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For the love of all things wine, beer and spirits

Jim and Suzi Ploetz are the owners of Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery, New Denmark Brewing Company and Denmark Distillery

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July 12, 2023

DENMARK – If you were to ask Jim Ploetz – who, along with his wife Suzi, owns Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery, New Denmark Brewing Company and Denmark Distillery, which is located at 5046 County Road R in Denmark – what he likes most about what he does, it would likely turn into an hours-long conversation.

The beermaster turned winemaker turned master distiller, said he prides himself on creating products that people love, and for him, that’s all that matters.

“The reward for me is seeing people enjoy our stuff,” he said. “I’m the one who crafts them all and seeing you enjoy them – that’s what it’s all about.”

How it all started
A venture that started years before Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery opened its doors, Jim said his creative juices were originally sparked through a homebrew beer hobby in the 1990s.

“I worked with a guy in the early 1990s who got me into brewing beer,” he said. “That went like wildfire, and I had to create a whole bunch of different beers back then.”

From there, Jim said he gradually progressed into making mead wines and sakis. 

“I planted some grapevines in my backyard in Howard (where I was living at the time), and I won several ribbons for some of the wines we were making at the Wisconsin State Fair at the amateur level,” he said.

So, what does one do when they win numerous ribbons at the state fair for their wine?

Open a vineyard and winery, of course.

Jim said it was his dream to open a winery near their home near Duck Creek in Howard.

“When we started chasing the dream of opening a winery, we had the ‘Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery’ name registered, and then we were looking around for places,” he said. “We looked in Howard and looked in Green Bay.”

Jim and Suzi Ploetz

However, when “The Wisconsin Ledge” was designated an American Viticulture Area – or an official wine-growing region of the U.S. – by the U.S. Department of Treasury – Jim said plans changed.

“We wanted to be part of the Wisconsin Ledge for grape growing, and my wife’s family is from this area,” he said. “So, they said, ‘why don’t you check out the old house.’”

One thing led to another, and before he knew it, Jim said they were the owners of the house Suzi grew up in and the groundwork for opening a winery started.

Jim said Suzi’s dad used to run his electrical business out of a shop next door to the home – which after some remodeling and hard work became the Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery.

“On Black Friday, we opened – so, Nov. 29, 2013, was the official date to the winery,” he said.

The original winery space included a production kitchen and a small tasting room attached.

Jim said it was a “neat journey,” which afforded him the opportunity to work with “a lot of neat people.”

“I worked with the guy who originally built that building, which I think was around 1968,” he said. “He helped me steel the inside of the production area in the front of the building.”

Jim said they didn’t come from “silver spoons,” and everything they have accomplished thus far has been the result of “blood, sweat and tears.”

“That’s, I guess, what makes it that much more rewarding for me,” he said. “We put a lot of time and effort – me, my wife and our families into this business.”

When they began the “let’s start a winery” journey, Jim said he was adamant about offering their own product right from the beginning.

“A lot of wineries when they start up, they don’t have their own product because they have to go through all the licensing through the federal government and the permitting through the state, etc.,” he said. “That was one thing I pride our winery on – from the start, I wanted to have our products.”

Which, Jim said, was an adventure within itself.

“The feds had a furlough, so our labels were sitting in limbo waiting to get approved,” he said. “But, we made it through that.”

Things took off from there
Jim said Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery started with about seven wines.

“We have added quite a few wines since then,” he said. “We have probably 25-plus wines, maybe even more than that with the mead wines.”

Jim said Duck Creek’s “regular wines” are those typically made from fruits and berries.

Jim Ploetz said nearly all of its wines have received some type of ribbon or medal at the Wisconsin State Fair and various other competitions. Submitted Photo

“The mead wines, those are wines made with honey,” he said. “Mead wine has a lot of rich history with it because it was the first fermented beverage. There’s a lot of European culture with it. There is a lot of medieval, king, queen with it. So, that is a little bit of a niche for us with that.”

Nearly from the beginning, Jim said he made original kombucha tea.

“We’ve done that pretty much from the start,” he said. “I’ve brewed it much the same ever since. I’ve been brewing kombucha for 20 years now for myself, and we’ve been selling it for 10 (years).”

