Just over a year after releasing its first batch of brandy, Wollersheim Winery on Tuesday broke ground on a $4 million distillery facility that when completed will help the family-owned Dane County business greatly expand its line of spirits.
And if the plan works as well as the improvements made to the historic winery over the past decade, there should be plenty of Coquard Brandy to make Old Fashioneds in supper clubs and corner bars around the state.
The 25,000-square-foot distillery building that is under construction will be attached to the winery’s fermentation buildings and will include two stills and an aging room for 20 5,800-gallon fermentation tanks and 400 oak barrels. The building, scheduled for completion by next summer, will also have retail space.
“It will create two reasons to come to Wollersheim,” said Philippe Coquard, winemaker and co-owner of the winery near Prairie du Sac. “It’s like two destinations in the same place.”
Focus on local
Coquard, who owns the winery and distillery operation with his wife, Julie Coquard, daughter of the late Bob Wollersheim, said the distillery’s focus will be on locally sourced and locally grown ingredients.
The first batch of Coquard Brandy, 4,500 bottles at 375 milliliters each, was released in April 2013. A second batch of 7,000 bottles was released in May of this year.
Both batches were made in a 100-gallon copper Portuguese pot still, with Wisconsin-grown grapes and aged in barrels made of Wisconsin oak.
The new facility will include a second custom-made 250-gallon still from Kentucky and will help ramp up production to more than 15,000 bottles by 2017, Coquard said.
New products will include eaux de vie (colorless fruit brandies), whiskey, absinthe and gin. Fruits for the new brandies will be grown in Wisconsin, and the grains for the whiskey and gin will come from farmers located just a mile from the distillery. It takes 100 gallons of wine to make 15 gallons of brandy, Coquard said.
Craft distilleries on the rise
Wollersheim, the state’s largest winery with an expected production of 240,000 gallons of wine this year, joins a growing list of craft distilleries in Wisconsin since Great Lakes Distillery of Milwaukee opened in 2004 and became the first legal distillery in the state since prohibition. Wisconsin has at least nine distilleries, according to the American Distilling Institute.
State wineries with distillery operations include Door Peninsula Winery in Carlsville, AeppelTreow Winery & Distillery in Burlington and Infinity Beverages Artisan Winery & Distillery in Eau Claire. In Monroe, Minhas Craft Brewery is also home to Minhas Distillery, which produces vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, rum, liquors and other spirits.
About 7,000 wineries exist in the U.S. but only about 100 with distillery operations, according to the ADI.
Coquard believes the popularity of locally distilled products will follow the same growth path of local wineries and the craft brewing boom.
He predicts there could be 25 more distilleries in the state in the next 10 years.
“I think its going to go nuts just because of the interest in craft distilling that’s happening nationwide,” Coquard said. “This is an investment that will serve us right for the next 15 to 20 years.”