It is often said when one door closes, another door opens.
That sentiment rings true for Chippewa County Farm Bureau members Jim and Becky Mullane. From the ashes of natural disaster, the Mullane family started anew, bringing family traditions from the southwest United States to Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley.
The Mullane family owns Dixon’s Apple Orchard near Cadott. Alongside their son Luke and his wife Kelsey, the Mullanes grow six varieties of apples, make 15 varieties of wine and manage a one-of-a-kind wedding destination.
Dixon’s Apple Orchard got its start more than 1,300 miles southwest in Peña Blanca, New Mexico, in 1944 by Becky’s grandparents, Fred and Faye Dixon. Raised in Duluth, Minnesota, Becky always had an interest in her grandparents’ orchard. At the age of 18, Becky departed for Peña Blanca where she began learning from her grandfather.
“I learned everything from him,” Becky recalled. “I ended up falling in love with the apple business.”
Becky and Jim met in 1992 and married the following spring. They stayed involved in the family apple business until 2011 when a series of challenges struck the orchard. That June, the Los Conchas Wildfire swept through the area, destroying the family’s ranch and the 60-acre orchard.
“We wanted to push forward, as some trees survived,” Becky said. “But then came the flood.”
A series of floods impacted the area, resulting in a late August flood that destroyed the entire community.
“It can only be described as catastrophic,” Becky said. “It was absolutely massive. Our road systems, irrigation systems – all of it. Gone.”
The Mullanes remained tenacious as the family forged ahead and began searching for an opportunity to transplant its roots – both figuratively and literally.
“All we cared about was getting access to water and back to doing what we love,” Becky said.
Becky aspired to get closer to her family in Duluth, which led her to Wisconsin’s Chippewa Valley. Upon seeing the place her family now calls home, she knew she had found her next venture.
“When we arrived, we immediately thought of weddings; it was the perfect destination for a venue,” Becky said. “Trees take five to eight years to begin producing apples, so we came here, cleaned things up and began hosting weddings right away.”
Dixon’s Apple Orchard features multiple venue locations, a reception site, a groom’s shack and a bridal suite for a start-to-finish wedding destination. Becky has a strong presence in every step of the wedding planning process and said she is focused on making each wedding a unique and positive experience for every couple.
“This is a happy business,” Becky said. “The couples mean everything to me.”
Tying apples to weddings, couples return the following spring to plant an apple tree in their honor in the orchard.
The Mullanes also brought a piece of New Mexico to their new home. The Champagne apple was patented by Fred Dixon when grafted to host trees from a wild tree found in the very canyon that was their home. Its unique flavor profile and exclusivity made a name for itself in Dixon’s orchard.
“It is a unique, sweet, spicy, crunchy apple that is good for every purpose,” Becky said. “Sixty acres of the crop would sell out within a week on my grandparents’ orchard.”
Without hesitation, Becky knew the Champagne apple had to be a part of their journey to Wisconsin.
“After the fire, we saved clippings from the trees and had them propagated to a rootstock that can handle the climate here,” Becky said. “This apple is not grown anywhere else, so we wanted to keep it in our family and growing when we moved here.”
As the trees grew and the wedding business flourished, Becky and her family began to plan for when the apples
would come into production. With weddings happening on-site at the orchard, the location was not ideal for selling apples on weekends.
“Couples who host weddings here have an entirely private event. Selling apples on location began to interfere with that,” Becky said.
When a nearby winery came up for sale, it presented a viable solution. Not only did it provide a public space to sell apples, it also included its own orchard with five apple varieties and a wine business venture. In early 2021, the Mullanes purchased the winery that has since become Dixon’s Autumn Harvest.
While running a winery posed a steep learning curve, it has brought immense joy to Becky, tying together her passion for apples and love of building connections. The winery has multiple gathering spaces, bringing people together for public and private events from May until November.
“Roots are a part of our logo, and roots mean a lot of things: in a wedding, you set down roots as a couple; at the winery, we are rooting relationships; with the apples, you root as a family while building traditions,” Becky said. “That’s what we want most – to be a destination where people can build traditions.”
With apples now in production, the Champagne apple continues to have the fanbase it once had – both here and where it was born.
“If you want a Dixon apple, you have to get here; they come and just as quick, they are gone!” Becky said. “We send two loads of apples to New Mexico, otherwise they are only sold out the door here. We appreciate people coming in for apples and having that experience and connection.”
Becky also is developing a wine and sparkling wine made from the Champagne apple that she plans to debut in the spring of 2023.
Looking back on her journey, Becky considers it destiny.
“Jim and I have had a rich life and we are thankful and blessed by how its grown,” Becky said. “Terrible things happen, but what can you do? We turned around, we prayed on it and God opened another door.”
From apples to wine or anything in between, Becky said it is the people who have made it all worth it.
“We have an occupation that is so happy and fun,” Becky said. “We enjoy seeing people happy here while giving them something to enjoy and look forward to.