Driftless Area soon to be home to Wine & Cheese trail

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Wisconsin’s Door County is a tourist magnet. It’s packed with orchards, wineries and natural beauty — attractions also plentiful in the Driftless Region. That’s the idea behind the “Sip & Savor Driftless Wisconsin Wine and Cheese Trail,” which launches this month.

The trail will connect a total of fourteen wineries or creameries — six in the La Crosse area — using the same logo and graphics, and with collaborative advertising through social media and brochures. “It’s businesses supporting each other,” says Therese Bergholz, owner of Branches Winery in Westby.

Bergholz is also the person who wrote the grant proposal that attracted the financial support of Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. DATCP awarded a $30,800 Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin grant to the project. The trail project is one of only eight projects to earn one of the 2017 grants, which are awarded based on input from reviewers around the state and specific criteria.

“Projects that demonstrate it will increase the Wisconsin food products for sale to local purchasers,” said Kietra Olson of the DATCP, “projects that will benefit the Wisconsin food industry as a whole, not just a single entity.”

The Driftless Trail will include winery and creamery locations all over southern Wisconsin, from the Madison area down to Cashton and Viroqua, and spots in-between. Bergholz said the positive reactions were overwhelming. “When I started talking to owners and GMs of creameries, they’re like, ‘We’re in!’ It took no selling to do this.”

For participating businesses, it means a chance to reach a broader audience. “People hear about our product and may see it at their local grocery store, but they may not get a chance to come into our little store and see all of the products we make and carry,” said Stefani Schroeder, Store Manager for the Westby Cooperative Creamery. “This gives many people a chance to check us out.”

Tourists will be able to jump on the trail at any time of the year. But there will be three special event weekends when each business is asked to do something special such as tours, discounts, or opportunities to meet the cheese or winemakers. Sales on those weekends will be tracked and reported back to the DATCP.

Special event weekend participation is required for businesses on the trail. So is providing some financial investment and promotion through websites and social media. “So now you’ve got 14 businesses encouraging their customer base to visit 13 other businesses,” said Bergholz. “That’s really collaboration.”

Beyond boosting visitors to trail wineries and creameries, Bergholz also sees this as a way to boost tourism in surrounding communities because people may spend a day or an entire weekend on the trail, shopping at local businesses and eating at local restaurants.

“We succeed together,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to scare any of the little towns that our businesses’ success is going to cause traffic jams on Main Street — it’s not going to — but it is going to support so many other businesses.”

Driftless Area soon to be home to Wine & Cheese trail