Wollersheim Winery & DistilleryWollersheim Winery & Distillery
Wollersheim Winery sits on a scenic hillside across the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. In the 1840s, the Hungarian nobleman Agoston Haraszthy discovered the sloped land where the winery sits today, and planted it with grapevines. During his short time in Wisconsin, Haraszthy also incorporated the state’s first town, Sauk City. In December of 1849, he followed the gold rush to California, where he also had a hand in developing the state’s wine industry.
Peter Kehl, a German immigrant, took over the property after Haraszthy left, building the structures that still stand today, and planting American grapes to make wine. After Peter Kehl’s death, his son Jacob continued the family winery and started making brandy. In 1899, after Jacob Kehl’s death and a difficult winter, the Kehl family stopped making wine and converted the property into a conventional Wisconsin farm. When Prohibition passed in 1919, remaining wine was sold, and leftover barrels were used as firewood. The Kehl family stayed on the property for two more generations.
In 1972, Robert and JoAnn Wollersheim bought the farm from Peter Kehl’s great-grandson to restore it to a working winery. They planted the hills with grapevines, furnished the limestone cellars with oak barrels and converted the old carriage house into a store. Philippe Coquard arrived at the winery from the Beaujolais region of France in 1984, on an agricultural exchange. Coquard—who comes from a long family history of vintners, and has degrees in winemaking, viticulture and wine-marketing—became Wollersheim Winery’s winemaker in 1985. The family legacy continues in Philippe and his wife, Julie, Bob and JoAnn’s oldest daughter, who now run the winery.
Wollersheim Winery grew rapidly and garnered national media attention with the introduction of its Prairie Fumé wine in 1989. In 1990, Wollersheim Winery bought Cedar Creek Winery, located in an 1860s woolen mill in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. The sister wineries share family ownership and a winemaker, but the two brands are distinct.
As Wollersheim Winery’s wine list grew, so did the Prairie du Sac winery, now a National Historic Site. In 1994, a fermentation room was built, allowing the fermentation tanks to move out of an old barn, and also adding a bottling room and case storage space. In 2008, the Coquards built a new building that mimicked the historic winery allowing more visitor space, as well as tasting and shopping areas, with beautiful views of the hillside vineyards. In 2013, they renovated the historic hillside wine cave — originally started by Harazsthy and completed by the Kehls — into an exhibit dedicated to the winery’s history. Finally in 2015, the Coquards added a distillery to the property which allowed not only dedicated space to distill spirits, but also more fermentation space to make wine to be distilled into brandy. Wollersheim Distillery now has it’s own facility and under the direction of Philippe’s son-in-law, Tom Lenerz, distills locally grown bourbon, whiskey, brandy, gin, absinthe and vermouth.
The family continues to care for the property and make improvements in keeping with the beautiful historic scenery and to share this idyllic setting with visitors.