The undersides of Amanda Stefl’s fingernails are stained faint shades of purple and red from the thousands of grapes she’s processed by hand.
The owner of Timber Hill Winery, Stefl is a one-woman show. She makes the wine, bottles it and labels it in the company’s all-purpose warehouse in Milton.
She gets help from family members and two part-time employees.
But her fingers indicate how immersed she is in Timber Hill’s operations.
“I do pretty much everything,” Stefl said. “It gets pretty messy. You can see from my hands. But it’s fun. It just really beats up your hands.”
Timber Hill is approaching its first birthday in October, but it’s already earned statewide recognition. It claimed a “judge’s favorite” ribbon for a jalapeno wine and earned multiple medals at the Wisconsin State Fair this summer.
Stefl is 28, and as far as she can tell, she’s one of the youngest winemakers in the Midwest. It’s a profession that people usually don’t explore until they are approaching retirement, she said.
However, wine wasn’t a lifelong passion for her.
She knew she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life working in a lab after receiving a microbiology degree from the University of Iowa. At an industry conference, she heard a speaker who used a microbiology background to start a winemaking career.
Still living in Iowa at the time, Stefl took winemaking classes at a community college and began making it at home. She later made all the wine for her wedding and got compliments from guests, she said.
That pushed the Janesville native to pursue winemaking full time. Shifting from a hobby to running a business required her to learn on the fly.
“It was like jumping off a cliff, where I was at the edge and I just jumped,” Stefl said. “I’ve just been treading and staying above water.”
Her parents have experience managing their own business. When she returned to Wisconsin, Stefl located in Milton to be close to family and learn from their experiences, she said.
Stefl chose deer-themed branding to combine her love of wine and her husband’s love of hunting. She designed the logo herself, which blends antlers with a wine glass, and has showed a natural flair for social media marketing.
Social media plays a role in one of Timber Hill’s most popular lines, known as the Social Sweet Series. It uses day-of-the-week hashtags such as #MargaritaMonday to allude to the wine’s flavor.
The Social Sweet Series has been well received by the winery’s clientele, even though most of her customers are middle-aged or older, she said.
Business has been strong enough for Stefl to consider expanding her interior space and adding an event room. Timber Hill has piggybacked off the success of NorthLeaf Winery, another Milton establishment located a few blocks away.
“We’re more colleagues than competition,” Stefl said. “If anything, it helps being close together because then you get the out-of-town people who want to do a wine tour day. People kind of make a day of it then.”
Universities don’t offer diplomas in alcohol, to the disappointment of some college students. Stefl never imagined her microbiology degree would lead her down this career path.
But she’s found a fulfilling niche with winemaking.
“It really touches every part of my personality,” Stefl said. “I love interacting with people. I love experimenting and doing different things. I love being outside, so I love being in the vineyard and doing different things out there.
“It’s just kind of a perfect combination of the things it takes to run this and the things I like to do.”