Wisconsin’s Door County isn’t Napa Valley, but seven wineries dot the 483-square-mile peninsula. Two of the wineries also brew beer and one of the two produces distilled spirits. There is a third brewery just starting out and a hard cider operation on the peninsula’s northern end.
All of this makes Door County an excellent destination for travelers with a spirited vacation in mind.
TIME FOR WINE
The Kewaunee County community of Algoma is a great place to begin your Door County wine tour. The local Von Stiehl Winery ranks as one of Wisconsin’s oldest. Housed in a building constructed as a brewery in 1868, the structure fell into disrepair until 1967. That year, it was purchased, restored and opened by Dr. Charles von Stiehl as a winery specializing in locally grown cherry and apple wines.
Von Stiehl’s lines have expanded and the winery has won numerous awards over the years. The company currently produces 70,000 gallons of wine annually.
Tours and tastings at the winery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, end in the popular third floor lounge, which overlooks Algoma’s landmark lighthouse and the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Traveling north, the next stop is Red Oak Winery, with production facilities just south of Sturgeon Bay. Owner, winemaker and Sturgeon Bay native Andy Wagener, an attorney with winemaking credentials from the University of California (Davis) prides himself on premium wines in the German white and French red styles. One of several wineries to use fruit purchased from West Coast growers, Red Oak specializes in pinot noir, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other well-known varietals. Wagener also produces several Door County cherry wines.
Door 44 Winery, located just north of Sturgeon Bay, produces wines from fruit grown exclusively in Wisconsin vineyards, including those of Parallel 44 Vineyard & Winery, its affiliated Kewaunee County operation. Owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Steve Johnson and Maria Milano, the wineries use locally grown grapes, including Marechal Foch, Frontenac, St. Pepin and other varietals to produce their wines.
The name Parallel 44 refers to the latitude where the vineyard sits – the same one as the French and Italian wine-producing regions of Bordeaux and Tuscany. Except for Wisconsin’s freezing winters, the three regions share many similarities, say Johnson and Milano.
Door Peninsula Winery, located in Carlsville, may be among the peninsula’s most productive: It has winemaking, brewing and distilling operations. The winery houses the restaurant Bistro 42 and also owns Fat Louie’s, which produces gourmet oils and vinegars, as well as an art gallery.
Door Peninsula’s modern facility stands on the site of the 1885 schoolhouse in which the winery started. The facility offers tastings of many of its 45 wines, made from locally grown grapes and other fruit, as well as grapes brought in from the West Coast.
On the eastern side of the Door Peninsula on County Road I, Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery occupy some of the county’s most scenic terrain. Founded in 2003 by partners Tim Lawrie, Lance Nelson and Tom Payette, who serves as winemaker, Simon Creek relies on locally sourced fruit and grapes from other regions. The 11,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 30 acres of vineyards, bottles wines using varietals ranging from cabernet franc and gewurztraminer to golden muscat and Door County cherry.
Harbor Ridge Winery, located south of Egg Harbor, may be the peninsula’s newest winery, but it benefits from assistance provided by von Stiehl’s winemaker, who helps the owners create memorable reds and whites. With wines named Knockin’ Heads Red, Mademoiselle Tantalizing White and Gimme One Good Riesling, Harbor Ridge aims for a whimsical brand. But don’t discount the quality of its wines – they rank among Door County’s best.
Stone’s Throw Winery, located east of Harbor Ridge on County Road E outside of Bailey’s Harbor, prides itself on its micro-vinification approach. The winery imports small-lot premium grapes from California’s Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties to produce high-end varietals. In a world of cherry wine, Stone’s Throw is bottling Petite Verdot, Sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and other complex wines in a 90-year-old stone barn that the owners say is located at the very center of the Door County’s Peninsula.
But it may be Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market south of Fish Creek that best embodies the Door’s winemaking tradition. Starting as the Lautenbach’s family dairy farm and cherry orchard in the 1950s, Lautenbach’s Orchard Country is still one of the peninsula’s major cherry growers. The business creates a full line of wines from grapes, cherries and other fruit that have become very popular with visitors. The Swedish lingonberry wine, probably the company’s most unique, was out of stock when we visited, giving us a reason to return.
Wine isn’t the only spirited beverage bubbling up in the Door. The craft beer movement, at full swing elsewhere in the state, is beginning to catch on. There’s a trio of worthy brewers to check out.
Shipwrecked Restaurant, Brewery & Inn in Egg Harbor is the oldest area microbrewery and part of the Door Peninsula Winery family. The bayside brewery produces the standard range of craft ales. The cherry wheat ale is not to be missed.
Door County Brewing Co., located in Baileys Harbor, is new to the scene and currently contract brews its beers at Sand Creek Brewery in Black River Falls. But restaurants up and down the peninsula feature the brewery’s Polka King Porter and Little Sister Witbier, both worth a sip.
Even von Stiehl is getting into the brewing scene. This summer the company revived the Ahnapee Brewery, which will feature Noble IPA, a German-style IPA, and Bavarian Helles on tap soon two doors down from the winery.
AND THE REST
If your tastes don’t run to wine or beer, here are several other libations available during your Door County vacation.
Door County Distillery, another part of Door Peninsula Winery, has only been operating for several years, but it already has earned honors in top national spirits competitions. The blend of botanicals, juniper and citrus earned its Door County Lighthouse Gin gold and silver awards in East and West coast spirits competitions, with silver awards going to the distillery’s Door County Apple Brandy.
One of the area’s unique producers, Island Orchard Cider, is located in Ellison Bay. Owned by Milwaukee residents Bob and Yannique Purman, the hard cider house produces five different ciders in the Normandy style from apples, pears and cherries grown on Washington Island off the Door peninsula’s northern tip. The oak-aged brut apple cider is one to take home with you to foster fond memories of your spirited vacation.
On the Web: For more, visit doorcounty.com/what-to-do/wineries.