Purchasing juices from vineyards, orchards makes winemaking less stressful
It is autumn and vineyards around the country are busy harvesting grapes for future bottles of Chardonnay or Pinot noir.
The bustle of the harvest season is sidestepped by Port Washington’s Vines to Cellar Winery because owners CJ and Jim Wirshing-Neuser don’t grow their own fruit for their handcrafted wines.
The juice is purchased in bulk from vineyards and orchards around Wisconsin, and from as far away as the sprawling grape-growing regions of California. That diversity of sources makes the wine business a bit more predictable for the couple.
“The price we pay growers for the juice is fairly constant from year to year. If a region is hit by fire or a bad drought and prices go way up because yields are low, we may decide not to carry that variety of wine that year,” CJ Wirshing-Neuser said.
Jim Wirshing-Neuser said purchasing the juice from growers results in a more consistent product because it is blended.
“Even if you think you are buying a bottle of pure Cabernet, there is always some Merlot and Zinfandel in it, too,” he said.
“It is the blending that makes it consistent. I have had customers say they really like our wine because they know it will taste the same year after year.”
Vines to Cellar, located at 114 E. Main St. for the past seven years, uses that same blending of purposes as its business model.
The shop makes a wide variety of red, white, blush, fruit and dessert wines, selling that selection by the bottle or by the glass at a casual storefront bar.
Vintner supplies are available for those who want to make their own wine, with full how-to instruction available.
Zymurgy, or beer-making, supplies are also available, although no beer is made at the shop.
“The state is pretty strict in the regulations of wine and beer making. You can’t even use a spoon that is used in one process in the other,” Jim said.
To avoid the hassle of such tight regulation, the couple chose not to brew beer on site.
Its U-Vin program, however, which walks novices through the process of winemaking, has been a huge hit.
The end result is a small batch of hand-crafted wine, about 30 bottles.
“It has been really popular with brides who want to make wine and then put their own personalized labels on the bottles as wedding favors,” CJ Wirshing-Neuser said.
Jim Wirshing-Neuser said would-be winemakers shouldn’t be intimidated by the process.
“Winemaking is much more of an art than a science. You could give 10 winemakers the same batch of juice, and you would be lucky to come away with only 10 different wines,” he said.
“There are so many factors in what makes a wine taste the way it does, but there is no right or wrong.”
The shop has a steady following from well beyond Ozaukee County, thanks in part to a significant amount of exposure in the Milwaukee news media.
“We draw regular customers from Chicago and even Detroit,” Jim Wirshing-Neuser said.
“Port Washington is just about the half-way point between Chicago and Door County, so we have become a destination for folks who stop in town for lunch. Some of those folks think Port is already ‘up north.’”
CJ Wirshing-Neuser is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves who has service duty in California five times a year.
That assignment is just an hour away from some of the world’s most productive vineyards, so she said she takes occasional side trips to check what other winemakers are doing.
The couple said they have been overwhelmed by the warm reception the shop has received since opening.
“There are times in February when business is slow that I think, ‘Maybe we should open a second location in a bigger market,’” CJ Wirshing-Neuser said.
“Then business picks up and I don’t have time to entertain those thoughts any more.”
Image information: Locally made wine and wine-related products fill the colorful store. Photo by Mark Jaeger