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Vines & Rushes Winery: Wisconsin-grown wine with every sip

Ripon winery holding its own in the Badger Stateís wine industry

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January 24, 2024

RIPON — When one thinks of wineries and Wisconsin, it’s usually Door County that comes to mind.

But the Fox Valley area has a winery and tasting room that can hold its own with the best of them.

Situated on 600-700 acres of what was once an established family farm in Ripon — then known as Al n Rae Farms — is Vines & Rushes Winery, owned by Ryan Prellwitz and his wife, Megan. The dairy farm run by Ryan’s parents — Chuck and Diane — stopped operations in 1993, however, the cash crop business — corn and beans — continued.

The family also started a pre-picked and pick-your-own strawberry farm — Prellwitz Produce — on the property in 1993, which continued operations until 2019.

“We would see probably about 10,000 people come out to the farm for strawberries every year,” Ryan said. “So, that consumer-facing agriculture was something we were accustomed to, and developing a product the consumer would come to the farm for wasn’t something new.”

Ryan said they began growing grapes as a commodity crop to sell to other wineries in 2007. “That was the impetus for starting our wine (tasting) room,” he said. “Ultimately, after three or four years of playing around with growing and planting different amounts, we decided to take the next step of starting a winery in addition to growing the grapes.”

Winery debuts in 2013
Vines & Rushes Winery (410 County Road E in Ripon) officially opened for business on New Year’s weekend — Dec. 31, 2012 and Jan. 1, 2013.

Today the Prellwitzes grow about five acres of grapes.

“We have about 25 different wines in our line-up — everything from dry, sweet and whites, sparkling dessert-style, reds, ports, ciders — we have something for everybody,” Ryan said. “It’s rare somebody comes in and can’t find something they enjoy.”

That first year, Ryan said, they began production on a relatively small size — producing about 2,000 gallons of wine, or 10,000 bottles.

Today, he said production varies, but on average, they produce between 10,000 to 20,000 gallons a year (or 50,000 to 100,000 bottles), depending on the year, what’s available for fruit and what inventory levels of bottled wine look like.

From a growth standpoint, Ryan said Vines & Rushes Winery is now five to 10 times the size it was when the Prellwitzes first founded it — and sales, he said, are consistently about 10 times what they were originally.

Vines & Rushes Winery is nestled on 600-700 acres of the Prellwitz family farm in Ripon. Submitted Photo

Besides running their own grape-growing and wine-making operation and complementary restaurant — specializing in wood-fired brick oven pizzas — the Prellwitzes also work with a distributor who sells their grapes to restaurants throughout the state, largely focused on the Fox Valley.

The couple still sells to other wineries as well.

“We do customer production for other wineries,” he said. “We work with different wineries that we make products for. Sometimes they send us the grapes to make into wine for them; sometimes we have an excess of different varieties they didn’t get enough of during harvest season. So, they’ll then purchase bulk wine from us, as well. Every winery does things a little differently, ultimately.”

Cold, hardy grapes
Ryan said the grapes grown on the Prellwitz farm are cold hardy enough to survive Wisconsin’s winters, even the harshest of cold weather as the region has experienced recently.

Varieties, he said, include primarily Marquette, St Pepin and Petite Pearl.

“Marquette, for example, is a variety like Chardonnay is a variety, or Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and wines like that,” he said. “We can’t grow the varieties that are your traditional or best-known varieties, the ones most commonly found in grocery stores. But we do choose varieties that do have good cold tolerance here in Wisconsin and also make exceptional wine.”

Because consumers aren’t as familiar with the varieties the Prellwitzes grow, Ryan said it takes a bit more education to show people they make delicious wine.

“If you go to a wine sommelier (wine steward) — who is a wine (tasting expert) and not necessarily (an expert on) the process of making or growing it — they will have no idea (about) most of the varieties we work with here in Wisconsin,” he said.

What Ryan said makes Wisconsin wines stand out is it’s different from the “10,000 variations of the same thing- in California.”

“Everybody (in California) makes one (kind) and it’s variations on a theme,” he said. “If you’re looking for something unique and fun, and if you’re willing to try new things, then try Wisconsin — because we’re making some fantastic quality wines out of varieties most wine experts have never even touched on.”

Vines & Rushes wines, Ryan said, are named for the area around them — such as Mascoutin, Ceresco, Wiskonsan and The Catt Lady.

The winery itself, he said, has a “sense of place” that fits right in with Wisconsin’s rural landscape — with the name even inspired by the geography that surrounds the farm, taking the word “rushes” from nearby Rush Lake.

Vines & Rushes Winery’s tasting room is open year-round, seven days a week — offering wine tastings, five for $5.

Vines & Rushes Winery, now 12,000 square feet, has an indoor seating capacity of 200, with an additional 300-400 people outdoor seating capacity. Submitted Photo

Customers, Ryan said, can purchase Vines & Rushes wines — by the bottle or case — on-site or via the website (

About the oven
Not ones to rest on their laurels, the Prellwitzes started food service in 2017 — highlighted by its high-temp, wood-fired brick oven and its Neapolitan-style pizza.

It’s not just any old brick oven, Ryan said, made in Italy by a father and son oven-building team named Artistica Salernitano.

The 100% wood-fired oven, he said, reaches an average temperature of 800-850 degrees in the baking area, while the center of the dome ceiling is around 1,000 degrees.

With such high heat, Ryan said pizzas are cooked in an average of 90 seconds.

The pizza dough and sauces, he said, are made in-house and feature many ingredients grown by local farms and cheeses made in local creameries.

“We go to great lengths to source our ingredients locally,” he said. “We grow our lettuce and microgreens with an indoor hydroponics system, and we use those in our restaurant. But we also work with a lot of local farms to supply us with different products we also use.”

Ryan said his father recently retired after 54 years of farming.

Up until his retirement, they grew about 600-700 acres of corn and soybeans.

Now, that farmland is rented out to another farmer.

However, Ryan said they continue to maintain about five acres of sweet corn, so his father can work on it in the summer months.

Not just wine, pizza
In addition to wine and pizza, Vines & Rushes also offers other menu items, including salads, hummus platters, meatballs, breadsticks and desserts.

“It’s not a huge menu, but, generally speaking, everybody can find something,” he said. “Just like on the wine side, we don’t do something unless we can do an exceptional job with it.”

Ryan said they take a lot of pride in the quality of the food they serve.

The winery’s high-heat, wood-fired oven cooks Neapolitan-style pizzas in an average of 90 seconds. Submitted Photo

“It’s not an add-on product for us,” he said. “It’s a core part of what we do and something we’ve become well-known for, as well.”

On certain nights of the week, the space features live music, while other nights are dedicated to local artist displays or craft fairs.

“We do about 200 public facing events a year, about 90 live music shows a year, as well as craft fairs, cooking classes, pairing dinners and a slew of private events beyond that,” he said.

Since opening, Ryan said they have added onto their original building, going from 4,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet — bringing the indoor seating capacity to 200, with an additional 300-400 people outdoor seating capacity.

Still somewhat unknown
Though the winery has drawn a good amount of patrons throughout Northeast Wisconsin, including an increasing number of people from the Fox Valley, Ryan said Vines & Rushes is still relatively unknown.

“We’re 20 minutes out of Oshkosh and 35 minutes from Appleton, but it- seems like Highway 41 is an insurmountable barrier for a lot of people,” he said. “But we’re close (to the Valley) and we have an exceptional product and an exceptional experience we provide. It’s worth coming at least once. And if you come once, you’ll come again.”

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