Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Timber Hill Winery owner and winemaker Amanda (O’Leary) Stefl is a Rock County native with strong roots driven by her family’s farms on the west side of Janesville.
After studying microbiology at the University of Iowa and then continuing her education in winemaking and winery management at Kirkwood College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Stefl mixed her unique training to start up Timber Hill Wines.
One of the Midwest’s youngest female winemakers and winery owners, she prides herself on making wines with youthful energy, creating specialty blends that are unlike any other and providing an exclusive experience for wine tasting and wine drinking in southcentral Wisconsin.
To learn more about Stefl and Timber Hill Winery, stop by the winery at 1223 E. Storrs Lake Road, Milton, visit TimberHillWinery.com online, search for “Timber Hill Winery” on Facebook or call 608-247-4615.
1. How does a microbiologist end up as a wine-maker? I was actually at a microbiology conference when I learned about winemaking as a potential career. My science background just helps me better understand the entire process. I also love to experiment in making different flavors and to help tell the story behind what goes into both making wine and tasting wine.
2. What is your wine of choice? I always love this question and respond by saying, “Asking me to choose a favorite wine is like asking me to choose a favorite child.” It really depends on my mood, the weather, what we’re eating, where we are at and who we are with. From Timber Hill, the jalapeno wine is probably my favorite since it is so versatile and fun to play with. I also have been known to never pass up a good Prosecco. I love the crispness along with the fruity aromas.
3. What is the one thing that goes into your shopping cart at the grocery story whether you need it or not? Eggs. I don’t even have to look in our fridge; I know we need eggs. Between my husband and I, we consume a lot of eggs. What can I say except for, “We love breakfast. We love eggs.”
4. Have you always been a wine fan? Has making it your vocation diminished the pure enjoyment you have for it? I started making wine when I was 22 years old, and I have been a fan from the beginning. I don’t see that changing. And as the winery grows and I grow with it, I am appreciating each bottle of wine and each cork I place even more.
5. What do you say to people who think they aren’t cultured enough to know a good wine from a bad wine? “Everyone has different tastes, and that is what makes wine drinking so wonderful.” It is always fun and amazing to me how people drinking the same wine will have different experiences with it. One might love it while the other spits it right out. Neither person is wrong; it’s just about taking the time to taste and find a wine you love and enjoying it however you choose.
6. If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go? I love to travel and would honestly love to go anywhere and get away for a minute. To me, there are two types of vacationers: the lay-around relaxers or the sightsee explorers. I am definitely the latter. All of my vacations usually involve stopping at a local winery or two, though. My last vacation was in Arizona with my mother, and we visited a couple wineries. I tried a delicious sangria at one which inspired me to create our own sangria.
7. You started making wine at home as a hobby with your father. At what point did you realize this was what you wanted to do with your life? As soon as we tasted our first batch of Cranberry Malbec, I wanted to make more. I think what really pushed me over the edge was when we made a lot of wine for my wedding. Everyone’s response wasn’t just, “Oh, that’s neat ... you made the wine,” it was, “Wow, you made this! Where can you get us a bottle?” and “You really should be selling this. It’s so good!”
8. What is the screensaver on your cellphone right now? My two dogs, Meeko and Rudy. They are both rescue dogs, and I am pretty obsessed with them; they are my fur babies. You can check them out in our vineyard if you visit Timber Hill Winery on Instagram. We share their cute photos often.
9. Your wine is made specifically with Midwest varietals—grapes able to withstand brutal Wisconsin winters. How do these grapes differ in taste from those in California and Europe? A shorter growing season and colder weather makes the grapes that grow here a little higher in acidity. Yes, acidity is something that can be adjusted, but I would rather leave these grapes pure and work with their natural tastes. Some Midwest wineries will blend these grapes with another wine or use fruits from other climates, but most of Timber Hill’s wines are 100 percent Midwest varietals.
10. You mentioned your jalapeno wine. What led you to experiment with that ingredient? I love spicy food. I also love cooking, and thought it would be a fun way to spice up some of my favorite dishes like chili and fajitas. We have also been told our Bloody Mary is one of the best around town. Instead of vodka, we use the jalapeno wine. I am so happy I took this chance. This wine has been a judge’s favorite at the Wisconsin State Fair, and it also was featured at Chilimania in Edgerton this year. It’s a crowd pleaser.
11. What is your astrological sign? Do you believe in astrology? I am a Pisces. I honestly never read my horoscope or necessarily follow my sign’s advice, but I do think it could be interesting to visit a psychic or have one at the winery one night.
12. Today, people can buy wine in boxes and in bottles with twist-off caps. What is the significance and importance of the cork? While there is nothing necessarily wrong with boxed or twist-off cap wines, I personally love that moment when you uncork a bottle. I like repurposing the corks, as well, so there is minimal waste. I do love the convenience of twist-offs and bagged or boxed wine, too, though. It really is all about preference over the type of wine-drinking experience you are going for. At Timber Hill, we cork each bottle ourselves. It is a fulfilling process for me, and I am not sure I would get the same feeling if I was just sealing a bag or inserting a plastic cap.
13. When it comes to board games, what is your preference? It’s technically not a board game, but I love “Apples to Apples.” For such a simple game, you can learn a lot about people and their senses of humor from playing this game with them.
14. People have been making wine for thousands of years. How has the process progressed recently? Practically everything when it comes down to the type of equipment and technology used. For example, we can now test for different things in the wine more accurately and store it at desired temperatures. I think this means wines taste better. We also can bottle and label faster and produce more wines. I think this has helped shape the attitudes of wine drinkers and increase its popularity on the locally grown level.
15. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? It would be cool to learn how to fly a plane. I love to travel and wish I could go more places, and it would be fun to just fly there myself.
16. Name a TV show that is wildly popular that you either don’t watch or don’t see the appeal in? “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” I can’t even watch five minutes of the show, but a lot of women especially seem to love it.
17. Share the title of your favorite wine-related song. “The Tuesday Boozeday Blues.” It’s a song (local) musician Ken Curtis wrote about our Tuesday Boozeday Blush. He has performed it at the winery, of course, and even the Rock County 4-H Fair. You can check it out on our Facebook page.
18. Why did the chicken cross the road? To find more wine.
19. If a group of geese is a gaggle, a group of horses is a herd and a group of mice is a mischief, what would you call a group of wine drinkers? “Winoceros” (as in rhinoceros) or “Winos.”
20. Would you say your glass is half-full or half-empty? Always half-full. I strive to be a positive person even in the face of adversity. I am so grateful to be living my dream. I know we are creating a space where others can enjoy new experiences and laughter through Timber Hill’s Winery. And on those days, my glass is overflowing.