A rising tide lifts all boats, and Von Klaus Winery is happily going with the flow of America’s wine craze.
Von Klaus was ahead of its time when the late Clint Clingerman founded it in Baraboo 20 years ago. Today, craft wineries are popping up across the country, including two (Balanced Rock Winery on the south side and Broken Bottle Winery north of town) about to open in Baraboo. Industry estimates indicate the U.S. gained nearly 4,000 wineries between 2009 and this year, and overall consumption rose from 400 million gallons in 1996 to nearly 800 million in 2016.
Last month, Von Klaus set sail into the current of this swelling revenue stream, moving from a small, second-story space on Oak Street to a street-level storefront on Third Avenue that nearly tripled its capacity. Co-owner Kenn Parker said the winery had outgrown its home of 17 years among the shops above Corner Drug Store.
“We thrived in that space, continuing to grow,” Parker said.
He said adding two wineries to established vintners like Baraboo Bluffs Winery west of town, Fawn Creek Winery in Wisconsin Dells and Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac will help the area attract oenophiles.
“We’re excited about all that’s going on in the area,” Parker said. “If they find one, they usually branch out and find another.”
On April 23 Von Klaus moved its “tasting haus” into the former home of JAK Frost Frozen Yogurt. Parker’s business partners, Barrel Aged LLC, bought the building, renting two upstairs lofts to tenants and the first floor to Parker.
He said a street-level storefront and prominent signage will help Von Klaus continue to grow. “That’s something we’ve struggled with for 17 years, people finding us,” he said.
Clingerman originally made his sweet, fruity recipes in a winery at the Farm Kitchen Restaurant. He later moved Von Klaus downtown, where it started in a small shop and later relocated to space inside an antiques store down the hall. Parker joined the winery as general manager in 2015, buying in as an owner when Clingerman died the next year.
As demand for Von Klaus wines grew, Parker began thinking about expanding at a more visible location offering greater capacity. Landing at the former home of JAK Frost was a happenstance: Parker was shopping online for tables and chairs when he spotted a posting advertising the defunct frozen yogurt shop’s furniture for sale. He bought the tables and chairs and, within a week of checking out the building, was renting the place.
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Because JAK Frost’s owners had renovated it just four years earlier, the building’s infrastructure needed no overhaul. “We took full advantage of the good that they did here and are moving it forward,” Parker said.
Some changes were needed. Over six weeks, Von Klaus ripped out a countertop and replaced it with a bar, covered the walls with wood paneling and installed coolers where frozen yogurt machines once sat.
Whereas the winery’s former home could seat only 17 customers, its new, 900 square-foot home can accommodate 49. Having a kitchen has allowed Von Klaus to add a menu of appetizers and desserts to pair with wines.
“There has been a call for something like this,” Parker said.
Von Klaus serves two types of customers, newcomers interested in $3-$5 tastings and regulars who order appetizers and a $14 bottle of Devil’s Dry or Marry Me Berry. Parker continues to add fresh flavors as customers’ tastes change, doubling the 10 recipes he inherited. Complementing the winery’s original fruity sweet and semi-dry wines are labels like Ruby Raz, a blend of raspberries and Merlot grapes; Cranberry Cab, a mix of Wisconsin cranberries and Cabernet grapes; and ports like Inland Harbor, which combines Concord wine with aged brandy.
Last year, Von Klaus released Millions of Peaches, which paired peaches with Riesling grapes. This year it will introduce Mango Tree, a blend of tropical mangos and Wisconsin cranberries. “It’s an attempt to stay true to our roots and try to capture a broader audience,” Parker said.
Baraboo’s booming alcohol industry should help him do just that. In addition to the two new wineries, Baraboo is about to welcome the Al. Ringling Brewing Co. and Tumbled Rock Brewery. They’ll join Driftless Glen Distillery and the established wineries, a development Parker said could make “Barabooze” an oasis for all types of sippers.
“It really does turn Baraboo into a destination,” he said. “We are rapidly becoming a day trip of our own.”