If you’ve lived in Madison for a long time or even a short one, chances are you’ve run into the name “Wollersheim Winery” at a restaurant, event or grocery story. Wollersheim Winery & Distillery, located in nearby Prairie du Sac, has made a name for itself in the community, and 2022 marks the 50th anniversary for the winery.
“I really look at it as a milestone,” co-owner Julie Coquard says. “I think we just really feel a deep connection to people that buy our products and have either visited here or just really enjoyed the wine and spirits, and to see how much we can be a part of people’s everyday life is really cool.”
In honor of the anniversary (which is officially June 11), we learned some lesser-known facts about its longstanding history from Coquard.
- Wollersheim Winery has been a family business since 1972. Julie Coquard, daughter to Founder Bob Wollersheim, co-owns the space with her husband Philippe Coquard. Philippe Coquard, a 13th-generation winemaker, immigrated to the U.S. in 1984 from Beaujolais, France. Their son runs the bistro as well.
- The first person to plant grapevines at Wollersheim was the famous nobleman, writer and eventual founder of Sauk City, Agoston Haraszthy. He immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in the 1840s. He later moved from Wisconsin to California, introducing the first grapevines in the San Francisco area, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
- Wine and sprit sales record books show that the first brandy at Wollersheim was technically made in 1876 before closing down in 1899. It was then used as a farm before Bob and JoAnn Wollersheim purchased the winery in 1972.
- Bob Wollersheim taught a winemaker appreciation class at Memorial Union for more than 25 years. He was a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor in electrical engineering.
- The microclimate with slightly warmer temperatures in the area makes it an ideal spot to grow grapes and make wine. Wollersheim Winery overlooks the Wisconsin River in Prairie du Sac on a hill in the Lake Wisconsin viticultural area. The site was specifically chosen as a winery in the 1840s because of its location and ability to ripen grapes with the sun.
- Wollersheim ferments all of its wines on-site. The fermentation process transforms the grape juice into wine.
- February and March marks “pruning season,” and then winemaking begins in the summer and lasts until about November. They start bottling the wine around December and January.
- Its best known wine, and the most popular wine in Wisconsin, is Prairie Fumé, which was introduced in 1989. Julie Coquard says its introduction was a huge gamechanger for Wollersheim, given that the first 15 years getting established in the business proved to be challenging.
- Wollersheim not only makes wine, but spirits as well. “I think they’re growing faster than wine just because they are still newer than wine and because so many people are just hearing about it more recently,” Julie Coquard says. They started with brandy first, thinking it the most logical extension of wine.
- Wollersheim won the winery of the year award in 2012 at the San Diego International Wine Competition. One year later, it released its first brandy, made from Wisconsin white grape wine and aged two years in Wisconsin oak barrels.
- In 2015, Wollersheim opened its distillery and began selling gin, absinthe, whiskey and bourbon. Wisconsin law didn’t allow wineries to also be distilleries until 2009.
- While Madisonians are more familiar with Wollersheim Winery, the business also has a sister winery in Cedarburg outside of Milwaukee. Wollersheim Winery bought the property for Cedar Creek Winery in 1990.
Written by Gaby Vinick for Madison Magazine
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