Winery of the Wolf
Weyauwega family rolls out new wines
By James Card
Ladybugs are a nuisance but for a winery they are a nightmare.
In 2019, soybeans were planted near the Rio Lobo winery, located a short drive from Gill’s Landing on the Wolf River. During the soybean harvest, ladybugs swarmed the nearby vineyard.
Although the ladybugs did not harm the grapes, they clung to them and crawled into the clusters of grapes. The grapes would be crushed and pressed during the winemaking process and if any ladybugs got in the mash they would ruin the wine with their foul odor.
“One ladybug will ruin the whole tank of wine with their stench,” said Jordana Umnus, co-owner of the winery.
On the sorting table they cleared every single grape from 10 acres and would flick any ladybug into a bucket of water so the insect wouldn’t fly back into another cluster of grapes.
“It was hours of sorting through and getting them out – literally handpicking out ladybugs,” said her husband Gunnar Umnus.
Rio Lobo (meaning “Wolf River” in Spanish) is a family-run operation but nobody in the family can pinpoint how the idea of starting a winery came about. It was talked about for years at Christmas and other family gatherings and floated in many conversations until everyone decided to do it.
The only winery in Waupaca County is co-owned by parents Tony and Pam Beyer, and their three daughters: Jordana, Jackie and Jane. Jordana and Jackie are married and their husbands also help out at the winery and a growing tribe of grandchildren scamper about. Everyone has other jobs and they work at the winery on a part-time, as-needed basis.
This year during their Christmas party, they unveiled their newest wine, Oaked Frontenac, a semi-dry red wine aged in oak. Frontenac grapes are a hybrid that can withstand cold conditions and they have done well in the Weyauwega area.
“We have great soil for it and we specifically got the grape varieties that are bred for the area so they will survive the winters,” said Jordana. “Last May we were worried when we got that really late frost because they were all budded out but they made it through that.”
It ended up being their biggest crop to date and their vineyard is not at peak yield yet. The vines are considered mature after their eighth year.
They also have a small apple orchard and they produce an apple wine but like many area orchards, last year’s spring frost wiped out the apple harvest. The trees at Rio Lobo were no different and they only harvested a handful of apples. If they produce a bumper crop of apples in the future they are thinking of producing a hard cider.
This spring they will roll out another new wine that will be a cranberry-raspberry blend. The cranberries will be sourced from a bog near Warrens, the heart of Wisconsin’s cranberry country.
In 2015, the family and friends planted 6,000 vines in one day. They did not put in irrigation. Grape vines grow deep roots and with some rain, the vineyard took off.
“We did a lot of research before we decided to put the vines in the ground. We did conferences, read a bunch of books, visited a bunch of different wineries,” said Jordana.
September is the month for grape harvest and people are not the only creatures after the grapes. Deer and raccoons are not much of a problem but flocks of blackbirds and cowbirds can clean out a vineyard fast. As soon as some are spotted in the area, they roll out netting to cover the vines.
They invented a system to roll out the netting with a skid steer and Abrahamson Body and Equipment modified some gear for them to make it work.
Next was constructing the winery building and the tasting room which was started in 2016 and was opened to the public in July 2020.
One interior wall is made of rustic boards pulled off an old barn just down the road. The ceiling is covered with corrugated steel panels that brighten up the tasting room.
“That was not fun to do though,” said Jane Beyer. “It was frozen fingers. We did it in the winter and a lot of us don’t like heights.”
Besides their Frontenac and apple wines, they have a Sabrevoís wine made from cold hardy black grapes and an oaked Sabrevoís; the Wolf River Blend which is a mix of Marquette and Marechal Foch grapes; a white semi-dry Brianna, a Dusty Rosé, and other sweet red and white wines.
They also make beer and grow hops. They brew golden and dark lagers, dark ale and a Belgian-style witbier. Growlers are available for purchase and also on tap are guest beers from other breweries.
Currently, their wine and beer can only be purchased on-site but their bottles will soon start appearing at local establishments in the coming year.
Recently, they joined a co-op and obtained their wine shipper’s permit that allows them to start distributing. Their intention is to sell the wine online and to restaurants and retail shops in the area.
“We’re probably thinking a 30-mile radius around here,” said Jordana.
Rio Lobo is located at E6485 County Trunk F and is open from 3-8 p.m. on Fridays and from noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. They also host wood-fired pizza weekends. For those dates check www.riolobollc.com.