Today, they have dozens of flavors – such as goji berry, lemongrass ginger, peach ginger and raspberry pomegranate – available at the winery and at stores throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

So, what does one do when they are having success making wine?

They open a distillery, of course.

Jim and Suzi opened the Denmark Distillery in 2018.

“That was my last piece of the creative puzzle for me,” he said. “I brewed beer, made wine – I have fun creating different things. So, I wanted to fill that last piece with the distilling.”

Jim said the first spirits produced under the Denmark Distillery name were rum, vodka, sugar shine and a sorghum whiskey.

“Through the years, we added a few other things, including a gin and bourbon,” he said.

Jim said he got things going with a 40-gallon copper still.

“I had a lot of issues with it, so it became some decor in our wine-tasting room,” he said.

Then came two, 26-gallon stills – a reflux column still and a pot still.

“With a reflux column still, that produces our gin and vodka,” he said. “When you do those spirits, you need to have it where it produces 190 proof. That’s what you need to have to make vodka and gin because you need to make a neutral spirit and it has to be carbon filtered before it goes in.”

The pot still, Jim said, is a traditional spirits still.

“It runs from a pot still into a thumper keg – and that’s a lot like you would have seen out in the woods – hence the moonshine,” he said. “We use the pot still to run our bourbon, rum, brandy and then our base spirit is the sugar shine, which we use for our flavored moonshines.”

Denmark Distillery’s newest release – the salted caramel moonshine – Jim said, has been selling like hotcakes.

“Not to toot my own horn, but we’ve had so many people say ours is better (than some mainstream options available),” he said. “That’s huge for me. I’m the one who’s crafting this, and I totally appreciate that feedback. We released it, I think, about five weeks ago, and it’s probably been one of the No. 1 sellers.”

So, what does one do when they are having success making wine and spirits? 

They open a brewery, of course.

Jim and Suzi opened the New Denmark Brewing Company in 2021.

“I had bought a brew system to do our bourbon with from Badger State Brewing,” he said. “Since I had the system, I thought, ‘well, why don’t we just have beer because everybody’s asking well, when are you going to get beer.”

And so he did – today, Jim has four beers on tap at any given time.

“We have our two flagships – the Norseman Light, which is an American light ale, and then the Blueberry Honey Ale,” he said.

The other two tabs, Jim said, change periodically.

“We do anything from seasonals like Oktoberfest and IPAs to an Orange Cream Ale and a Peanut Butter Porter – that one just blew up and everybody fell in love with that one,” he said.

Jim Ploetz said as far as he knows, he is the only one who makes and carries wine, beer and spirits all under one roof. Submitted Photo

Jim said New Denmark Brewing Company isn’t the first brewery to call the area home.

In fact, the brewery’s name pays homage to the former establishment.

“The Denmark Brewing Company opened in 1934 at a location on Main Street in downtown Denmark,” he said. “In 1947, it was sold to Alvin Bardin, who also owned Eulberg Brothers Brewing Company in Portage and Indianapolis Brewing Company in Indianapolis. Later that year, the Denmark Brewing Company went out of business.”

Remnants of the old Denmark Brewing Company can be found throughout Jim’s establishment.

“We are fortunate to have several bottles, a beer bottle wood crate and a barrel from the brewery on display,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jim said he made quite a bit of hand sanitizer that he distributed throughout the area.

Something for everyone
With the winery, distillery and brewery, Jim said they are a one-stop shop with something for everyone to enjoy. 

“We do, I think, more than 50 products, so we have a lot of stuff for people to offer,” he said. “A husband and wife will come in and the husband doesn’t like wine, well, we have cocktails, spirits and beer. So, it fills that void, so both can come out and enjoy themselves and each have what they like.”

Jim said he often refers to themselves as “Northeast Wisconsin’s hidden gem.”

“There’s still a lot of people who don’t know about us, but we’re working on that,” he said. 

Jim said Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery, New Denmark Brewing Company and Denmark Distillery do what it can to keep things local as well when creating their products.

