Worth the Drive: Wineries

There’s nothing like spending the day at a winery to celebrate summer. These nearby options offer so much more than just refreshing sips. You’ll find live music, yoga classes, artisan pizza and even the chance to bottle your own varietal. 

Vines & Rushes, Ripon

What started as the family farm ended up becoming Vines & Rushes Winery for owner Ryan Prellwitz. “I decided to plant some grapes to see if I enjoyed the work, and it kind of spiraled from there into growing more grapes,” Prellwitz says. The grapes started in 2007 and he hoped it would eventually lead to opening a winery, and it did in 2012. Prellwitz offers about 20 different wines. “We do a couple hard ciders; we do sparkling wines; port style wines, ice wines and everything from dry to sweet reds and whites,” Prellwitz says. “Pretty much anybody who comes here can find something to enjoy.” Prellwitz focuses on catering to everybody and not being pretentious. “We’re kind of easy-going, Wisconsin-style, not trying to be something we aren’t, but producing high-quality, wide variety of style wines from Wisconsin grown grapes,” Prellwitz says. “We’re 100 percent Wisconsin grown; this past year we brought in about 100 tons of fruit to work from.” A special touch to the winery is their wood fired Neapolitan-style pizza. “So, it’s an actual woodfire brick oven that actually uses only wood for its heat source, so this is a true Italian-made oven,” Prellwitz says. “It’s a 900 degree bake temp and about a 90 second bake time and we do a 72-hour ferment on our dough; we make sauces from scratch, use as many local ingredients as we can, and it’s a true, authentic-style Italian pizza with a Wisconsin twist to it.” Vines & Rushes has about 90 live music shows booked this year. They take place every Friday night from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday afternoon from 2 until 5 p.m.

von Stiehl Winery, Algoma

Von Stiehl Winery is the oldest licensed winery in Wisconsin, and the second largest commercial winery in the state. “We are 150 plus years old, original civil war building, a lot of cool sites, a lot of cool things to see here,” says General Manager Anthony Bilwin. The building was founded in 1967 but built in the 1860s. “The biggest thing is if you wanted a Napa Valley wine tasting experience in Wisconsin, that would be von Stiehl here in Algoma,” Bilwin says. The winery produces everything from fruit wines and fortified wines to ciders and high-end reds, getting most of the fruit from California and Washington. “[We] started out with fruit wines and we’ve graduated where we produce pretty much everything,” Bilwin says. They’ve currently revamped the wine tasting format, so the tastings offer a wide range of eight different wines. “We produce well over 60 different wines here, so there are options for everybody,” Bilwin says. “It goes from sweet to dry all the way up to fortified.” Von Stiehl is the only winery on Lake Michigan; the lake is about 200 yards away from the building. The winery offers cider and wine flights outside on their terrace, as well as inside tastings and tastings downstairs in their limestone tunnels “which is a little bit more of a high-end offering,” Bilwin says. The winery also offers tours of the tunnels on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. by reservation only. In addition to all of that, Friday and Saturdays von Stiehl has live music starting at noon.

