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Whistler’s Knoll pivots from winery to event venue

Tom and Holly Boettcher's plans changed when they began having success as an event venue

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July 26, 2023

HORTONIA – For more than 35 years, Tom “Whistler” Boettcher – while working as an electrical superintendent at Faith Technologies, Inc. – has been making his own wine.

“He’s an excellent winemaker,” Holly Boettcher, Whistler’s wife, said. “He studied viticulture, which means the growing of grapes, and enology, which is about making wines (through the University of Missouri).”

Whistler is also a member of the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association and the Wisconsin Agriculture and Tourism Association.

As they began approaching retirement, Holly said Whistler wanted to start a small, hobby winery.

“We bought this property because of the soil being conducive to growing grapes – it is sandy soil, and grapes don’t like their feet wet,” she said. “We began clearing the land to plant the vineyard. The property was distressed. It hadn’t been farmed for more than 30 years. There was garbage all over, and we needed to clean it up.”

After the Boettchers planted the vineyard, the waiting game started.

Each fall, Whistler’s Knoll looks to the help of volunteers to help harvest its grapes, which Tom and Holly Boettcher then sell to Wisconsin wineries. Submitted Photo

“It takes five to six years for the grapes to mature so you can start making wine,” Holly said.

During that time, the Boettchers renovated the late-1800s dairy barn located on the property – preparing the space for the winery and tasting room, once the grapes had matured.

“Whistler had procured winery equipment from all over the world for the winery, and then the upper part, the hayloft of the barn, was going to be our tasting room,” Holly said.

Then, she said, something “unusual” happened.

“People began calling and asking, ‘Hey, can we have our wedding at your place?’” she said. “We thought, ‘well, why not?’ As I mentioned before, it takes five or six years for grapes to mature and we had no revenue coming in.”

The idea, Holly said, took off like wildfire and Whistler’s Knoll was booked for weddings from May through October the first few years.

Whistler’s Knoll is owned and operated by Tom and Holly Boettcher. Submitted Photo

“Because of that, we built a Grapevine Pavilion, which overlooks the vineyard and makes a beautiful area for weddings,” she said.

A fork in the road
Fast forward to 2016, Whistler’s Knoll was ready to start making wine.

“As we were filling out our application with Wisconsin to get our winery permit, we realized, ‘oh my gosh, if we make wine, we have to close at 9 p.m., and we can’t keep our liquor license,’” Holly said.

Wisconsin State Statutes prohibit establishments from holding both a winery and liquor license, and wineries in the Badger State are required to close at 9 p.m.

Whistler’s Knoll includes a vineyard, garden, barn and event pavilion. Submitted Photo

As they began sharing this information with potential clients, Holly said they quickly realized if they began making wine – and fulfilled Whistler’s dream – the wedding business would go away. 

“We started telling people for your wedding, ‘I want to let you know you’re going to have to leave at 9 p.m., and there won’t be any old-fashioneds – and this is Wisconsin for goodness sake,” she said. “From that point on, we did not book a single wedding for more than five months.”

Holly said they had come to a fork in the road – continue with the dream of owning and operating a winery and bow out of the event venue business, or continue doing what they’ve been doing and pivot from the original winery plan.

“It was sad because I knew this was my husband’s dream – he wanted to make wine,” she said. “I had to let it run its course and not intervene. I needed it to be his decision.”

When the decision was made to continue moving forward as an event venue, Holly said the booking began flooding back in.

Each September, the Boettcher – with the help of volunteers – harvest more than 2,000 grapevines, which they sell to other Wisconsin wineries.

“We buy wine through distributors – we have wine – it’s just not our own,” she said. “That’s the route and the rest is history.”

Holly said there is some legislation under discussion at the state level that looks at potentially extending the 9 p.m. closure time for wineries, but “that won’t affect us.”

“That’s too late for us (to make another change),” she said.

The vineyards
Holly said it sometimes comes as a surprise that grapes can successfully grow in Wisconsin.

Whistler’s Knoll is home to thousands of cold-hard varieties, including Marquette, Marechal Foch, Frontenac Gris, Prairie Star and Niagara.

Harvest, Holly said, takes place each year in mid-September – which is completed thanks in part to volunteers.

“We make a call on Facebook each year for volunteers to come and help with the harvest because the grapes only last a couple of weeks,” she said.

Whistler’s Knoll is located at N2845 Hwy 15 in the Town of Hortonia. Submitted Photo

Those volunteers – Holly said – are then treated to a farm-to-table dinner in the Whistler’s Knoll’s barn in appreciation for their efforts.

Not only does the vineyard produce tons of grapes each fall, but Holly said it also provides a great backdrop for weddings and other special events.

“We are certainly a one-of-a-kind venue,” she said. “We have our gardens, we have the vineyard – a great place for a wedding.”

Holly said during off-peak months, the location hosts baby and wedding showers, corporate retreats, team-building events and Christmas parties.

“We have Wi-Fi in our barn, projector screens, forced-air heat and air conditioning – so, we have full service available,” she said. “And it’s a unique place. When people rent our place for a wedding or a company meeting, they tell us their guests were talking about it for years – we hear that all the time.”

Holly said Whistler’s Knoll has received the Couple’s Choice recognition from WeddingWire for six years running.

In addition to special events, Holly said Whistler’s Knoll also hosts dozens of public events each year – including food truck nights, a 5K run, Wine Down events and monthly Blood Mary Sundays.

“This year, we have more than 120 public events on our calendar this summer and fall,” she said. “People can still visit our website ( or our Facebook page and find times we’re open.”

Every name has a story
When asked where the name Whistler’s Knoll came from, Holly laughed.

“Tom whistles while he works – which can be annoying – so, my brother started calling him Whistler,” she said. 

Tom “Whistler” Boettcher studied viticulture and enology through the University of Missouri. Submitted Photo

When the couple bought the property and began brainstorming ideas for a name, Holly said her husband’s nickname sounded like a good fit.

“And then we’re on a hill – a knoll is a hill – so we put the two together and we had Whistler’s Knoll,” she said. 

The future
Holly said the past decade-plus as the owners and operators of Whistler’s Knoll has been an adventure – full of unknowns, pivots, surprises and successes.

The future, she said, will likely look the same.

“My husband and I are turning 70 next year, and we do have our business for sale,” she said. “We love what we do, but we realize at our age, it’s time we need to be realistic and consider retirement.”

Holly said whenever the business is sold or to whomever the business is sold to – “the bookings will be part of the sale.”

“When the day comes that we sell our business, all the bookings will go with the business,” she said. “We have bookings scheduled into 2025 already.”

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