“We source locally when we can,” he said. “Our whiskey and beer grains come from Briess in Chilton – they are probably our No. 1 supplier. We do get some grains from other places because Briess doesn’t do everything. As far as our fruit, we get some from Door County and elsewhere locally.”

Jim Ploetz said he is able to tend all the vines himself.

Jim said they also source their honey used in the mead wines locally from a long-established beekeeper.

Since all three entities make products year-round, Jim said, they do have to source products from outside Wisconsin as well.

“We’re at the mercy of where we can get stuff,” he said. “If we can get stuff locally, we’ll try, otherwise we’ll get some from California or from out east.”

Some of the wines Duck Creek produces, Jim said, also use grapes that don’t grow in Wisconsin.

“Some of our grape varieties don’t grow around here, such as the regular vinifera grapes, so we’re getting those from California,” he said.

Expanding the dream
Not only did 2021 bring the launch of New Denmark Brewing Company, but it also brought with it an expansion of the tasting room.

“Our old tasting room was small,” Jim said. “Our bar could maybe fit 10 people, tight. We also have a couple of tables in there.”

Though it was the place Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery got its start, Jim said it was time to expand.

“It worked,” he said. “It brought a lot of people in the door. It’s been a neat circle. The new tasting room was a much-needed space. We needed more capacity for people to enjoy our products.”

The new space is more than three times the size of the original tasting room – which is now used for production storage – and includes a 27-foot bar, dozens of tables, two garage doors that open up to an outdoor patio, which provides an unobstructed view of the vineyard.

Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery opened a new tasting room in 2021 – which is more than three times the size of the previous space. Submitted Photo

Jim said the winery hosts a handful of events each year from Knights of Columbus fundraisers to amateur wine competitions.

“It’s a nice, relaxing environment for people to come out and enjoy our products,” he said. 

Jim said the onsite vineyard has about 350 grapevines – which include Marquette petite pearl and Brianna grapes.

He said he has another couple hundred vines on a property close by. 

Jim said he is often asked if they plan to add more grapevines – which he said is likely not in the plans.

“It is important to me to manage most of it myself, along with doing the other operations – because I’m the brewer, distiller and winemaker,” he said. “We do get help for bottling and labeling and all that type of stuff, but I always wanted to be the one doing the operation end of things.”

A bit of an artist
Jim said the creation of a new wine, spirit or beer, on his part, can happen pretty quickly.

It’s the red tape in terms of label approval from the federal government that slows the process down.

“The actual idea doesn’t take long, but all of the other behind-the-scenes work comes into place,” he said. “I could have a spirit within probably a week, but it took longer because of all the different stuff we had to do with it.”

Jim said for some of the other products they make – such as bourbon and whiskey – it’s a waiting game.

“You have two years that you’re sitting on those,” he said. “You’re sampling it as it’s going through the process, which is kind of neat. A lot of people don’t realize when that spirit goes in the barrel, it’s crystal clear – it gets all its color from the barrel.”

Jim said the Wisconsin climate plays into the stilling process quite well.

Jim Ploetz said he has about 350 grapevines – including Marquette petite pearl and Brianna – onsite and about another couple hundred on a property close by. Submitted Photo

“Our climate up here is nice because you have the heat running in winter and you have air running in summer – so, you’re getting that hot and cold,” he said. “That’s taking that spirit and working it in and out of the wood.”

Jim said some establishments create climate-controlled facilities in order to get those temperature changes.

“Mother Nature helps us a little bit in our area from that aspect,” he said.

Jim said he’s often asked how he comes up with the flavor profiles of products, as well as the names that go along with them.

“I’ll be driving down the road and something pops into my head,” he said. “The ideas and the names, I can create an idea and run with it. That’s why I usually carry a notebook with me because I’ll end up jotting something down and then running with it.”

In Northeast Wisconsin, Jim said they are the only winery, distillery and brewery “that’s all in one house.”

“Some have a winery and a distillery and then there are some that have a winery and a brewery,” he said. “So, it’s a neat thing for me to be known for having all three – I just wanted to have everything for everybody.”

For more information on the Duck Creek Vineyard and Winery, New Denmark Brewing Company and Denmark Distillery, the products they offer, the locations they are available or the special events they host, visit

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