Wisconsin State Journal (09/10/10) (I know there are some Wednesday riders who drink a bit of wine.)

Mitchell Vineyard's grapes are ripe and ready for picking


By CHRIS MARTELL | cmartell@madison.com | 608-252-6179 | Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010 6:50 am

OREGON — It’s been a good year at Mitchell Vineyard. The grapes ripened early, and harvesting began the last weekend in August. And, despite this summer’s heavy rain, there wasn’t a problem with rot.

Dave Mitchell’s 6-acre vineyard has 3,500 vines which produce 22 tons, or 44,000 pounds, of grapes a year. Half go to small wineries and the rest to pick-your-own customers who use them to make wine, grape juice, jams and jellies, or to eat fresh.

Mitchell, who also owns the Wine and Hop Shop (on Monroe Street in Madison), where wine- and beer-making supplies are sold, said several hundred of his customers both pick their own grapes and make their own wine. A few of them are also thinking about starting their own small wineries.

“The interest in small wineries equates to the interest in small breweries in the mid-’80s ... which is continuing, and more recently (there is similar interest) in small distilleries.”

At the present time, he said, there are fewer than 40 small wineries in Wisconsin.

Mitchell caught the winemaking bug when he was a graduate student in literature at the UW-Madison. He was living on Jenifer Street and got to know some elderly gents in the neighborhood who were making wine with wild grapes and elderberries.

In 1972, he opened the Winemaker Shop on West Mifflin Street with Bob Wollersheim, who subsequently opened a winery in Sauk City. Mitchell started growing grapes in 1976 and now cultivates 11 types.

Mitchell said that for some of his customers, making their own wine is a “back-to-the basics” thing. For others, it’s a nostalgic journey.

“A man in his 80s told me the smell of Concord grapes reminds him of the barrels in his grandfather’s cellar, and there’s a woman who says it reminds her of growing up in Sicily,” he said.

Mitchell said wine isn’t difficult to make, and the biggest mistake amateurs make is forgetting about the wine and letting it oxidize.

Although Mitchell doesn’t think Wisconsin will ever become a major grape-growing state, he expects that many more vineyards will be established here in the future.

“The University of Minnesota is a leader in producing cold-hardy grapes, and there are new ones coming all the time,” he said.

Two new grapes with great wine potential include a white called LaCrescent, which makes a wine similar to Riesling, and a red grape called Marquette, which he said makes a wine with “mid-palate tannins and more body than most French reds.”

Mitchell said his Marquette grapes sold out on Aug. 28, the first day the pick-your-own crowd arrived, and he’ll definitely be planting more Marquette vines.

Posted by James Henkel