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Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011

Certified Organic: Wisconsin's Clover Meadow Winery

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The only certified organic winery in Wisconsin, and one of less than 15 in the entire country, Clover Meadow Winery operates as a carbon-neutral business as a matter of both philosophy and necessity. Surrounded by 300 acres of forest in the small northern Wisconsin city of Shell Lake, Clover Meadow's vineyard and orchard are far removed from municipal sources of electricity and water. So the land supplies its own: The premises are fueled by wind and solar power, and the crops are irrigated with water collected in a man-made pond.

Working without chemicals, pesticides and preservatives doesn't make operating a winery much more difficult, explains Clover Meadow Chief Operations Officer Alexia Gannon, but she admits it requires a bit more flexibility.

“We do strive to use some of the same set recipes from year to year, but in many ways we're at the whim of the harvest,” Gannon says. “If the grapes or the fruit that we're using don't want to comply with what we had in mind, then we have to work with them. That can be a good thing, though. We enjoy tailoring our products to the fruit we have available, and it allows us to offer an assortment of wines. We do fruit wines, grape wines, botanical wines and vegetable wines. We even have an onion wine.”

Most of those wines sell out quickly, especially the grape varieties. Other top sellers include Clover Meadow's blackberry wine, which Gannon describes as hearty and sweet, but not as syrupy as many dessert wines and thus more drinkable—it pairs excellently with chocolate, Gannon says—and the winery's rhubarb wine, which has a sweetness level comparable to a Riesling.

Honey wines are a particular specialty, since bees are abundant at the winery. They are used to make homemade honey, and also to pollinate crops.

“Flowers treated with pesticides kill off a lot of bees, which is really dangerous, because bees are essential to the ecosystem,” Gannon says. “My parents have owned this land since the mid-'70s. It had been used for agriculture before, and when they got it, the land had just been devastated by how many chemicals they had put in the soil. It took probably 15 years of rototilling and regrowing and then rototilling again to get nutrients back into the ground, and bees were a big part of the process of making the land healthy again. My dad was actually a biochemist, so he set out to make this his own little ecosystem, and he used bees to pollinate whatever he put in the ground. We keep about 10 hives on the property, but we're looking to expand that to 25 to 35 in the next few years, just because we use honey in so many of our wines.”

Clover Meadow Winery (23396 Thompson Road, Shell Lake) gives guided tours of its property Thursdays-Sundays through the end of October, and keeps weekend hours over the winter months. Wines are sold on-site or online at clovermeadowwinery.com.