You may think that wineries are places to enjoy a glass of wine or two and relax, but Trout Springs Winery in Greenleaf offers much more.
Owners Steve and Andrea DeBaker started the vineyard and winery in 1995 and his philosophy has always been, “not to put all of your eggs in one basket.”
“By creating diversity at our farm, I believe we will have more opportunity to succeed than someone who limits activities to one vision,” added Steve. “Also, by being innovative and thinking outside of the box, we established our businesses as leaders in the industries of aquaculture and viticulture.
Prior to the vineyard and winery, the DeBakers started Branch River Trout Hatchery. Each year, the hatchery continues to produce 30,000 to 50,000 rainbow, brook and tiger trout along with Arctic char and Atlantic salmon.
“Hatchery practices on the trout production also have been shown to conserve, as we proved skeptics wrong when we said we could raise 50,000 trout with only 20 gallons per minute of flow rate,” said Steve. “Through specialized gravity techniques in flow-through raceways, we achieved great success.”
The DeBakers offer fresh dressed, boned and butterflied and crab-stuffed fillets; and live fish for stocking ponds and streams.
In 2012, Branch River Trout Hatchery was Wisconsin’s largest producer of brook trout and Trout Springs Winery and Branch River Trout Hatchery rate within the top 10 percent of sustainable businesses in Wisconsin.
“We continue to lead by example and always look forward to conquering the next challenge,” said Steve.
That next challenge happened in mid-February at the start of COVID-19.
“I decided to make ‘lemonade out of lemons’ when our business was shuttered,” said Steve. ”Since we had high proof alcohol at the winery to make port wine, I decided to do our part during the pandemic and make hand sanitizer.”
Steve added that the most difficult part was finding a source for the pump bottles and Aloe gel.
“Once I found a source, the rest was a ‘no brainer,’” laughed Steve. “We received our labels in early May, and with the help of social media, we are moving product. We sell a four-ounce bottle for about $8 and refills for $4.”
Even by creating a new product to meet the demand for hand sanitizer, the winery itself did not stop because of the pandemic.
“Just like cows do not stop producing milk, our grapes still need to be processed, crushed, pressed and bottled,” said Steve. “One advantage we may have over milk is that our wines do not spoil over time. They just get better.”
That is not to say that there were not challenges during the shutdown.
“While shutdown, we filled trout orders for curbside pickup,” said Steve. “Our processing facility filled trout orders because it was considered an essential business.”
Near the end of May, the DeBakers opened the winery and have social distancing requirements in place.
Years ago, when Steve and Andrea started the vineyard and winery there were only 16 wineries in Wisconsin.
“Now, there are more than 126,” added Steve. “We built the winery from scratch, doing most of the work ourselves.”
Creating a winery and vineyard has proved to be a tremendous asset for agri-tourism in Wisconsin bringing in more than two-million visitors annually, resulting in a $50 million a year economic impact.
“As vineyard growers, we are enhancing the landscape with our picturesque plantings, and we are stewards of the land, just as any other farmer growing a crop,” said Steve. “We value where our food comes from.”
Shortly after opening the winery, Steve petitioned the federal government to establish almost 2.5 million acres to be designated as prime grape-growing region based on the Niagara Escarpment.
“After several years of evaluations, paperwork and persistence on April 23, 2012, the Wisconsin Ledge became a reality for northeast Wisconsin becoming the 203rd American Viticulture Area, and Trout Springs Winery became the birthplace of the Wisconsin Ledge.”
As members of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau for 30 years, the couple has seen a lot of change in how business is done in the industry.
“We look at the Farm Bureau as our extended partner in providing us the support we need for our farming operations and the winery,” said Steve. “As our operations have grown exponentially over the years, so have our needs with Rural Mutual for the proper insurance, and protections. We have had different agents retire through the years but have never had a problem starting with someone new, and no one misses a beat when we get a new one.”
Trout Springs Winery was recognized as Green Master by the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council for their sustainable practices including converting the wood or coal burner to a geothermal system that heats and cools the winery and the couple’s residence.
“We reduced our carbon emissions by 68 percent from this alone,” added Steve. “Our five-acre vineyard captures approximately one ton of atmospheric carbon through carbon sequestration yearly by special canopy management, and low soil compaction.”
Another sustainable practice is the ‘bug-eating’ flock of 50 Americana chickens in the vineyard.
“The chickens have reduced our insecticide spraying program by two-thirds enabling Trout Springs Winery to become eco-friendlier to the environment,” explained Steve and added that his most rewarding venture is the “next one.”
Steve’s wife Andrea runs the day-to-day operations as the tasting room manager, she completes the accounting and tax schedules, and sometimes makes some of the entries for specific events and prunes in the vineyard.
“The most rewarding part of my job is making the winery successful,” added Andrea, who sometimes thinks her husband has difficulty staying focused. Steve disagrees.
“When I complete a project, or perfect my latest venture, I am looking for the next thing to try,” said Steve. “I’ve done so many things in my lifetime, that I’m never satisfied to rest on my laurels, but to get on with the next. Each venture I have done has been so rewarding, and each so different from the last one.”
He added that some of his best memories come from customers who have tasted the trout products, or one of the many patrons who have tasted one of the 30 award-winning wines.
Trout Springs Winery is one of a few wineries in the world that produces grape powder called For Goodness Grapes, which is an all-natural supplement that contains antioxidants, and polyphenols including trans-resveratrol.
“What this does is eat the plaque that builds up in our veins, thereby reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, macular degeneration, osteoarthritis and many other problems people develop as we age,” explained Steve. “We ship around the country and have helped countless hundreds of people who swear
by the results.”
Because wine and cheese are such fine culinary cohorts, the DeBakers naturally thought it was a good idea to add the grape powder to cheese.
“Healthy Choyce Cheddar is made by Renard’s Cheese in Algoma,” said Steve. “Just six ounces of this tasty cheese contains the same benefits as a glass of red wine, without the alcohol and sugar.”
Saving the best product for last, the DeBakers teamed up with Seroogy’s Chocolates in De Pere to make wine bars that contain up to three grams of grape powder, or the equivalent of three glasses of red wine without the alcohol or sugar. The chocolate bars are made using high-end chocolate with 75 percent flavanols.
“We sell out as quickly as we get them in,” laughed Steve. “The wine bars can only be found in the winery … by the way, they also have Pop Rocks in them just for fun.”
Keeping with their philosophy of “not to put all of your eggs in one basket,” the DeBakers also offer glamour camping. Steve is rebuilding a yurt that will be ready by fall.
“People love to camp in the vineyard, and it has proven to be a great ‘spoke’ in the wheel at Trout Springs Winery,” said Steve.
They are building on to their event room to have an outside patio and sitting area overlooking the trout ponds so visitors can enjoy the trumpeter swans.
“We also are expanding our light food menu to include pizza to go along with our Sassy Girl Micro-Brew Beers,” added Steve. “We also will release a new wine called Three Amigos, which is a blend of Petite Syrah, Petite Verdot and Carrigane.”
Trout Springs Winery’s popular ‘Dining on the Ledge’ dinners feature a four-course wine dinner featuring local produce and meats from area farmers.
“Our chef prepares the dinners in our commercial kitchen on-site, and many times we feature our trout on the menu as an appetizer, along with our wines,” added Steve who said his inspiration comes from people who say what they are going to do, then do it.
“Too many people in the world say this and say that, then do nothing,” said Steve. “Life is too short to waste a single minute of any day.”
Story and non-submitted photos by Marian Viney. Original version appeared in the June|July 2020 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.