von Stiehl Wisconsin Winery building exterior

History of Our Wisconsin Winery

The Italianate structure was constructed in 1868 on what was then called South Water Street by mason Thomas Bacon for partners, Wojta Stransky and Herman Seideman, who established a brewery in the building and called their product Ahnapee Lager. The brewery was complete with an ice house, windmill to grind barley and pump water, and three underground vaults. It was considered Kewaunee County’s first “sizeable” building.

After Stransky and Seideman created a successful business putting barrels on both sailing vessels and sleighs, they sold the brewery to Henry Schmiling, a Civil War veteran, in 1879. Coincidentally, Henry was the Great Great Great Great Uncle of the current day owners Aric and Brad Schmiling. The Brewery shut down in 1886, put out of business by a severe blight of the Wisconsin hops crop.

The building was then used as a warehouse, still later to make fly nets for horses by the Kelsey Fly Net Co. until 1918 (which was the original business of our current Algoma Net Company). It was a factory in the 1920s where one of the first gas-powered washing machines, the Algoma Thermo washer, was built. In the 1940s and 1950s a local feed mill used the building for storage.

By the 1960s, the building fell into disrepair and should have been torn down. In the mid 1960s, Dr. Charles Stiehl purchased and restored the building to expand his hobby, making wine out of Door County cherries.

About the Owners

Dr. Charles Stiehl bought the building and completely restored it, opening the winery in 1967. There were no wineries in the state at the time, so he asked the state to create a winery license for his endeavor. This makes von Stiehl’s the oldest winery license in the state. The business did so well that he opened two more von Stiehl Wineries, one in Baraboo and one in Rhinelander.

For 14 years, Dr. Stiehl produced various cherry and apple wines all from Door County fruit. He patented the “wine wrap”, which was crafted by first wrapping gauze around unlabeled bottles, then by coating the gauze with a mixture of paint and plaster of paris. According to Dr. Stiehl, ancient winemakers would do everything possible to protect wine from light and heat. This was his method of doing the same in a “modern day” fashion.

Dr. Stiehl also created a Viking Rune bottle collection in the late 60s and early 70s. We do not know much about these mysterious bottles. A different design was created for each day of the week with Saturday being the most rare. A square block of wood was hot stamped with each design, then drilled out for a plastic wine bottle insert. The bottle was topped off with a wooden, hot wax sealed plug used as the cork. The bottles were finished with a coat of black paint. Many people ask what their collection is worth. We suggest that each bottle is worth around $25 to $35, though we do not buy them back. One person sold a set of Rune bottles on Ebay in 2007 for $650. We say that they’re worth whatever you can get for them!

We appreciate all that Dr. Stiehl did in founding our winery and the Wisconsin wine industry. In 2009, we released a special wine in his honor: Doc Stiehl’s Cherry Bounce. The label was designed around an old tonic label. Cherry Bounce is a blend of cherry brandy and cherry wine. The brandy is distilled from our cherry wine by Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee. After blending, Bounce is allowed to age in small American oak barrels for at least four months. Finally, three brandy-soaked cherries are added to each bottle before it is filled. If only we could sit down and drink a bottle with the Doc; unfortunately, he passed away in 2000.

Doc sold the business to Bill and Sandy Schmiling in 1981. When Bill took over, there were four wines, sweet and dry cherry and sweet and dry apple that sold for $2.95 a bottle plus tax for a total of $3.00. The white wrapped bottles were sold for $.25 more. They produced about 5000 gallons a year, 90% of it cherry. Starting in 1983, they added plum, pear, raspberry, blackberry and cranberry wines. At that time, cranberries could only be bought from 3 bogs in WI; all of the other bogs were committed to Ocean Spray. In 1985, Bill and Sandy made their first non fruit wine, Late Harvest Riesling. In 1997, they planted a two acre vineyard on their Door County property. Stony Creek Vineyard is doing well today with the production of Marechal Foch, Frontenac, and Marquette grapes. They do have children, but the vineyard is their baby.

Bill and Sandy’s sons, Aric and Brad, grew up in the business, doing every job along the way. They purchased the business in 2003, and are the current owners. The older brother, Aric, utilizes the most modern equipment known to winemaking as he artfully crafts fine wines. The younger brother, Brad, likes romance and history and manages the business.

In 1995, Aric graduated from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay with a degree in marketing and chemistry, then went on to graduate school at Michigan State University for enology and viticulture, which is the study of winemaking and grape growing. He brought back the knowledge to produce many vinifera varieties as well as French and American hybrids. Aric is not only the Winemaker and president of the company, but also a Parrot Head with hobbies including duck and deer hunting, and moving things with his skid steer. He and his wife, Jamie, have two girls: Karina and Ava.

Brad graduated from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay with a personal degree in theater engineering and design in 1997. His career path changed when he realized that he preferred a life around his family as opposed to one on the road. In 1999, Dr. Stiehl suggested to Brad that theatre and wineries weren’t that different: “When it comes to wine, it’s all about romance and putting on a show,” Doc said. Taking that piece of advice, Brad developed various wine events including the Wet Whistle Wine Fest, which will celebrate its 12th year this September. He is the vice president of von Stiehl, and his role in the winery is “to run the business”. Brad and his wife, Shaun, live in downtown Algoma.

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