By JIMMY BENTIVENGA
AEppelTreow Winery may satisfy anyone’s craving to venture out-of-doors after a long, cold Wisconsin winter. For those over the age of 21, consider exploring one of the state’s 45 wineries.
Southeast Wisconsin, known as the Glacial Hills region, boasts more than a dozen wineries, a couple of which are less than an hour from Mount Mary.
AEppelTreow Winery and Distillery (pronounced: Apple True) is just east of Burlington. Founded by Milissa and Charles McGonegal in 2001, the winery had its first release in 2002.
“AEppelTreow is Old English for apple tree or apple truth,” McGonegal said. “He’s [Charles] something of a word geek, and thought the name was funny.”
Both McGonegals were making fermented ciders in their basement.
“This is my husband’s hobby that got out of control,” McGonegal said. “We are a nano-distillery. All of our products are made on-site.”
Technically, AEppelTreow is a cidery, as the principal beverages are pressed from apples.
“In America, cider is called juice,” McGonegal said. “In the entire rest of the world it’s cider. If we were to call it a cidery, only the French would know what we were talking about.”
AEppelTreow resides in an old cow barn on the property of Brightenwoods Orchard. It’s adjacent to Bong State Recreational Park in Kenosha County. Purchased by Bill Stone in 1959, Brightenwoods grows 200 varieties of apples on 20 acres. The orchard is the principal supplier to AEppeltreow.
“Mostly it’s eating apples [the orchard’s crop],” said Bill Stone, orchard owner and farmer. “With about 10 percent, or two acres for fruit cider.”
From 1985 to 2000, Brightenwoods sold cider and had it pressed off-site.
“Then the rules changed,” Stone said. “In 2001, [Wisconsin State] Government required pasteurization, or to bring the press on site.”
It was a matter of luck and timing that brought the two families together.
“We’d [Milissa and Charles] been making award-winning cider in our basement, and were looking for a space to expand,” McGonegal said. “We were asking local orchards, and anybody we knew. Charles cold-called Bill Stone, who had a wonderful selection of fruit.”
A business deal was worked out. The fruit press was brought on the property and a lot of cleaning began.
“It took over 5,000 hours of work to get the barn in shape,” McGonegal said. “Most of the work was to insulate the walls.”
Protecting the cider from freezing was the priority; keeping people warm was secondary, he said.
Driving up a dirt road, through a working orchard, one will see tractors, four-wheelers, dust, dirt, a big, brick farm house and several barns.
Large arrows and signs direct traffic to the front door of the large white barn, converted into a winery.
Open the door. The space looks spotless. A tasting area resides to the right, and large cooler doors hang to the left. If you walk down the former cow barn, you will see the distillery area in the back. A large stainless-steel fermenting tanks fill the floor along with racks of bottles and storage bins.
“The tasting room is an old calving pen,” McGonegal explained. “Two pens actually.”
AEppelTreow goes out with a bang each season. On Jan. 5, the winery will host a County Wassail. Guests can stroll from the winery to the orchard’s stately crab tree and pay tribute to the apple trees.
“It’s a Thanksgiving with the orchard, a thank you, for the good harvest,” McGonegal said. “At 5 p.m., we drink, we eat cake, we eat cheese and sing to the tree… and, wear boots!”
The winery is open to the public from March through December, closing January and February. Check aeppeltreow.com for seasonal times and days.