What happens when you combine the rustic charm of a historic Wisconsin farmstead with the allure of a Napa Valley-style winery?
Ask the Moeller family, and they’ll be likely to point you toward the 130-year-old brick farmhouse where they chose to locate The Blind Horse restaurant, along with a state-of the art winery, which will open to the public this weekend at 6018 Superior Ave. in Kohler.
The restaurant lies on seven acres of beautiful land once owned by Anton and Josephine Dreps, who purchased the property in 1862, and whose family farmed the land for generations. Their blind horse, Birdy, was the inspiration for the restaurant’s name. And their family history plays a role in both the feel and décor of the restaurant and winery – both of which bear images of the family and their farmstead.
"The winery is built on the foundations of the old Dreps family barn," winemaker Thomas Nye tells me as we walk past the restaurant’s outdoor seating area, koi pond, and beautifully landscaped lawn to the slightly sleeker winery.
Although the building itself is brand new, it offers a nod to classic farmstead architecture and old world elegance – something that also bleeds over to Nye’s philosophy about winemaking, which combines a minimalist approach with state-of-the art technology to create delicious high quality wines at a value conscious price point.
"It’s new technology combined with old style techniques," he says. "We’re buying grapes directly from some of the best growers in northern California and Washington State and blending them to create elegantly flavored wines with a really clean flavor."
Nye’s approach uses both American and French oak, along with aging in synthetic casks, to produce wines that bloom beautifully on the palate, without the harshness of too much flavor from the wood.
"Over-oaked wines mask all the good things about the wines," Nye explains. "And I don’t want to mask anything about our wines."
He says they’ll use blending – rather than additives – to create dry, gracefully balanced wines.
"We’re creating wines that pair wonderfully with food," he says, as he pours me a glass of dry rosé, which – when tasted – presents just a hint of sweetness alongside earthy crispness.
It’s one of three varieties of rosé that Nye has created, alongside a portfolio of 16 other wines – from moscato to chardonnay to zinfandel, syrah and a Tuscan Blend – to be released to the public during its grand opening weekend, April 25-27.
Beginning at 10 a.m. on April 25, Blind Horse will offer wine tastings (five wines for $6), as well as "One Bite Food and Wine Pairings," which include five one-bite courses paired with five wines for $12.
"No one is doing anything like this," he says. "And we’re really excited about showcasing the way our wines pair with great food."
Nye knows better than most how much power there is in a great wine pairing. After all, it was a fifteen course chef’s tasting in Florida that inspired him to quit his job as an IT Director to pursue work in the wine industry full time.
"It was a ‘wow’ moment," he says. "And it altered my entire point of view about food and wine."
The experience was powerful enough to inspire Nye to immerse himself in the study of wine, and ultimately start his own winery in New Jersey.
Nye says the goal of the tastings – which include pairings like grilled watermelon and feta cheese with pinot gris and candied bacon with blueberry relish alongside cabernet sauvignon – is to give guests to the winery a similar "wow" moment.
"We want to provide something new and different," Nye says, "And if we can change peoples’ perceptions – by giving them a new experience of food and wine – we will have succeeded."
In addition to individual tastings, the winery will also offer an impressive array of event packages, including unique culinary-inspired team building exercises like meatball cooking competitions, balsamic vinegar and olive oil tastings, and consumer wine-making events during which customers can crush their own grapes, make their own wines and return one year later to bottle the fruits of their efforts.
"A really popular offering is the ‘Taste of Everything,'" he goes on, describing an event in which stations are set up across the property featuring mozzarella and pizza making, wine bottling and chocolate and wine pairing.
"Things like this are really unique to this area, and we’re excited to offer people new opportunities."
A barrel ownership program, priced at $3,600, will allow interested individuals to choose the grapes that will go into a barrel of their very own wine, which will be bottled, corked and custom labeled.
"On average, you’ll get about 270 bottles of wine per barrel," Nye explains, "So, it comes out to about $13 a bottle."
Equipped with a patio, bandshell and outdoor bar, Nye says the hope is that the winery becomes a place that both local residents and tourists will come to see as a place to while away summer days – sipping wine and enjoying the property’s creek-side views.
According to Nye, The Blind Horse will also host annual events like an Art and Wine Festival, the first of which will take place on May 24, food and wine pairing events throughout the summer, a Gourmet Food Truck event in August, and a Fall Harvest event complete with grape stomping in September.
The Blind Horse Winery will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.