and moves south and southwest to the Lake Winnebago area. One of the most interesting wineries on the wine trail is Trout Springs Winery, which not only offers wines made from their own vineyard, but a trout farm as well. This is a beautiful area to visit in the summer or fall, and only about 90 minutes from Milwaukee.

Wisconsin’s best known wine trail, and probably its best known wine region, is the Door County Wine Trail. This trail includes all six of Door County’s wineries as well as Von Stiehl Winery in adjacent Kewaunee County. Door County is world-renowned as a vacation destination and a delightful place to visit for all ages.

Travelogue: Wisconsin: Door County and the Lake Geneva Area

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