Distilling is hardly a new process at Wollersheim. In fact, distilling on the winery’s property dates back to the late 1800s, when Jacob Kehl, the son of Peter Kehl (the builder of the historic winery), started making brandy alongside the wine. The brandy was used to fortify the wine—much like with Port wines—acting as a natural preservative, and allowing it to be shipped and sold as far away as Maine.
Many years later, in the 1980s, Wollersheim Winery’s founder, Bob Wollersheim, along with his son-in-law and Wollersheim’s Winemaker, Philippe Coquard, dreamed of resuming brandy distillation at the winery. Unfortunately, due to regulations after Prohibition, Wisconsin wineries were not allowed to distill, and so the brandy dream was put on hold.
State law changed in 2009, allowing wineries to start distilling again. The winery purchased a copper pot still and started making Coquard Brandy not long after, reawakening the tradition of distilling at the property. Brandy was a natural fit as Wollersheim’s first distilled product.
For one, brandy is made by distilling wine and aging it in oak barrels. For another, Philippe has had a lifelong love of Cognac, a particular type of grape brandy from France. His goal was to make the Coquard Brandy a Cognac-style brandy, best for sipping. The first batch of Coquard Brandy was released in 2013 and sold out in a matter of weeks. Philippe, his son-in-law Tom, and the rest of the family then built the distillery facility in 2015, which now houses all of Wollersheim’s distilling operations.
Distiller Tom Lenerz continues to make Coquard Brandy alongside a variety of other family-crafted spirits, including several other brandies, bourbon, whiskey, gin, and absinthe. The barrel room is engineered to use Wisconsin’s weather changes to create the fluctuating conditions that are ideal for the maturation of spirits. Wollersheim Distillery, like Wollersheim Winery, has a lifelong commitment to ferment all products on site. This requires patience, but when it comes to maturing spirits, there is no substitute for time.