Throughout the state of Wisconsin and the Greater Midwest, many people have come to know the name Wollersheim in the world of winemaking, but chances are that they are less familiar with the extensive history of brandy production on the hillside property.
Though Wollersheim was first established as a winery by Agoston Haraszthy (the Father of California Viticulture), the vineyard presented the next occupants with the unique opportunity to distill grape wine into Wisconsin made brandy.
The first to pioneer the idea of distilling brandy on site was Jacob Kehl, the son of the winery’s second caretaker. Kehl proceeded to make brandy alongside the wine and used the distilled spirits to fortify the wines, much like we do today with our various Port wines. The brandy acted as a preservative for the wine, which allowed the winery to ship wine to places it hadn’t been able to previously reach.
But after a particularly trying winter, the grape vines froze-out and the property was converted into a traditional Wisconsin farm. It remained so until Bob & JoAnn Wollersheim purchased the property and replanted the vineyard, ultimately giving life to what is now known as Wollersheim Winery & Distillery.
By the 1980s Bob had successfully replanted the vineyard, and along with his future son-in-law and Wollersheim’s Winemaker, Philippe Coquard, they began dreaming of bringing brandy back to Wollersheim. Sadly, rules and regulations established after prohibition prevented wineries in Wisconsin from distilling, and in turn prevented Bob & Philippe from pursuing their vision at the time.
However, in 2009 those laws changed, opening the door for wineries to begin distilling once again. With excitement, Philippe purchased a copper pot still and began distilling as soon as possible.
Wollersheim Distillery is now operated by Tom Lenerz, Philippe’s son-in-law, and currently is operating two pot stills, which produce various types of brandies, and a hybrid column-pot still for whiskey, gin and absinthe. What started as a dream between Philippe and his father-in-law has become a reality for Philippe’s own son-in-law.
And with that, the spirit of distilling at Wollersheim was reawakened.