Who would have thought the father of the California wine industry got his start in Wisconsin? Count Agoston Haraszthy of Hungary planted his first American vineyard in the 1840s on a hillside in southern Wisconsin, but the Riesling grapes he brought from Europe didn't like the cold, so Haraszthy packed his bags and headed west to try again in California. The winery he left behind went through various incarnations, becoming Wollersheim in 1972, and eventually grew into Wisconsin's largest and oldest.
Wollersheim produces about two dozen varietals using hardy French-American hybrids grown on its 30 acres and more delicate imported Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The perennial bestseller is the Prairie Fum, a light semi-dry white wine. Bottles run $6.50 to $47. Visitors can browse the spacious gift shop-retail store or enjoy a tasting ($3 per flight). Tours ($5) include videos, a peek at the underground cave where wine was once stored, a look at the wine cellars and fermentation room, and tasting of different varietals than those offered in the standard flights.
The picturesque grounds include an outdoor picnic area; visitors are free to bring their own baskets, although the winery sells some food, namely cheese and crackers. During the winter, customers can watch the numerous eagles that roost on-site. Wollersheim will be unveiling its first brandy in 2013.