The Winemaker

For Philippe Coquard, making wine is a way of life, passed down to him through generations of tradition, skill and hard work. As he puts it, Winemaking is not my job. This is my life and my passion and my blood – my past, present and future.

Wine has been part of Philippe’s life from the beginning; born and raised in the Beaujolais region of France with a family of winemakers that has a long lineage of viticulture and enology, extending 400 years through their history. He was surrounded by stories of wine, and learned through experiencing it first-hand with talking, drinking and appreciating all aspects of wine with his family.

Where I come from, it is all grape-growing and winemaking. We think of wine, we talk of wine, we dream only of wine.

Philippe began to understand winemaking and viticulture at a young age, growing up helping on his family’s farms with his dad, Joseph, a vineyard consultant, and his uncles and cousins who were grape growers and winemakers. Philippe worked every weekend, summer and harvest season pruning, driving equipment, harvesting and eventually spending time in the cellars. He learned to taste wine with his dad and his uncle Jean, sampling wines and learning the nuances and variables between different tanks or barrels, slopes, terroir, growers, regions, grapes. These tasting exercises help Philippe develop a palate and knowledge that he uses to this day when he tastes wine nearly every day.

The wine lets you read what’s in it: how it was made, the temperatures used during fermentation, what the growing season was like, how it was aged, what quality and aging potential are. It is a fascinating science of pleasure for the taste buds.

Naturally, winemaking and viticulture became Philippe’s professional aspiration, and he attended ECVS (Macon-Davayé winemaking and wine marketing school in Macon and Paris), earning degrees in winemaking, viticulture, and wine marketing. Throughout his college years, he began to take on a more scientific understanding of all the wine knowledge he developed growing up.

Fresh out of college, Philippe came to the United States in 1984 as part of an agricultural exchange program. Somehow he had landed in a chilly place called Wisconsin, not the coveted California that he assumed he’d be traipsing around in. Not only did he have adapt to this new American culture, language and food, but now he had to figure out how to make wine in this strange state. Philippe didn’t speak much English for the first six months he was here (It was the subject in school I liked the least), but he and founder, Bob Wollersheim, developed a mutual respect and understanding between one another despite the language barrier. Bob seemed to trust Philippe’s knowledge and capabilities. During Philippe’s first season at the winery, Bob asked him to make wine the same way he would at home, and so became the beginning of the Ruby Nouveau and the beginning of a new Era.

Within his first year at the winery, Bob asked Philippe to take over the production side of the winery, and he officially became the winemaker in 1985. He slowly introduced new ways in vineyard, and worked on disease diagnostics, fertilization and technical assistance with his dad during his visits to Wisconsin. To this day, Philippe still communicates with his dad or his winemaker brother, Jean Francois about vineyard and winemaking business on a regular basis.

Of course, there is a love story swept into the whirlwind of Philippe’s early days in Wisconsin. The Wollersheim’s oldest daughter, Julie, quickly caught the young Frenchman’s eye… and heart. They were married two years after he arrived at the winery, and the legacy of family viticulture and winemaking lives on as he and Julie now run the winery.

We both share the same passion and determination and put in a lot of hard work and effort. To achieve some level of success, I wouldn’t be able to do it without my wife, Julie. She’s my number one consultant.

Philippe and Julie are proud to welcome the third generation into the business as their children follow in their parents’ footsteps: their oldest daughter, Céline, graduated with a Master of oenology (wine science) from Cornell, son Romain is studying Food Science and Marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and youngest son Nicolas is getting his black belt in Karate.

I think when Julie and I will see our kids running the business successfully, then I can call this an achievement.

Philippe’s philosophy has always been to keep wine approachable in its style and price, while providing a Wollersheim wine for every palate to enjoy, whether it’s for a novice wine drinker or the ultimate wine connoisseur.

I want to demystify the wine by keeping it simple and affordable. After all, it is just a beverage of the vines.

Philippe is a purist in his winemaking approach, staying true to the growing season, grape varietal and style at all times and making the best possible wine with what nature provided – never blending, changing or averaging any of his wines.

Let's let a Pinot Noir taste like a Pinot and not alter it to make it seem like a Cabernet, or a Seyval (our Prairie Fumé) be a Seyval and not a Riesling. Let the vintage be what it is and not change it to become all the same.

He treats his wines with care, and does what it takes to make the wine right and good in every possible way. If fermentation needs to be stopped at 2 am, he wakes up and heads to the winery to make sure it gets done.

Philippe combines his tremendous respect for old world tradition in grape growing and winemaking with experimenting state-of-the-art concepts to create new and interesting wines, like the winery’s most popular wine, Prairie Fumé, as well as Wollersheim’s White Port and a Port Rosé for the Cedar Creek line of wines. He is also looking forward to the next generation of Wollersheim winemaking to inject some new ideas and concepts, while making sure to uphold the ultimate quality of the wine.

Life for Philippe isn’t all work and no play; his list of hobbies and interest are long. Nights and weekends are reserved for friends and family: he loves cooking using the skills and recipes he learned from his mother, Henriette. Gardening also makes the top of his “To Do” list, though he’d tell you that mowing the lawn is definitely not. Once spring and summer move in to the scene, nice days are reserved for rides on one of his Harley Davidson motorcycles, taking in the spectacular scenery through the bluffs of the Wisconsin River Valley. His adoration of Harleys is well-known – with six in his collection – and he enjoys working with local artists to custom-build his bikes. Philippe also puts in hours of walking local farmland during the spring snowmelt looking for ancient arrowheads. If winemaking wasn’t his life’s calling, Philippe’s other dream job would be as an archeologist. His enthusiasm and collection of relics has increased tremendously over the last 20 years, with some Native American artifacts dating between 500 to 10,000 years back.

It’s a reconnection with a simple way of life, away from meetings, cell phones and schedules, and becoming in sync with life and the earth. There is an amazing thrill, almost a feeling of electricity, when I pick up an artifact, like an arrowhead or an ancient tool that has not been touched by humans for 6,000 years.

Though life is full, Philippe works hard to balance a love and passion for wine with a love and passion for life, and always shares both with his family and friends every day that he can.