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Greg Peck: Soaking in beauty of southwestern Wisconsin

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Greg Peck
July 7, 2014

My wife, Cheryl, and I loaded up our push mower Saturday after a stop at the Janesville Farmers Market. We planned to mow our lot on the Wisconsin River near Muscoda, then perhaps visit nearby Weggy Winery.

When we reached Muscoda, however, we found that our good friend and next-door neighbor, Brian, had generously run his tractor mower over our property just that morning. I mowed the slippery, sloped section close to the water, then stopped to chat with Brian and thank him.

With little mowing to do, Cheryl and I had more time than expected for leisurely sightseeing. Brian had a couple of ideas. He suggested we go see Big Spring, north of Highland, and stop in at Spurgeon Vineyards & Winery on the way.

Those sounded like good ideas. Brian even got out a map to help lead us to the spots. Normally Cheryl and I head to Muscoda hitting the Madison Beltline and driving west on Highway 14 through Spring Green. From time to time for a scenic longer drive, we've taken highways 18/151, continued on 18 past Dodgeville to Cobb, then turned north on Highway 80 through Highland and hit Iowa County P to reach Muscoda. To find Spurgeon, Brian's map guided us out of Muscoda on County G.

As we drove, I told Cheryl this was the first time I'd ever driven this route. But I was wrong. As we wound around the hills and through valleys in this beautiful Driftless Area of Wisconsin, the scenery started looking familiar. About the time I expected to see a meandering creek next to the highway, there it was.

I was remembering a time years ago when Cheryl and I came up through Highland and road construction forced us onto this alternate route. I recalled flocks of colorful goldfinches taking flight from the roadside here and there as we passed.

We saw lots of birds on this day, too, including a woodpecker, whose white wings stood out against the adjacent foliage. Our drive took us across several stretches of gravel—spots we learned at the winery that required repairs after washouts wiped out pavement during heavy rains in recent weeks.

We sampled some wines before taking the $5 tour. Glen and Mary Spurgeon started the vineyard 32 years ago, and Mary gave us a low-tech tour of the winemaking process. She mixed the talk with samples of four wines with chocolate treats.

The tour didn't take us out to the vineyards, but Mary used a cut section of vine to point out that proper pruning is crucial. She also explained how machinery has modernized winemaking and reduced labor costs.

Cheryl and I toured Beringer Winery in Napa Valley two years ago, but we still learned much from listening to Mary and asking questions.

Maybe our taste buds aren't that refined, but we enjoyed every wine we sampled. That made purchase choices difficult. After making our selections, we drove about two miles down the road to Big Spring, where a natural spring bubbles out of the ground halfway up a hillside and creates a cascading waterfall to Big Spring Creek in the valley. The path to the spring, as we learned from chatting at the winery with an Ashwaubenon man who owns a farm in Iowa County, is mowed and an easy walk of perhaps no more than a quarter mile. His daughter told us the water at the top is so clean you can drink it. It's also cool and refreshing if you care to wade in, they said.

We found the small roadside parking lot without trouble. Just one other vehicle was parked there—two dads with their preteen sons were enjoying the waterway. It was an intriguing little stop, and we snapped a few pictures.

It's easy to get turned around amid the twists and turns in this hill country. After leaving Big Spring, I made a wrong turn before quickly doubling back and reaching Highland, one of my favorite Wisconsin communities, on our way home.

Neither the winery nor the spring might be enough to warrant a run all the way from Janesville. But couple them with a chance for a beautiful drive through this Driftless Area, and you, too, might find yourself returning to southwestern Wisconsin again and again.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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