Project Tracker: Northleaf Winery suspends brewery plans, looks at alternatives

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Jim Dayton
Monday, October 16, 2017


The plan: Northleaf Winery in Milton had planned to rent out a mostly vacant house next door and turn the building into a brew pub.

Status: On hold

What happened: Gail and John Nordlof, owners of Northleaf Winery, have owned a yellow house directly south of the winery for about three years. They consulted with an architect and had “big plans” to convert the building into a brew pub, Gail said.

Cost estimates came back higher than expected, so the Nordlofs figured they could do something smaller. But their friends Betsy and Wayne Lubke, who would have operated the brew pub, backed out after their children moved to Minneapolis.

The Lubkes couldn't tackle the project without their kids' help, Gail said.

Legal challenges: With the Lubkes no longer in the plans, the Nordlofs figured they could manage the brew pub themselves. But in most cases, Wisconsin doesn't allow winery owners to also own breweries, she said.

To get around that legal requirement, the Nordlofs would have to keep the businesses separate and give up their beer license at the winery. They could not sell their beer at the winery or their wine at the brewery.

“That kind of defeats the purpose. We have a beer license because not everyone drinks wine,” Gail said. “If people want to bring someone who is not a wine drinker, it's for that convenience that we offer beer, or if someone wants to have a private party and wants something other than wine.”

A bill circulated this year that would have deregulated some requirements related to winery and brewery operations. It was a broad, inclusive bill, but its wide scope made Gail skeptical of its chances to become law, she said.

Next steps: Plans have now shifted away from opening a brewery and toward a taproom instead. In a taproom, the Nordlofs would sell other companies' beer rather than making their own.

The taproom would not come with the same licensing hurdles as opening a brew pub, Gail said.

If opened, the taproom would likely be located in a building directly north of the winery. That facility is currently used for event space and a guest suite, she said.

The Nordlofs would then move the event space to the yellow house and add a second guest unit there. They're trying to be sensitive to neighbors' concerns with whatever they do, Gail said.

They don't have a timeline for the project because the winery has kept them busy, she said.

“We're just doing small things because it's a lot to run a business and try to start up another one,” Gail said. “We're just starting small and seeing what we can get done.”

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