In Dining

Milwaukee's Adrienne and John Grunau are California winemakers without leaving town.

Grape expectations: Grunaus launch new wine line

The Grunau family needs no introduction in Milwaukee. The builders have made a long-lasting impact on the city. Now, two Milwaukee Grunaus are looking to make an impact on the world of wine.

Husband and wife team John and Adrienne Grunau have launched Grunau Wines, making their own wines in California from grapes grown by others. They officially launch their first offerings this week at Indulge, 708 N. Milwaukee St. The March 25 event runs from 6:30 until 9 p.m. and costs $75 per person or $130 per couple. The wines will be paired with a four-course small plate dinner from Indulge owner Marc Bianchini's nearby restaurants.

John, who works in the construction industry, and Adrienne, who is an educator and translator, will unveil their 2008 Little Things chardonnay (from Russian River Valley grapes), 2008 Fruition pinot noir (from the Santa Lucia Highlands), 2008 Zero Eight One Five pinot noir (from the Santa Rita Hills) and 2007 Foundation cabernet from Oakville in Napa Valley.

"We have always had a love and appreciation for wine," says Adrienne. "About 10 years ago, we started dreaming about the possibilities. We would discuss everything from the varietals that we would produce, where we might own a vineyard someday and scribble marketing and label ideas on scraps of paper. We have visited the idea time and time again.One day John posed the questions 'What is stopping us?' and 'What do we need to do to make the dream come to fruition?' (One of) our pinot noirs is named for the dream coming to fruition. Well, we answered both of those questions, and here we are."

Here, for the Grunaus is living in Milwaukee working day jobs and taking care of their 19-month-old son and enjoying the lakefront (John likes to fish and Adrienne is a runner).

Adrienne says the couple hopes someday to own a vineyard, but is more than happy to let others do the farming for now.

"We have definitely considered a vineyard of our own to be able to produce some estate wines," she says. "It would be nice to someday have the dirt under our fingernails. But that is down the road. For now, our system is working. We are pretty darn excited about the process we have established. However, at some point, we would love to be able to branch out and have some grapes in the U.S. as well as in Argentina ... But that is for a future conversation."

There are upsides to the current set-up, she says.

"We actually feel quite fortunate to be working with very well respected and seasoned California growers. We have a great amount of respect for them and trust them immensely. Plus, we get to learn about very different vineyards and styles in distinct regions of California. In addition, it allows us to keep our costs lower and increase quality without risking compromising the prices we charge our consumers."

It also frees the Grunaus up to try all sorts of things they couldn't do if they were limited to what they could grow on themselves.

"It does," Adrienne agrees. "We have the flexibility to add different varietals to our cellar at our discretion. We have the ability to purchase grapes from many high-end growers."

Although the wines won't be tasted by the public until this week's event, Adrienne Grunau says they've gotten some early praise that has been very encouraging.

"We sent the lineup to a long-time friend who we first met when she was pouring us wine at a place in Houston called The Tasting Room many years ago," she says. "She's a certified sommelier, and has a really golden resume under her belt with national awards and the like, and we're close enough friends at this point to trust that she'd give us the real dirt on our product. Well, she was ecstatic. She called us four days in a row as she tried each wine. She'd let them sit overnight and try them again. She's known for being pretty objective, and not mussing her words OR her tasting notes. We thought we had something special, but to hear our same feelings so emphatically supported was really relieving."

And Bianchini was a reassuring voice from the wine and dining industry, too.

"When we started discussing the release party for the first vintage with Marc Bianchini, we had him try all four wines. His response was, 'For a new label to taste this delicious in its first year is remarkable. What a treat.' This was ... great."

Adrienne believes that their method of winemaking will catch on and when asked for a prediction about the next big thing in the world of wine, she says, "Winemakers not living in wine regions, yet producing high quality wines. There's a superabundance of well-tended grapes from amazing vineyards with no winery speaking for them.

"If we can do it from Milwaukee, anyone can. Milwaukee is such a great wine-ing and dining city and to think that we are one of the first commercially produced wine labels from here (sort of). Great things are happening here and people are starting to take notice ... we have six James Beard nominees -- that is incredible! Watch out world, here we all come!"

To register for the Indulge event, send an e-mail to info@grunauwines.com.


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