What makes a great wine?
Wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar. The vine is responsible for 85 percent of the quality of the wine, and the winemaker is responsible for 15 percent. The winemaker is watching the ripening, watching the flavor development on the vine, and then bringing it to the winery and helping the grape become the best possible wine through fermentation, extraction of flavors, tannin, color and so on.
How does weather affect a wine?
The weather dictates the quality of the wine. If it’s cloudier with a lot of rain, there will be more dilution, less concentration, less color. If it’s a dry year with a lot of sun and cool nights, that’s a much better year, a better vintage.
Any “behind the scenes” stories you can share from Wollersheim?
Our friend gifted us a bottle of Fume Blanc from California, and it was so awesome I knew I had to make a wine like that. That’s what pretty much inspired me to come up with our Prairie Fumé. Without Prairie Fumé, financially, the winery could not have survived. Prairie Fumé had that big of an impact—not only on us, but on the entire Wisconsin wine industry.
How have consumers surprised you over the years?
Some people question wine from Wisconsin. I’d ask them “why?” It took centuries for French wine to be where it is, and 50 years for Sonoma and Napa to evolve and be known outside of California for the potential they have. So it’s no different for us. We have the same chance, and we are on a great path to being a world-class winery. We are already there.
Let’s raise a glass to that! Philippe tells us it takes 1,000 grapes to make one bottle of wine! He adds that making their wines range from a couple of months for light, fruity reds, to 15 months of aging in oak barrels for complex flavors. Philippe should know—after 400 years of family winemaking, aging is an inherited science.