Whistler’s Knoll Vineyard Ready for Wisconsin Summer
On the night of August 6, 2013, the weather forecast for Neenah, Wisconsin called for the possibility of storms, but not severe weather. To the surprise of local residents, in the middle of the night, six tornadoes came racing across the countryside at 60 to 70 miles per hour.
Tom and Holly Boettcher of nearby Whistler’s Knoll Winery were in their basement when the EF2 tornado hit. Fortunately, the house survived the storm, but an antique dairy barn and some 250-year-old red oak trees were not as fortunate. The oaks trees were ripped out of the ground and the barn sustained some damage also.
Fast forward to this spring. Amish carpenters worked through the winter to repair and restore the barn that will soon become the winery’s tasting room. Tom has taken some of the wood from the fallen oaks and used it to build the new tasting room bar.
Currently, the winery is open only for special events, like a Mediterranean food and Wisconsin wine event on June 21st. The featured wines for this event will come from Brigadoon Winery in Tripoli.
Whistler’s Knoll has been exclusively pouring wines from other local wineries until their vineyard starts producing enough grapes to bottle their own wine. In addition to Brigadoon, other Wisconsin wines featured at Whistler’s Knoll include Vines and Rushes and von Stiehl.
The Whistler’s Knoll vineyard is adjacent to the landscaped winery grounds and tasting room. The total size of the vineyard is one-and-one-half acres comprised of Frontenac Gris, Foch and Marquette. The Boettcher’s will also be planting Prairie Star during 2014. The older vines were planted in 2011 and they hope to get a good crop this year.
In Wisconsin, the 2014 vintage is being viewed as a test of newer “cold climate” grapes like Marquette and Frontenac Gris. Temperatures in the Appleton area bottomed out around -25F this winter, which is at the limit of what even the hardiest wine grapes can handle.
But Holly reports a three-foot deep blanket of snow in the vineyard buried the vines and even drifted over some of the fruit bearing cordons. As for the tornado, Tom said the vines were young and flexible enough to “just flop over in the wind” while sustaining little damage. (The vines did have to be reattached to the trellis after the storm.)
Not all the wine at Whistler’s Knoll comes from grapes. Tom has been meticulously making Elderberry wine for 30 years. He maintains 40 of these hardy, native bushes which grow as far north as Manitoba. (Although Elderberries do grow wild across the Midwest, Tom obtained his bushes from a New York nursery.)
Tom makes both an Elderberry Port with 16% alcohol and a beautifully colored dry version. According to Purdue University, Elderberries are rich in antioxidant chemicals like anthocyanins and flavenols.
Although it’s not available for purchase, Tom also makes wine from native grapes that grow on his property. These vines grow high into the hardwood trees on the Boettcher’s estate. According to Tom, the native wine has, “low acids and really good flavor.”
Whistler’s Knoll is a farmed theme winery with relaxing outdoor spaces. Holly is a master gardener who has concentrated on landscaping the winery, in addition to working on a wine patio which will open this summer.
In keeping with the venerable style of the winery, the Boettcher’s have been busy repurposing old farm equipment.
Gazebos are being built from round corn cribs and antique farm implements like pumps and spreaders dot the property. Tom, who worked for 40 years as an electrical construction superintendent, has been very involved in restoring the early 1900’s barn which once housed a dairy operation with 10 dairy cows and a weekly farmer’s market.
On top of his home winemaking experience, Tom studied winemaking and grapegrowing through the VESTA program, which is coordinated by Missouri State University.
A list of events listed is on the winery’s website- Whistler’s Knoll – and the winery and grounds are also available for parties and weddings.
All photos except Elderberries by Eric Zahn from prizmprophoto.com