Winemaker At Successful Wisconsin Winery Began As A French Exchange Student

by Joel Waldinger
| November 3, 2016

Wisconsin Public Television

The road to Wisconsin and Wollersheim Winery was an unusual one for Philippe Coquard. As a 13th generation winemaker the Coquard’s family vineyards date back to 1490.  Coquard says, “It's part of the culture, it's part of our heritage.”

He had visions of doing an internship in California’s wine region, but instead ended up in Wisconsin. Coquard arrived in south central Wisconsin in 1984. Bob Wollersheim was looking for an apprentice and selected Coquard’s name from a list of students because of the region that Philippe was from, Beaujolais, France. Coquard says, “In Beaujolais we can make outstanding wine, the ground, the soil, and the weather for the grapes are all there but in general Beaujolais is known to be an everyday, casual dinner wine, nothing fancy.”

For more than 30 years Coquard has been making wine at Wollersheim Winery, incorporating French traditions passed down through the generations. The Old World ways still carry sway in the vineyard. “There is so much value in the old way of doing things, timing of harvest, handling the fruit,” according to Coquard.

His typical day starts at six in the morning and he jokes, that it has no end.  Coquard says winemaking today involves, “Respecting tradition with the scientific understanding. Everything from crushing grapes, pressing, fermenting and bottling.”  His daughter Celine Lenerz has an undergraduate degree in horticulture from Wisconsin and a master’s degree in wine making from Cornell.  Coquard checks in with her each day in the lab located in the basement of the winery.

It’s easy to see Coquard’s passion for wine and as he admits, “it’s in his blood” but years ago it was the owner of Wollersheim Winery whose daughter captured his heart. Julie Coquard remembers when they first met. “I was in my first year of college UW-Madison when I heard that Philippe was coming and I asked my sister, “Oh, what is he like?”  Philippe says he remembers seeing Julie and while it wasn’t love at first sight he admits by their second meeting he was hooked.

The winery welcomes 150,000 visitors a year and provides tours of its historic wine cave and cellar, along with wine tasting and a walk around the landscaped grounds.  One of the biggest changes in recent years – a new distillery for Coquard brandy, and other spirits. They have also restored the historic wine cave on the property. Coquard says, “The wine cave was a hole in the ground. It was last used in the 1860s when winemaking was moved from the cave down to the basement of the old winery.” 

The Wollersheim and Coquard name will roll into the future as a new generation joins the family tradition. Coquard says, ‘It's encompassing Julia's family, my family, continuing that into the wine business for many generations to come.  Our kids, my wife, our family, it's what we do. It's a passion.”

Despite Coquard’s initial reservations about winemaking in Wisconsin, he says he has no regrets, ‘I have loved this life. I will continue to love this life. I have spent more time in Wisconsin than I have in France, this is my life. And ah would not do anything different. His motto, “I never come to work. I come to the winery.” He says people often ask him when he’s going to slow down and with a smile he quips, “Why? What’s the point?”

 

Number of Wisconsin Wineries Expanding

Philippe Coquard describes the growth he has seen in the American and Wisconsin landscape since he first arrived in 1984. American wines are now internationally respected and the local food movement is inspiring restaurateurs to serve locally-sourced wine along with their locally-sourced food.

Native American Arrowheads and Stone Tools

If Philippe Coquard wasn’t a winemaker, he says he’d be an archeologist and he has a very impressive collection of Native American arrowheads and stone tools to prove it.

Tags: wine / Winery / Wollersheim / French / grapes / arrowheads / vineyard

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the "Wisconsin Life" project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods.