Boutique-style wine is like liquid art, and the personality of each is distinct due to the influence of the weather, soil, and fermentation process. And like a fine wine, the vision owners Dave and Brenda Korb had for Drumlin Ridge Winery fermented for years before the winery came to fruition.
Dave and Brenda purchased the 13-acre property on River Road between Waunakee and the town of Westport in 1989. The first cold-climate grape vines were planted around 1995, and in 2005, Dave and Brenda presented their winery idea to Westport. But due to economic concerns, they held off on their pursuit.
The grapes and Dave and Brenda’s passion grew until 2013, when the couple submitted a larger-scale plan. It was unpopular with the neighbors, so Dave and Brenda went back to their original ideas, and presented a revised plan that was approved in 2015. The artisan winery opened to the public March 18, 2017, to offer tastings to the public.
Drumlin Ridge Winery sits atop a natural drumlin, created when glacier ice pushed the soil and it rose over a hill. The Korb family home and the winery are built into the side of the drumlin. Dave and Brenda designed the two-story winery, inspired by visits to California, Michigan, and other Wisconsin operations. An architect worked with them to finalize the plans and create a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie feeling throughout the interior and exterior elements of the winery. The business logo motif picks up the theme with a stained-glass look that’s used for the wine bottle label and signs.
The property’s picturesque landscape includes the grape vines, a small apple orchard, and pine forest. The 6,400-square-foot winery complements the setting with its sandy coloration and stone of the prairie-style, barn-like building, effectively merging the look of a California winery with the feel of a Wisconsin lodge.
The prairie style of the tasting room is achieved through the cedar-planked high ceiling and an open floor plan. Wine barrels line the top of the wall behind the curved bar that sets the tone for a comfortable, relaxed ambiance that extends to the grand room. Plenty of seating is available to enjoy casual live music, sit around the outdoor fireplaces, and play Pétanque—a French-style bocce ball game. Guests can taste and sip wine while enjoying the small-plates menu, featuring artisan and European cheese boards, local meats, smoked salmon, and cheesecake with wine pairings.
Because people love a look behind the curtain, tours are provided daily 15 minutes after opening or by appoint-ment. The informative 20-minute tour and PowerPoint presentation show and explain the winemaking process from start to finish. Participants tour the production area and underground cellar to see the winemaking equipment, how the grapes are destemmed and pressed, the difference between a white and red wine fermenter, and the various types of barrels and tanks.
A birds-eye view can be seen through large glass windows while walking up the steps to the second floor, which is also accessible by elevator. This level features the tasting room with the bar, comfortable seating, a gas fireplace, and a meeting room. Dave and Brenda’s son Keenan helps operate the tasting room in addition to working with the grapes. A gift shop, operated by Brenda, features wine-related accessories, gifts, kitchen-related items, and local art. The exterior patio area includes beautiful landscaping and is surrounded by pine trees.
Enthusiasts love boutique Wisconsin wineries. Our regional, cold-climate grapes and growing conditions provide varying nuances that make every wine different. Grapes grown here must be hardy to survive below-zero winters. Soil, rainy or dry weather conditions, sunlight, and airflow all affect the grape as it grows and determine its sweetness at harvest.
The vintner evaluates the harvest and artistically creates the flavor profile for the wine. The juice is blended and fermented to make the most of the grape’s flavor. It takes skill to create a finished wine that is not too acidic, sweet, harsh, or soft. The best wines have a seamless sense of harmony and balance between the fruit, sugar, acid, and tannins so one component doesn’t dominate another. “I don’t throw all of the grapes together,” says Dave. “Although not every Wisconsin winery keeps them apart, I separate the different location picks into different bins and taste them to determine how to blend them to complement each other. The end result will be five to six different wines with a unique character.” Thirteen varietals and 2,200 vines make up the 3.5-acre vineyard.
Harvest time is usually the first or second week of September and lasts a couple of weeks. To get a premium wine, everything is handpicked so there are nice clusters in the bins. A high-quality destemmer is used to leave the grape whole, and then they are spread out on a sorting table to cull out any that are not up to standards. The winery’s first harvest in 2017 yielded just over 1,000 cases. More grapes will be produced as the vines mature, and the Korbs will work toward producing up to 6,000 cases in a season.
An autumn wine-tasting tour in October is a fun way to experience our region and enjoy seasonal wines with the colorful foliage of the vines and trees. The mission at Drumlin Ridge Winery is to provide an uncompromised winery experience, not commonly found in the Midwest. Using a vineyard map, visitors can take a self-guided tour. To enhance the visit, wine tastings are encouraged to evaluate the color, bouquet, body, and mouthfeel to find a favorite or add a new wine to the list.
Lauri Lee is a foodie living in Madison.