Trout Springs Winery- Evolution of a Dream
‘What, are you crazy? Grapes won’t grow here!” That’s what people told me during June of 1995, when I planted my first grapes at Trout Springs Winery in Wisconsin. Did I listen?..NO! (Now they buy our wine.)
It’s the same thing they told me when I started my trout hatchery in 1983. (Hence the name Trout Springs.) The artesian well on the property I purchased with my wife was intended to raise horses. Water came out of this well at 45 gallons per minute.
‘That’s not enough to raise trout!” quipped the nay-sayers Did I listen? NO! That’s why we went on to be the largest fingerling producer in the state from 2011-2012.
You might say that I tend to see potential when others may not. This is why, during the spring of ’95 when our horses moved on to greener pastures (if you know what I mean) those 5 acres became the genesis of Trout Springs Winery.
It was a fairly auspicious beginning. Innocently, I hired my neighbor to sink trellis posts with his antique post hole digger. After a few rows of slow going because the auger was dull, I decided to sit on the side bar to put more weight on the drill. That went much better, until my shirt and shorts got caught in the power take-off (no guard.)
Before you could blink, the auger pulled me in untill my clothes ripped off completely. By the time the driver noticed, it was too late. Thank God the clothes were old and worn, or I wouldn’t be here telling this story.
There I stood…butt naked….bruised….but not out. My 18-year-old son fell over laughing as I walked almost naked out of the vineyard.
Talk about a tough start. The vineyard had almost swallowed me up before I even got started. Being raised on a farm, I had seen accidents like this before. But if you weren’t half dead, there was no need to go see a doctor. So as my Dad would say, “There’s still daylight left, let’s get another load in the barn!” I think I still have a divot where I shouldn’t from my little accident.
Over the years, our vineyard has been replanted about three times. Some of the current varieties were not available in 1995, so we have literally ripped out thousands of vines for newer and better performing French-American Hybrid grapes.
Primarily, our vineyard now consists of Frontenac, St. Croix, Marquette, Leon Millot, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, and Niagara. These grapes grow quite well, as we cluster prune to about 1.5 ton/acre. They are consistent, and hardy to our harsh winters.
However, it wasn’t always like that. During 2000, I was dumping fertilizer by the truck load on the vineyard, only to see a nice canopy, but no fruit. Year after year, it seemed that the plants weren’t getting any better.
Soil samples to extension agents, networking with other growers, different fertilizer…nothing seemed to work. I started thinking that maybe this vision wouldn’t happen, when, with some encouragement from my wife Andrea, I realized a well known fact: Grapes do not like wet feet. Wet roots simply do not take up nutrients.
In the spring, much of our vineyard has standing water. I knew that if I wanted to save the vineyard I would have to tile it out. That spring, I layed miles of tile throughout the vineyard. The five feet of slope were just enough to get the field drained to the ditch.
I then foliar fed with a 20-20-20 soluble mix in my John Bean sprayer, and faster than you could say, super-callafragulistic-xbala………or something like that, my problem was fixed. I haven’t looked back since.
Nothing seemed to go easy in the early years when we were planting the vineyard and building the Winery. It took us 10 long years from the time we had planted the vineyard in 1995 till we opened the doors in July of 2005.
With both my wife and me working full-time, every waking hour was spent doing everything from electrical, to plumbing, to painting. You name it, we did it. We paid as we went, developing a loyal patronage with wine clubs, and dinner events. Looking back, the joy is always in the journey.
In July of 2005, our opening weekend, we had over 1000 people come through the doors. We sold out of one wine completely, and knew that the old saying was true: ‘If you build it they will come.”
This is especially true for us as we are located about 20 miles from any major town. I had wondered if anyone would come; after all wine was a luxury, not a necessity. My wife was sure we would get smacked. Sure enough; she was right! We now produce 26 different wines; anything from sweet to dry, red to white, fruits, specialty dessert, fortified ports, late harvest, and ice wine. We do about 3,000 cases per year, with seven tons from our own vineyard, and three tons from California.
Recently I have taken the waste pomace of the pressed skins and seeds of my red grapes and created a new product. For Goodness Grapes is a grape powder/flour I make from a special freeze-drying process that captures the natural enzymes and polyphenols inherent in the skins and seeds, along with Trans-Resveratrol which helps protect against heart disease, and high blood pressure.
I fill the grape-flavored capsules for people who want the benefits of drinking red wine, without the alcohol and sugar. Some people who have taken our capsules (the other purple pill) have been able to get off their blood pressure medication.
We have also put this powder in an artisan cheese that we call Healthy Choyce Cheddar. Six ounces of this cheese has the benefits of drinking a glass of red wine. We use it in breads and pastas, and have now introduced it into a high end chocolate bar (74% cocoa) high in flavaniods. We have done the same with Chocolate Truffles, and have also made a facial cleanser mask for women. It helps exfoliate, and tighten skin pores, rejuvenating dead skin cells. There is no end to the uses of wasted grape pomace. All of these products have been lab tested for phenolic content, and registered with the FDA.
Steve De Baker is the winemaker at Trout Springs Winery in Greenleaf, WI