LedgeStone Vineyards, Greenleaf

LedgeStone Vineyard’s first vines were planted in 1999, and the winery opened in 2008. Adam and Katrina Magnuson bought the establishment in 2017. It’s located near the cliff edge running from the bottom of Lake Winnebago to Niagara Falls. “We call it the ‘Escape on the Escarpment,’” says owner Katrina Magnuson. “It’s gorgeous; you can sit on our big, open, green space overlooking the vines, and then it’s got this gorgeous backdrop of the Niagara Escarpment.” The couple learned wine making by traveling and working in wineries around the world. “Our experience comes from learning from others,” Magnuson says. “So, our wines are traditional — they’re normally on the drier side, but we’ve got a little something for everybody.” The owners host Monday night yoga, Jazz Wednesdays and a Thursday night concert series. “Into the weekend . . . it’s just such a plethora of wonderful music,” Magnuson says. Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. are tasting hours for guests to get to know the wines and winemakers. “So, we’ve got tasting and that whole winery vibe in the morning, and then we kind of transition into a concert venue and event center in the evening,” Magnuson says. “Yes, it’s a 15 to 20-minute drive from either Appleton or Green Bay, but once you get there, that’s what you’re going to do for the day. People just bring their lawn chairs; they camp out; sometimes people are there from the afternoon through sunset . . . it creates its own community and just lets you escape a little bit.” The Magnusons work with various restaurants to host farmhouse and pop-up chef dinners throughout the year as well. “Those are kind of like, get fancy, put on your best sunhat and just kind of wine and dine by the vines,” Magnuson says. LedgeStone is unique because it’s not only a winery, it’s also a vineyard. “There’s not many other places 20 minutes from a big city where you can go and be surrounded by a vineyard . . . so it’s just something pretty special,” Magnuson says. “We’ve lived in a lot of places in the world, but this is truly like that ‘coming home’ good vibes.”

Rushford Meadery & Winery, Omro

Owners Shane and Laurel Coombs both play a different part in the success of their winery. Shane is the wine, mead and cider production manager, as well as the sales manager; Laurel is the tasting room manager and accounting manager. “Our winery is in an old grade school that was actually part of the Omro school district,” Laurel Coombs says. “The grade school was built in ‘62 and it’s hard to mistake it as anything else as it still looks like an old grade school.” The gymnasium space is their production area. They have a vineyard and make everything on site. “We process the whole fruit and so lots of times we have to wait for fruits to get ripe before we can make product, so that’s kind of what we do,” Coombs says. “We bottle everything there; we label everything there; we use local fruits that we grow in our products.” The couple offer wine tastings as well. “We actually try to cover the gambit; we make dry to sweet . . . we like dry, but also like it to be sweet for the people who like [wine] that way,” says Coombs, who suggests trying the meads to those who’ve never had one — or even those who have and didn’t enjoy it. “They have to try the meads, because our meads go from dry to sweet and not a lot of people make the drier meads,” she says. “Most people are on the sweet side because there’s honey in it, so they don’t get the idea that you can have it dry — it’s an amazing product that you wouldn’t realize unless you tried it.”

Duck Creek Vineyard & Winery, Denmark

Jim and Susan Ploetz planted the grapes that would shortly supply their winery in 2010, opening the winery itself in 2013. Duck Creek Vineyard & Winery has about an acre of vines viewable for guests in the back of the establishment. “Pretty much all of our wines have won medals or several medals through the years,” says owner Jim Ploetz. “Before we opened, I was entering stuff in the State Fair and I won several ribbons.” In 2018, the Ploetzs started distilling alcohol. “We have probably over 10 spirits that we distill — everything from bourbon, whiskey, gin, vodka . . . we have some flavored moonshine,” Ploetz says. They also have over 20 wines including specialty wines like mead, which is made with honey. This year, the owners opened a new tasting room addition, as well as a patio in front and a wrap-around patio around the back with two glass garage doors where guests may view the vineyard. “There’s probably like a nice three-acre meadow out the back, so we host different events, we put stuff out back, [it’s a] nice event space for us,” Ploetz says. Some events the winery has and plans to host in the future are cooking classes, grilling classes, yoga Wednesday nights and music events with food trucks. They partnered with Feeding America last year and plan to do the same this year. “They bring their truck out here and we offer a drawing for everybody who brings food items for them,” Ploetz says. “[We’re] doing it again trying to give back to the community and help everybody out.” Another interesting offering at Duck Creek is U VIN. “It’s actually really kind of neat, we offer what’s called a U VIN; it is where ppl come in and make their own wine,” Ploetz says. “It’s kind of a neat opportunity for people to come in and see behind the scenes, the process of making wine, basically the first visit they select a kit they want to make and then I actually walk them through making the wine.” After about four to six weeks, the customers come back, and the wine is put in bottles with corks and the owners help them design a label or print a label they have created themselves.


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Worth the Drive

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