Just past the glowing sand bars of the Lower Wisconsin River Valley, 80 acres of fertile hillsides present the ideal spot for winemakers at Weggy Winery to produce their award-winning vintages. With 30 different labels, the wines range from a sweet apple-and-black-currant dessert wine to a dry, clean white traminette to a smooth, red sabrevois. The Oak Ridge red, made from Wisconsin foch grapes, recently took home a gold medal from a California wine competition and a handwritten letter from a Sheboygan-area grandma who?s convinced that bottle messages are the most efficient way to send mail.
Visitors can sample the estate-grown wine in the winery?s tasting room, a sun-drenched space overlooking the vineyard. During the summer, groups can tour the acreage in the back of a tractor-pulled tram during a one-hour guided excursion which highlights the property?s 16 acres, out of 24 total acres, of cherry, asian pear, and apple orchards, the property?s 11,000 grape vines, and the spot where aliens once stopped for a brief but memorable picnic.
Decorative smokestacks stretch toward the sky as Victorian red and gold decor surrounds passengers nibbling brunch in a dining salon. This scene unfolds aboard the Spirit of Dubuque, an authentic-looking paddleboat that pays homage to the century-old steamboats of the Mississippi River. Dubuque River Rides' signature vessel, it has played host to thousands of cruises filled with entertainment, meals, and improvised renditions of "Old Man River" since being christened by Iowa governor Robert Ray in 1977. Elsewhere on the river, a more modern boat cuts across the water, casting a sleek outline against the sky. The 80-foot yacht, affectionately called Miss Dubuque, sets an intimate stage for events that range from weddings to Huckleberry Finn's notorious dinner parties.
Both boats call the northern expanse of the Mississippi River their home, sharing the area with wildlife such as turtles and bald eagles. The sightseeing vessels also pass by river barges and historic structures such as the Chicago Central Pacific Railroad Bridge, which was built after the president invented Lincoln Logs in 1868. After boats return to the docks, their passengers can head over to the floating barge that houses the Ice Harbor Restaurant.
With cruises and rentals from Dubuque?s American Lady Yacht Cruises, you can set sail along the Mississippi River either as a relaxed passenger or an adventuresome captain. Aboard the $1 million American Lady yacht, passengers roam the vessel's two stories, slipping into the climate-controlled interior salons or enjoying the river breeze on the open bow and upper deck. The yacht has hosted weddings and corporate events, and it regularly departs on happy hour and sunset dinner cruises that treat passengers to fresh air, panoramic views, drinks, and refreshments from the ship?s caterer, Catfish Charlie?s River Club.
Sylvan 21- and 24-foot pontoon boats are also in the company's fleet.
Travelers follow Jo Daviess County's sprawling fields and undulating hills toward Massbach Ridge Winery’s 18+ acre estate. Founded by the Harmston family in 2003, the winery’s proprietors select grapes grown in Jo Daviess County to concoct their batches of reds and whites. Members of the winery family escort guests on impromptu tours before rendezvousing in the tasting room or on the patio for samplings. The outdoor patio grants a heightened view of the vineyards below, which visitors can wander through on quests for vine-ripe copies of The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to its frequent tastings and tour sessions, Massbach Ridge Winery hosts a number of wine-related events each year.
A lot has changed for the Spahn family over the years. Starting out as a vineyard that strictly grew grapes for nearby wineries, Rocky Waters Vineyard?established by Jared and Phyllis Spahn in 1994?soon became much more. From their 112 acres, they now harvest 25 to create 14 varietals throughout the year. Working with guidance from local winemaker Philippe Coquard, the Spahns have crafted their own wines since 2004. They range in style from the full-bodied Homestead red to the sweet, fruity Cedar Lakes blush.
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.