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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Little Winery on the Prairie

After a tumultuous semester, it was time for some exploring. So, today, I went west in search of wine and cheese. I found one of the two, and some other things as well. Join me for another episode of…

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 2: Little Winery on the Prairie

About 45 minutes northwest of Madison, just where Dane County meets Sauk County on the Wisconsin River is the town of Prairie du Sac, home to the Wollersheim Winery. I had tasted their wine before. Their most well-known vintage is Prairie Fume, which is light, white, and wonderful. At their beautiful vineyard, their hour-long winery tour and subsequent tasting is worth way more than the paltry five-dollar entrance fee.

Wollersheim Winery dates back one hundred and fifty years. The “modern” era, as they call it, started when a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and his wife bought the land and revived the practice. They hired a French man to work for them, and sure enough, he ended up marrying their oldest daughter, and now the two of them run the winery. Funny how that works. After a short film, we walked outside through the carriage house to see the slopes of grapes. It was a gorgeous day. Back inside, we saw the huge vats where they process the wine, and then went downstairs to a pungent underground wine cellar with casks and barrels of wines. One barrel had a window so we could see inside, but it was mostly sediment. Then, we went back up into the carriage house for a wine flight, which is a fancy way to say “wine tasting.” We got to try six wines: Prairie Fume, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, River Gold, Eagle White (a special!) and a Semi-Sweet White Riesling. Obviously the Prairie Fume was the best, but the River Gold and the White Riesling were quite tasty as well. Outside, we walked up to the top of the hill, where another wine cave is built inside the hill. There are also wine gardens where you can sit and enjoy wine bought from the gift shop, ten dollars a bottle (eleven in stores!). They also had these cute miniatures in the refrigerator. It was my first ever winery tour, and overall, it was lovely.

After that, I drove to Plain in a vain attempt to see the Cedar Grove Cheese factory; alas, they were closed for the day when I got there. However, we weren’t far from Spring Green, which is famous for the House on the Rock.

It took so long to get there on winding, twisty roads up a hill, but The House on the Rock is something to be seen. When you drive in, it’s like an alien garden with giant Chinese urns covered in flowers. Alas, I only had an hour left before they closed, so I could only do one section of the three-part tour. But of that one section, I saw a heck of a lot.

Walking through the winding staircases, you enter a tiny, dark house full of Asian art and sculpture. The ceilings are low, but the atmosphere is so architecturally high, and high above the valley. There are rooms upon rooms of Asian furniture, hidden waterfalls, and so much art. Then comes the Infinity Room, which is truly a sight to behold. It’s a long, narrow room that seems to go on forever and ever, jutting out over the valley. They also had an automated violin/tambourine/harpsichord thing that scared the hell out of me whenever it came to life. Then, you go back inside to see even more rooms, sit on the couches, and climb the twisty staircases to the sun deck. The Japanese garden is splendid as well. I hope to go back and visit again.

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Things I Like about Wine and Cheese

  1. Variety. For wines, you have less: white and red (although I enjoyed some excellent Portuguese vinho verde tonight with dinner), but here in Wisconsin, cheeses can come in many varieties, some more seductive than others. I’ve tried chipotle cheddar, aged fontina, among others…with a local dairy, you can almost never go wrong. I was feeling like buying cheese earlier, so today’s selection is Carr Valley Sweet Vanilla Cardona Cheese, “a delicious and unique sweet vanilla goat milk cheese with hints of caramel, coconut, and nutmeg.” Handcrafted by Carr Valley Cheese Co., Highway G, LaValle, WI 53941.
  2. The high-society element. Wine and cheese = let’s be fancy without being too fancy. Telling someone that you spent your weekend “enjoying vintage American television from the 1990s in loungewear while sipping Shiraz and snacking on Camembert” sounds way more classy than “watching Friends reruns in my pajamas with popcorn, pizza, and beer.”
  3. Easy for entertaining. If your wine and cheese are fresh, there is literally no way you can mess it up. Put it on a plate with some crackers, maybe apple slices or grapes or sliced tomato, and you’ve can an instant, elegant party appetizer. No preheating required, and nothing that involves stuffing (except maybe your face).
  4. Availability. Well, this is a Wisconsin thing, but every supermarket I’ve been to has a wide selection of cheeses both local and international, and thank goodness liquor laws here must be pretty lax. Cheese here in the Dairy State is kind of like salsa flavors in the Lone Star State.
  5. The flavor of them paired well together. Well, most any cheese can go with most any wine. It’s kind of like being a good actor – a cheese has to stand out from the other cheeses but be versatile with the wines it is paired with.