Janesville61°

Vineyard reflects goal of quality wine and a rural lifestyle

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Darryl Enriquez
July 24, 2011
— Wine producers enjoy an occasional cold beer.

With three acres of vineyards to tend and a production last year of 30,000 bottles, the owners of Staller Vineyard and Winery every so often end their day with a frosty brew.


“It’s like the last thing a chef wants to do when he gets home is to cook,” Joe Staller said during a tour of the vineyard that he and his wife, Wendy, have operated here for three years.


After hosting wine tastings and selling product all day long, a glass of the grape, at times, is not high on the list at day’s end, Wendy Staller said.


Getting boys, ages 1˝ and 10, to bed at night is a job that usually eliminates wine time, she said.


“Two kids and working the farm is enough,” Wendy said.


Despite busy days, Joe, 32, and Wendy, 31, are carrying out plans to expand their winery.


The couple have permission from the town and Walworth County to build a 2,500-square-foot-building that contains a 600-square-foot gazebo. They intend to expand vineyard activities to include wine, food and outside beverage service.


Tours, picnics, book club meetings and small gatherings for showers, weddings and other personal events will be accommodated when the new building opens, Joe said.


“A lot of people say that this would be a good place to do an event,” he said.


A man of high energy, Joe wants to gather farmers and their products at his vineyard for an annual “best of what’s offered” in Richmond Township. He calls it a “local products festival.”


“We can showcase all of the wonderful products in this area,” Joe said.


Meats, fruits and cheeses are some of the products that could be sold at the event, he said.


The county now must approve the needed rezoning to operate an expanded retail venture as well as constructing a new commercial building on the agriculturally zoned property. The town’s plan commission has recommended the county approve the rezoning request. The Walworth County Zoning Board on Thursday approved the request.


Both Joe and Wendy have a passion for farming. Both worked on dairy farms while students at UW-Whitewater. In 2006, the couple bought the remaining three acres of a farm on Highway A, just east of Highway 89.


The couple met in a zoology class at UW-W.


Wendy, who is from East Troy, was headed to veterinary school before Joe, a Milton native, entered her life.


Joe became familiar with brewing beer through a job at a Whitewater brew pub. Wendy had a passion for wine making. The two combined those skills and decided to populate their land with vineyards that produce wine-making grapes.


Shortly after moving in, the couple renovated a farm outbuilding into a retail store and wine tasting center. Wendy, who has a 31-step commute from home to work, runs the store. Joe works as a chemist for a Palmyra firm.


Growing grapes in Wisconsin is a challenge, Joe said. Cold winter conditions can damage grapevines. The area also has a short growing season, and grapes must properly ripen to attain the needed sugar content.


Joe believes grapes will become an emerging cash crop in the United States. The Stallers cannot grow enough grapes to satisfy the demand for their wines. They, like many Wisconsin wine makers, must buy additional grapes from vineyards usually located outside of Wisconsin, Joe said.


Another difficulty is keeping birds away from fattened grapes. During late summer and early fall, reflective tape and shiny compact discs are hung on the vines to scare away winged creatures.


As food becomes scarce, hungry birds are emboldened. They ignore shiny and reflective deterrents to get their share of the sugary grape crop. The couple use predator calls and blast music through speakers as a last-ditch effort, Joe said.


Eventually, the remaining unpicked grapes are covered with netting to keep birds at bay.


Associations and cooperatives have bloomed in Wisconsin to help vineyards market their wines and understand state regulations regarding alcoholic beverages.


The Stallers are charter members of the Badger State Winery Cooperative, which began with five members and is currently at 17, Joe said.


The Stallers had hoped to have new construction at the vineyard completed by June, but they neglected to request a zoning change.


They still intend to get the work done this year, and they’re hopeful the construction noise will help scare away any hungry birds.



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