WESTBY — Five years after they opened Branches Winery between Coon Valley and Westby, Gene and Therese Bergholz continue to expand production, and add new wine varieties and features to the business.
The winery’s tasting room is open for the season, which began on March 30 and will end on Dec. 22. New this year is an outdoor pavilion that is the winery’s third outdoor seating area. The Bergholzes also plan to soon expand their food offerings, and to begin holding Door County-style fish boils in late summer.
They opened Branches Winery at E6796 Old Line Road, off Hwy. 14/61, in May 2013. In its first year, the winery produced about 2,500 gallons of wine, and had five wine varieties.
It produced about 8,000 gallons of wine last year and now offers 18 wine varieties. “And we could easily hit 10,000 gallons this year,” Therese said. One gallon will fill five wine bottles, so 10,000 gallons would fill about 50,000 bottles.
Most of the wine made at Branches Winery comes from the fruit of the approximately 9,000 grapevines in the Bergholzes’ 15 acres of vineyards. They also have begun making apple and cranberry wines.
About 80 percent of the wine they make is sold in the winery’s tasting room. The rest is sold in about 30 grocery and liquor stores, restaurants and bars in southwest Wisconsin.
“We have a broader portfolio — 18 vs. five wines — and a lot more people know about us now, and are coming here,” Gene said of the winery’s increase in production and sales. “We’ve won dozens of awards” in regional, national and international wine competitions.
Coulee Fog and Roxie Rose are the winery’s two biggest sellers.
Its Roxie Rose and Moxie Moscato wines also are available in 8.4-ounce cans. Last year, Branches Winery became the first winery in the Midwest to can wine. It also became one of only a handful of wineries across the nation that offer wine in single-serving cans, Therese said.
By using recyclable aluminum cans, the winery is making it possible for consumers to enjoy wine where glass bottles are impractical or are not allowed, she said.
The canned wine also is designed for consumers who drink wine infrequently, Gene said. Many consumers don’t want to open a bottle of wine, pour just one or two glasses, and then reseal the bottle, because of the flavor degradation that begins after just a short time in the refrigerator, he said.
But Branches Winery also will continue to bottle its wines.
The winery’s tasting room also sells Wisconsin craft beers, as well as appetizer plates with locally produced meats and cheeses. And a week ago, it began selling Wisco Pop made In nearby Viroqua.
Branches Winery also has an outdoor wood-burning pizza oven, which bakes up to two 8-inch pizzas at a time for about 1½ minutes at about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The winery’s wood-fired pizza season began on Memorial Day weekend.
“We make a lot of The Classic pizzas (with cheese, sausage or pepperoni), but our specialty pizzas are probably even more popular,” Therese said. Specialty pizzas include the OMG (Oh My Goodness is this fabulous) pizza with sliced pears, gorgonzola, walnuts and honey; the Margherita with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil; The Luau with cheese, Canadian bacon and pineapple; and The Rocket with prosciutto, artichokes, cheese and sauce, topped with balsamic-drizzled arugula.
The winery has been offering made-from-scratch pizzas since its first year, and now makes nearly 5,000 pizzas per season.
“We’ll introduce some new pizzas this summer,” Therese said. And with the help of the kitchen it added last year, the winery will expand its food menu for special events. The winery also hosts catered events.
Branches Winery hosts about five outdoor concerts each season, as well as other events that are promoted on its website and Facebook page. One of its biggest events this season will be a Summer Wine Walk from 2 to 5 p.m. June 24 with wine, food, tours and live music by Bjorn Berg.
In late summer, Branches Winery will begin holding Door County-style fish boils.
The winery also hosts events such as birthday parties, anniversary parties, wedding and baby showers, Christmas parties and business retreats. In addition to its tasting room, the winery has the Grapevine Room, which offers banquet and special-event seating for about 70 people.
Besides wine and craft beer, such things as Branches Winery glassware and other wine-related merchandise, soy candles and local maple syrup also are for sale in the tasting room.
The winery has about a dozen part-time employees during the summer months.
Therese also is director of, and applied for the state grant that helps fund, the new Driftless Wisconsin Wine & Cheese Trail, which includes seven wineries and seven cheese-making businesses in southwest Wisconsin including Branches Winery. The trail has a brochure that promotes the trail and its 14 businesses.
The first of the trail’s fall and spring Trail Event Weekends was last Oct. 13-15 and the second was April 13-15. Snow disrupted the April event, said Therese, who hopes to organize a “makeup weekend” for sometime this summer. The Trail Event Weekend for this fall will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 12-14.
The trail brochure notes people are invited to visit the 14 locations throughout the year, but especially on Trail Event Weekends when they have the opportunity to taste products, receive discounts and enjoy tours, programs and more.