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.
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.
"The wine industry is overwhelming and confusing to many," says wine steward Merrell Tomlin, "but once you understand the basic premise that wine was created to make food taste better, you're on your way to a lifetime of dining enjoyment." Tomlin, who has visited hundreds of vineyards over the last 30 years, shares his accumulated knowledge at wine tastings and wine-appreciation courses he runs through Learn Vino. During each session, participants learn proper food and wine pairings for varieties as light as a riesling or heavy as a cabernet. Tomlin also fills students in on correct glassware, ideal serving temperatures, and how to keep wine from getting spoiled or throwing tantrums in the cheese aisle. An education in proper terminology helps students to make savvy observations about a wine's nose or mouthfeel. More advanced appreciation courses last four weeks and cover topics such as the history of wine or the eight "noble grapes" of France, from which many popular wines are made.
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.
Bon Appétit's bright-red façade, alluring green doorway, and smells of fresh cooking coax patrons in to where they can peruse a frequently changing menu. The eatery's dishes are largely prepared with locally produced ingredients, including organic eggs and grass-fed, natural meat. Brunch opens its coat to offer passersby an ever-evolving selection of sandwiches ($7.75), such as the BLT on sourdough, and the Ben Yeddar, in which chopped roasted egg, feta cheese, shredded carrot, onion, roasted cashews, mild green chilies, and a cumin-infused mayonnaise are laid to rest on fresh pita bread. Broaden taste horizons with treats such as panquecas ($7.95), Brazilian crêpes stuffed with fresh banana, topped with honey, and served with a choice of Spanish potato salad, polenta, or fruit. Recent dinner specials include Algerian pan-seared chicken, marinated in a spicy bath infused with roasted anise seed and served with special rice ($15.95).
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."