By EMILY SCHENDEL
MUSCODA - “We just don’t want to be anywhere else,” Wild Hills Winery co-owner Colleen Halverson shared of her experience being nestled in the rolling hills of the Driftless.
Colleen, along with her husband Aaron purchased the former Weggy Winery vineyard and orchard last year and have been busy with putting their personal touch on the business.
Now known as Wild Hills Winery, and located at 30940 Oakridge Dr, Muscoda,the business boasts 80 acres of forest, fields and vineyards. There is a bustling orchard as well on the grounds, and it is home to one of the largest black current operations in the state.
The Halverson’s visited the location when it was Weggy, several times and always felt captivated by its natural beauty.
“We saw so much potential here,” Colleen shared. “We have rental cabins along the Wisconsin River as a side hustle and adding the winery felt like a natural step. There is a lot of potential in this area for outdoor and agritourism and this is just very special and we wanted to cultivate that more.”
After purchasing the property in November of last year, the couple quickly set to work.
“We rebranded to Wild Hills Winery to help celebrate the beautiful hills in the area,” Colleen shared. “We also pared down our wine selection. We wanted a really tight wine profile and to be able to have the absolute best that the Driftless can offer.”
With the help of their winemaker Barb Dvorak, the Halverson’s have been able to help create new and enchanting blends of wines from their 20 cold varieties of cold climate grapes and eight acres of orchards.
“We make everything here,” Colleen shared. “It’s a labor of love. Our winemaker Barb Dvorak came with the business when it changed hands, and she is very talented and we are lucky to work with her. Wine is chemistry and science and you need someone who knows what they are doing.”
Colleen jokes that she is a “super taster” at the winery, sharing her love of wine and worldly pallet to ensure that every blend that is created at Wild Hills Winery is just right.
“We didn’t know anything about making wine when we started this, I just knew I enjoyed drinking it,” Colleen said with a laugh. “But we did a lot of reading and research, and in addition to Barb we also had our wonderful farm manager Brad Preston stay on during the transition and he has been very patient and taught us a lot. All of it has been a learning curve, but very exciting too.”
Purchasing the winery has not only been an experience in new business ownership during a pandemic, but a lesson on keeping in touch with nature as well.
“This has really helped me to understand the architecture of wine, the poetry of the vine,” Colleen mused. “If you don’t understand those things you don’t understand what you have in your glass. So often you buy a drink but you don’t think about the person who picked the grape, who pruned the vine, but to see it all in that light, it’s very inspiring.”
Colleen shared that when it comes to wine, although the same variety of grapes may be grown across the state, the soils and geological make up add a unique touch to each wine produced.
“There is something called Terroir, where specific atmospheres and the climate and the soil come together to shape the taste of the wine. It makes it very distinct here with our geological make up and formations and the karst and cap rock. The water of the Driftless is also very special. And it brings a very special flavor to the wines. I believe we are, on a wine level, on the brink of a renascence for Midwest wine making.”
Currently, the winery is a 3,000 case winery, but they hope to expand in the future. “We want to grow, we have the vineyards for it,” Colleen noted. Also sharing that they were fortunate to be able to sell 8,000 pounds of their pears to Wollershiem winery for use in their pear brandy.
Colleen noted that working together with the various wineries in the state like Wollershiem has been a wonderful experience.
The team at the winery is entering the final phases of the ferments from this season’s wines. Colleen noted with joy that the blending process has been very exciting, and that one that was blended that day in particular would “knock your socks off” with how delicious it was.
“I get really passionate when talking about the wine here,” Colleen said. “It was so hard to get going, especially with COVID and we had to learn how to survive during a pandemic. In the end, the pandemic made us get really creative really quickly with how we could share this wine with people safely.”
One of the steps Wild Hills Winery has taken to continue to share the experience of their winery with individuals has been teaming up with Ridge and Valley Tours. A premier eco-agri tourism company in Richland county, Terri and Martin Richards work together to showcase the beauty, businesses and agriculture that our area has to offer.
Most recently one of these events held at the winery was a well received event called “Snowshoe the vines, Taste the wines” where participants were led on a lovely snow shoe tour of the vineyards and treated to a variety of Wild Hills delicious wines, safely on their patio.
Ridge and Valley Tours and Wild Hills Winery teamed up to do a similar event last year, which brought around 40 people to the winery to enjoy the sights and wine.
“Everybody is dying to get out,” said Terri Richards of Ridge and Valley Tours. “We had talked about doing another snowshoe event but with COVID we wanted to make sure we could do it safely.”
Working together the group was able to come up with a solution to still be able to host the event in a safe way. Offering three separate time slots and limiting the number of participants. Ridge and Valley Tours and Wild Hills Winery hosted their first round of the snowshoe event this past Saturday and it was met with rave reviews.
Additionally, Snow-ga, or yoga in the snow, has also been planned for the upcoming dates of Sunday January 31 and Sunday February 7. Although the dates for the Snowshoe the Vines Taste the Wines events are sold out, there may still be dates available for Snow-ga by the time of publication.
The event is considered a “trifecta’ and includes snowshoeing, yoga and wine tasting. According to the Eventbrite page “This is for beginners- no yoga or snowshoe experience necessary. Rental snowshoes are included in the price. Bring your sense of humor and willingness to play in the snow.” Ridge and Valley Tourism and Wild Hills Winery will be joined by Catrina from Ray of Light Yoga and Wellness, and will be “combining their respective expertise to provide you with a truly interesting experience,” the website boasts. “Imagine a class combining the beauty of nature, the crisp fresh air, and your favorite sports of yoga and snowshoeing.”
Upon your return, Colleen and the staff of the winery will be on hand to share wine and knowledge of the collection of wines Wild Hills Winery produces. There are also optional charcuterie boards which can be added to the reservation.
In addition to outdoor fun, the winery also has many plans for events going forward.
“Covid was hard, we had a lot of dreams and it just put the kibosh on a lot of it. We want to embrace the community. This is my home and I love it. We want to make it a center for the arts, for music and joy and entertainment. Better days are coming and we want to remember that.”
Colleen also added some of the exciting things they’d like to embark on at the winery.
“We’d like to have a food truck,” Colleen shared. “We understand we’re a bit remote out here and we feel that food locally sourced is really important. We’d love to do a food and wine pairing event and already have something in the works with Los Amigos. We want to do a wine and brat pairing event with Richland Locker, a food truck fest, and Wine-Down Fridays with live music. We just really want to bring life here and bring joy.”
The message of life and joy is something the Halverson’s seem to be working hard to have radiated at their business.
“That’s our why,” Colleen said. “The feelings we get here of warmth and fellowship, inclusivity, to have a glass and enjoy the beauty and experience.”
Currently, the winery is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s from noon until 5 p.m. Additionally, the winery offers a heated pod for dates or small groups. It can seat four to six people and is free of charge unless you reserve it for after hours, which is also an option. Colleen notes it is thoroughly cleaned in between uses.
During the high season of May through October the winery is also open seven days a week.Information about upcoming events with Ridge and Valley Tours and more is also available on their website at www.wildhillswinery.com.