The air was sweet and crisp on the morning of October 25, as Ann and I made our way toward Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin beneath a big blue sky. On board Miss Scarlett, my fully-faired touring bike, we ran the Interstate west and north, through the Madison metro, before exiting onto Highway 60 toward Lodi and points beyond. The sights and smells of autumn were all around us as we left the more urban environs behind.
Cows. I could definitely smell cows.
The village of Prairie du Sac lies on the banks of the Wisconsin River in picturesque Sauk County. While the town itself lies immediately west of the river, our first destination of the day, Wollersheim Winery, is found immediately east of the river on Wisconsin Highway 188. I’ve traveled to this winery enough times between 1986 and now to be able to get there without the aid of maps or signs. Until this day, however, my friend Ann had never been there. As a longtime fan of Wollersheim, I took great pleasure in making this introduction.
We followed the gentle, sweeping curves of WI 188 only a short while before parts of the vineyard came into view. Less than half a mile farther, we were leaning into the winery’s main drive. There were other vehicles in the parking lot, but ours was the only motorcycle thus far. After dismounting, we locked up our helmets, gathered our phones and other necessities, and began making our way uphill toward the main building.
My wife Karen and I used to go weekending in these parts in the mid-to-late 1980’s, before our kids came along. At that time, the winery essentially consisted of an old stone building on a hill and a cave hewn into a hillside further up. The facility has grown and developed considerably since then. Additions have been built onto the original building, which is still recognizable, especially from the inside, and the grounds, once quite utilitarian in appearance, are now beautifully landscaped. Most recently a distillery has been added, where brandy is made.
Although Bob Wollersheim is no longer with us (he passed away in 2005), Philippe Coquard, the winemaker that Bob brought on in 1984 from the Beaujolais region of France, is still quite active in the day-to-day operations. Philippe is also an avid motorcyclist. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, but have seen him tending to his craft during past visits.
This being Ann’s first time at Wollersheim, I made sure we took the tour, which takes about an hour. The tour includes stops at points like the fermentation and aging areas, incorporating informative videos along the way, and concludes with a guided tasting session. I grew up in a household where my father made wine, as did others in our extended family, so I am somewhat familiar with the processes, sights, and especially the smells of wine making. I caught my first whiff of fermenting grapes before Ann and I even entered the building. When we entered the fermentation room, despite being behind the glass windows of an observation area, my nose was immersed in the familiar, heady aroma. I’m reasonably sure I was smiling the whole time.
At the conclusion of our tour, Ann and I tasted a number of reds and whites, ranging from dry to semi-sweet, and concluded with a white port. Port wines are usually ruby or tawny in color, quite sweet, and fortified with brandy, making them ideal as an after-meal treat. The white port we sampled fit all aspects of this description, except for the color.
Wollersheim Winery also has a large shop, where visitors can purchase wines by the bottle or case, as well as all manner of wine-related utensils, vessels and apparel. Since this was our first stop of the day, with many more hours planned, we opted not to load the bike with 750 ml bottles. Perhaps next time. Instead we strolled the grounds together, making a point of stopping in to see the historic cave, where wine was once stored, before heading back down to the motorcycle and continuing our day together.
Will we be back? Given my track record so far, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. But to anybody who is into touring rural Wisconsin and visiting wineries, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Wollersheim.
I already talked about our next stop in my inaugural post, made earlier this week. So next time I’ll tell you about our final, perhaps most magical destination of the day. Until then…
All photos by Ann M. Fischler and Michael G. D’Aversa