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Business leaders are luring visitors with one of state’s signature products – cheese – and pairing it with Wisconsin-made wine.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has awarded a grant to the Sip & Savor Driftless Wisconsin Wine and Cheese Trail, an effort to generate agri-tourism that involves several Sauk County producers. The Wine and Cheese Trail was among eight recipients culled from a field of 33 applicants.

Two local wineries – Baraboo Bluff Winery in Baraboo and Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac – are part of the program, as are three area cheesemakers: Arena Cheese of Arena, Carr Valley Cheese of La Valle and Cedar Grove Cheese of Plain.

“The Sip & Savor Driftless Wisconsin trail marks an exciting collaboration between Wisconsin’s renowned dairy industry and its growing wine industry,” Baraboo Bluff Winery owner Fred Quandt said. “Our goal is to attract consumers from major metropolitan areas to visit these 14 local food growers-producers in the scenic Driftless region.”

The state matching grant will support the creation, promotion and administration of the trail. Sip & Savor will be marketed as a yearlong opportunity for consumers to visit local businesses, with three special event weekends scheduled for fall 2017, and spring and fall 2018. Sip & Savor events for this fall will be announced in mid-summer.

Participating business owners said the program is timely because it highlights the growing appreciation of – and demand for – local food. It also gives two complementary partners – the dairy and wine industries – an opportunity to bring new customers to rural production facilities. Visitors will be able to sample products, learn where and how they are grown and made, and meet the people whose jobs they support with their purchases.

“We’re excited to be part of the wine trail, and to be working with other wineries to create new opportunities for guests to become familiar with local wines and local family businesses,” said Julie Coquard, co-owner of Wollersheim Winery & Distillery.

Participants hope on-site purchases of local products will build brand loyalty and increase demand for ongoing sales through wholesale channels such as grocery stores and restaurants.

Many businesses will enjoy the economic impact of this agri-tourism trail, including hotels, attractions, shops and restaurants, said trail director Therese Bergholz of Branches Winery in Westby.

The trail will present an easy-to-navigate, scenic tour through the Driftless area’s dramatic bluffs, vast pastures and lush vineyards. “With stops to taste and purchase locally grown, award-winning wine and cheese, we hope the Sip & Savor Driftless Wisconsin Wine and Cheese Trail will inspire many daylong road trips and Wisconsin ‘stay-cations’ in the years to come,” Berhgholz said.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley

Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter