Friday, February 18, 2011

Wollersheim – Wisconsin’s largest winery – Part I of III

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Julie Coquard, Vice-President and Marketing Director of Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin (

Wollersheim traces its wine roots back to the 1840s when Count Agaston Haraszthy, an immigrant from Hungary, selected it as a vineyard site.  Count Haraszthy moved west with the California gold rush in December 1849.  In 1861 he was appointed to a California commission to improve agricultural methods, and he traveled to Europe to collect vines and fruit stock. He returned to California with more than 100,000 vines, representing over 14,000 varieties, laying the groundwork for the California wine industry. His book, Grape Culture, Wine and Wine Making remained a classic well into the 20th century and he has been inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame.

The modern version of Wollersheim Winery dates back to 1972 when Julie’s parents Robert and JoAnn Wollersheim purchased the winery farm property about 20 miles west of Madison with the intention of restoring it to a working family winery.  Now, Julie and her husband Philippe Coquard, who is also Wollersheim’s winemaker, run the winery. In 1990 Wollersheim bought Cedar Creek Winery in Cedarburg, Wisconsin and added the Cedar Creek brand to its line of wines. They have 20 labels under the Wollersheim brand and 14 labels under the Cedar Creek brand.

From their 27-acre vineyard near the Wisconsin River, plus additional sourcing of grapes from New York and Washington State, Wollersheim’s annual production is about 240,000 gallons (approximately 1.2 million bottles) of wine. 

In 2010 alone, 14 of the Wollersheim wines captured prizes in various competitions, with the Prairie Fume, Dry Riesling, Prairie Blush, and White Riesling garnering the most.  

MWS: How has business been at Wollersheim?
Julie: It has been pretty good.

MWS: The Wollersheim white port day on January 29 appeared to be wildly successful.  How many people did you have here?  
Julie: About 3000 people were here – the most we have had for any recent event.

MWS: What are other big events for Wollersheim during the year?
Julie: March 5 -6 – the annual open house. We will be giving demonstrations of grapevine pruning and cooking with wine, as well as winemaking explanations scheduled each day. Of course we will have self-guided tours through the fermentation facilities and aging cellars, plus the bottling line.  

MWS: What is your personal favorite among the Wollersheim wines?
Julie: Domaine du Sac and the Chardonnay – I really like the Chardonnay because it is so buttery and so creamy.

MWS: Other than your own Wollersheim wines, which wines do you like?
Julie: Surprisingly the wine industry is pretty small, not just in Wisconsin or the Midwest, but worldwide, and so we know a lot of other winery owners and wine makers, so we trade wines back and forth.  There’s not a particular style or particular wine that we like.  We don’t buy a lot of wine.

MWS: What do you want the Wollersheim brand to represent to wine consumers?
Julie: Our mission has always been to produce a good quality wine at a fair price -wines that are approachable at approachable prices.  That is why we make so many different wines so that we have something for every taste.  We are not pretentious, and we work with what we have here.

The next post will discuss Wollersheim’s wine offerings

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