JAMESTOWN — There is something appropriate that a winery is owned by a couple named Glass.
On the other hand, there is something ironic in a winery named for a valley, when its grapes are grown on a bluff.
Sinnipee Valley Winery is located in Jamestown, west of Kieler, though it has a Cuba City GPS address. The winery is owned by Len and Sharon Glass of Platteville, the former owners of Len’s Paint’n Place in Kieler.
The Glasses grow seven acres of grapes on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. The winery is named for the former village of Sinnipee, which was located on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi at the mouth of Sinnipee Creek, west-southwest of Kieler.
“The Mississippi flooded, and they all died of cholera and typhoid, so the town died out,” said Len Glass.
The Glasses got the idea for the winery from a family wedding.
“My nephew got married in a winery in California in the late ’90s, and we went to the winery, and we thought on a whim it would be fun to get into the business when we were done with our other business,” he said. “We started making wine in the basement, and we were giving it away, and we got to the point where we were buying bottles and giving it out the door, and it was getting to be too much expense.”
That prompted the Glasses to start the business, even though Glass described getting a wine sales license as “quite a challenge … they just want everything you can think of.”
“I was probably a little more hesitant than he was, but then he sold the body shop, and it gave him more time to dedicate to growing grapes,” said Sharon Glass, who works at Southwest Health Center. “It’s not a part-time job anymore, but now that we’re in it, I enjoy it.”
Sinnipee Valley’s wines are from grapes developed by a northwest Wisconsin farmer and the University of Minnesota, from which nearly all Wisconsin wineries grow their wines.
“Now we can get a variety of grapes that can grow here, and they grow well — we can get 40-below winters and we don’t have any winter kill,” said Glass. “It took about 10 to 15 years to get wine-drinkers to get used to Midwestern wines.”
Wisconsin wines have grown in popularity in the past two decades. By one estimate, 11 wineries are expected to open in this state in the next one to two years.
“I guess it’s the trend of liking local products,” said Glass. “California, Australia, Chile, I think they’re taking a hit; they’re not selling as much.
“Everybody’s got their own tastes, and that’s a treat for consumers. I think it’s a neat scenario.”
Sinnipee Valley opened in 2005, three years after the Glasses planted their grapes and started making wine with purchased grapes. Two years after the winery opened, the Glasses built on to the building to add a tasting room.
“We used to operate in the back where we make wine, but that got too crowded,” said Len.
“We’ve met a lot of nice people over the years coming in for tastings,” said Sharon, “a lot of people out of northern Wisconsin, and a lot of people out of Iowa that we never would have met.”
Winemaking takes about one year. The grapes begin growing in the spring, and are pruned down to two buds per vine four times.
“They’re pretty labor-intense,” said Glass. “I’m up there three or four times a week. And then there’s spraying. Bugs like grapes.”
The grapes are usually picked between late August and early October, although the dry summer pushed picking up to Aug. 15 this year. The wine is usually done by Christmas, bottled in January and February, and sold beginning in March or April.
“I don’t get into aging,” said Glass. “That’s a lot of extra work.”
The winery produces 8,000 to 10,000 bottles per year. Glass’ favorites are SummerAire, a semi-sweet wine similar to a Riesling; Sinnipee Gold, a sweet white similar to a Muscato; Jubilee, a sweet red; and West End Red, a semi-sweet red.
Sinnipee Valley wines are sold through the Wisconsin Winery Co-op, which distributes wines from 26 Wisconsin wineries.
This year’s drought reduced Sinnipee Valley’s volume, though not necessarily quality.
“We were down about 35 percent in production this year due to the drought, but the grapes we got were tremendous quality,” he said. “It’s real concentrated because of the drought, but very high quality. The fruit is unbelievable. We worried all summer what the fruit would do.”
Next year’s sales of this year’s wine will come after a year Glass described as “a very good year. Production was good; our sales were way up.”
Glass would like to expand his wine list. He is also considering getting a still to make whiskies or brandies. The winery’s red Sinnipee is blended with three brandies.
“We’d like to do some Marquette and some Frontenac” wines, he said. “We’re probably going to end up purchasing some grapes, because I’m not going to grow any more.”