New North wine region part of "Wisconsin Ledge"

Posted on Apr 16, 2012 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive.
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A new federal government designation has categorized northeast Wisconsin as a wine-producing region named the “Wisconsin Ledge.” That means wineries in our area will be able to label their wine with the special regional designation, just like wineries from areas like Napa Valley or the Finger Lakes.

Trout Springs Winery owner Steve DeBaker of Greenleaf led the effort supported by a group of planners, conservationists, grape growers and wine producers to pursue an American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. After a review process that took several years, the bureau announced its decision in March and the official designation launches April 23.

The AVA designated region includes Door County, areas east of Lake Winnebago and south to the West Bend/Port Washington area. The region includes several New North counties, including Door, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Calumet, Sheboygan and parts of Brown and Fond du Lac counties.

The Wisconsin Ledge covers an area that geologists call the Niagara escarpment corridor, which contains soils and climate conditions that are particularly well-suited to grape-growing and wine production.

“I’ve heard it summed up best as ‘grapes don’t like wet feet,’” said Eric Fowle, executive director of the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and founding co-chair of the Niagara Escarpment Resource Network. “The plant/root structure doesn’t like to be inundated with water, so the geology of the Niagara Dolomite is such that it is heavily fractured and moves surface water to the groundwater system very quickly and allows the roots to dry out periodically between wet weather events.”

The AVA region includes about 320 acres of vineyards and another 70 acres projected to be in development within two years. In 2009, the Wisconsin Ledge AVA had 12 operating wineries and at least one more has opened since and another is in the works, Fowle said.

The only other Wisconsin AVA is in the southwestern part of the state including Sauk City and Lodi, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The commission says the AVA designation can help promote the sustainable development of more vineyards and increase tourism to the area.

A special celebration of the Wisconsin Ledge AVA designation is planned for August 19 at St. Martin’s Heritage Park outside of Chilton.

– Nikki Kallio