Situated inside a renovated historical building, Northleaf Winery pays tribute to the location’s agricultural past while bottling more than a dozen wines. Fragrant samples of peppery zinfandel and floral pinot grigio are poured at the wooden tasting bar, which hosts open tastings and private pairings of wine and artisanal chocolates or cheese. Next door, the bistro and market stocks a tempting selection of Wisconsin cheeses and party trays, along with fresh salads and build-your-own grilled sandwiches with included blueprints.
When you think of Illinois, you might not think of a vineyard capable of yielding award-winning wine, but that’s exactly what you get with the Faltz Family Vineyard, which supplies Fox Valley Winery. The vineyard produces the grapes for wines that have won various awards in national and international competitions.
The vineyard, located about 20 miles away in Sheridan, supplies grapes through its more than 25 acres of vines draped across the rock-ribbed ledges of the Fox River Valley. This is where the Faltz family, their friends, and their employees spend many days coaxing the crop through the long growing season, checking for proper chemistry, and harvesting the grapes before they turn into talking raisins.
Artalé edifies eager palates with a Herculean selection of classy beverages and elegant edibles. The epic selection of bottled marvels includes a variety of imports, specialty imbibitions, and wines, such as the Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2007, whose black-cherry fruitiness and spice earned it a rank of 83 from Wine Spectator ($29.99/bottle). A bevy of bruschettas, nuts, chocolates, and cheeses serve as a solid foundation for other intoxicating distillations, from the Elk Cove pinot gris 2009, which follows notes of pear, apple, and lime with a almond-petal finish ($16.99/bottle), to the Castello d'Albola chianti classico 2007, a miracle of dark cherry with a floral kiss ($14.99/bottle). An army of 400 craft and microbrew beers flank this cork-crowned armada, and a selection of top-shelf liquors brings up the rear. Artalé's bottle-lined stronghold frequently hosts tastings to exhibit cheese-and-wine-pairing techniques, seasonal drink selections, and the latest oenological lingo, with terms including "woody" and "purple-ish."
Dozens of local products and cheeses populate the comfortable confines at the Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Chalet, where a knowledgeable staff greets guests with friendly grace. Catch the breeze on the outdoor patio, or sample from the wine selection as the team prepares its signature Wisconsin Cheese & Sausage 18-inch tray, a massive mound of meats and cheese perfect for sating starving Labor Day revelers. The platter arrives stacked with one pound each of mild cheddar, colby jack, and pepper jack cheeses from the Wisconsin Cheese Company. The array of summer sausages includes 12 tasty ounces of the Wisconsin Sausage Company's original, garlic, and cranberry summer sausages, each crafted from 100% Angus beef.
To winemaker Alwyn Fitzgerald, The Fisher King isn't just a medieval legend; he represents a way of life. According to Arthurian myth, as the wounded Fisher King grew stronger in the spring and into the summer, so did the surrounding land and harvest. Inspired by this relationship between man and Earth, Alwyn founded Fisher King Winery in spite of the Midwest's temperamental climate. There, he hand-processes the local, cold-hardy grapes that give his small-batch wines a light yet complex flavor profile. His decision to use mostly Midwestern grapes in his winemaking process has certainly paid off: his Blue Rapture white wine won a gold medal at the U.S. National Wine Competition, as well as a Best of Class and double-gold award at the International Eastern Wine Competition in 2013.
Outside of Fisher King Winery, a hanging sign with gold letters depicts the company's mythological namesake. Inside, large windows provide a glimpse of the tanks and pipes in the production area, where Alwyn and his family produce their award-winning Blue Rapture wine, alongside other dry-to-sweet red and white varietals. The tasting room's hardwood bar and tables give visitors a place to sip popular wines by the flight, glass, or bottle, and nibble on local artisan cheeses. Fisher King Winery also hosts regular live performances from local and regional musicians.
Today, Waterman Winery and Vineyards, Inc. is a 12-acre vineyard, lush with 40 varieties of primarily French-American grapes. However, in 1998, the winery began as something else entirely—a fanciful idea in the minds of three middle school teachers nearing retirement. After spending years specializing in agriculture, chemistry, and social sciences, they banded together to found the winery, outfitting it with eco-friendly production techniques that have earned them various sustainability awards. Nowadays, the team produces a wide variety of wines, from cherry wine and spiced reds to crisp whites. Visitors can sample the eco-friendly wines during on-site tastings, or purchase bottles to take home and sip on their own time.