White Winter Winery makes it home in Iron River, Wisconsin. Walking into the spacious, neatly merchandised area you are welcomed with a vast variety of wines, ciders, meads, and creative product packages for a special gift. Across from the entry is a “tasting bar” for customers to try out for the first time a new brewed product ready for consumption. Staff assure you are welcomed and assist with any questions, background information about the spirits, and even ideas to use in cooking. There is this warm, welcoming atmosphere to make one just slow down and enjoy the experience. The principle practiced is “enter as strangers, leave as friends.”
White Winter is a family owned enterprise comprised of Jon Hamilton, Mead Master, his wife Kim the “chief tasting canary” as well as creative ideas developer, and daughter Selena’s role is CFO, marketing, and store manager. 30 years ago, living in the Kenosha area, Jon Hamilton developed a hobby in home brewing Mead. At the time, he was a beekeeper, a tradition handed down to him by family beekeepers. Jon became almost too proficient at managing bee hives, and found himself over-extended in the amount of honey he and his wife, Kim could possibly use. Since Mead is honey based, it was a natural progression for him to progress at home-brewing Mead. He began to experiment with fresh fruits and honey, creating different tastes in the product.
Twenty eight years ago, the family moved from Kenosha to Herbster and subsequently to Iron River. He really enjoyed the creative process of Mead brewing and leaving his professional career, he and Kim decided they would start their own brewery. As any potential business developer, he and Kim spent a full two years crisscrossing the United States to check out various breweries, discovering the pitfalls, the successes, variety of breweries and more. Carefully they gathered information, wrote a business plan, they were on their way.
In 1996, the couple found a place to start in a former house remodeled for business. To brew they had to use the basement, and installing a 1000 gallon dairy bulk tank for the fermentation process. Selena, was only 7 years old, and she recalls carrying products, supplies, and being a general assistant in the enterprise. She says, “I grew up in the business, and love the whole process.” As with any business, challenges crop up and Jon says, “on good days I take credit for the business from his beekeeper and home brew experience. On bad days I say it’s Kim’s fault for not informing me what we were getting into.” Kim smiles at this, as she fosters the supportive encouragement to not be afraid of trying new things as they brew different flavors.
The business began to outgrow the house brewery, and they expanded the business to the present location. Still using the original bulk tank they added larger fermenting storage that rise vertically in tall silver towers which customers can see through the big windows from the store. Each tank now holds 1500 gallons. In their new facilities, they are able to turn out 10 – 20,000 gallons a year. Customers can find out more about the process just by asking how the base fermented honey ingredient and fruits are transformed into Mead.
Jon says, “There is quite a learning curve with seems to be straight vertical since I had no real experience, so I learned it on the job, and a lot of research garnered from the two years of discovery process crossing the United States.” He says, “We strive to not only make a success of the business, but to make a quality product that can compete within the market.” And that has proven to be what has happened as White Winter Winery has received 70 awards in International Competition and in the Home Brewer Association. They are also recognized in the Style Guide cited as an example of what good Mead should be.
This season they have released “Ice Eiszider” produced from apples frozen post season. It takes 60 bushels of apples to brew 10-15 gallons. The brewery offer sweet to dry Mead, hard Cider, and Spirits. The variety is vast. Just ask the hosts and hostesses for what makes the beverage unique. They will also give you recipes for mixing special drinks.
Selena is manager of the store, with her background in marketing, and parents mentorship, she believes customer service is imperative for return customers. The staff have been with them almost 15 years and there is no doubt they deliver friendly and knowledgeable service.
White Winter Winery has a strong commitment to supporting the community through Dicken’s Dinner Event, Jazz Concert benefitting breast cancer organization, and other efforts. The White Winter Winery has become a destination point by visitors around the world. Some come just to purchase their supply. Most of the business goes out of the “front door” as Jon puts it. For those who wish to know more about the crafted Mead process, Winery Tours are offered. They are also known for hosting private and public events. Visit White Winter Winery at 68323 Lea Street, Iron River, WI 715-372-5656 www.whitewinter.net