WG-MR-2-Armstrong 1by Kelly Gates
CAMPBELLSPORT, WI — When Jay and Lisa Klein opened Armstrong Apples Orchard 20 years ago, the goal was to create a PYO operation centered on apples and maybe a few other fruits. But in 2010, the couple sampled several apple wines and immediately knew they needed to open a winery, too.
Last year alone, the business entered six different wines for judging in professional, commercial wine competitions and all six won awards. Five were silver medals and its raspberry wine won a gold medal.
“The quality of the apples we grow is important whether they are being eaten plain, in baked goods or made into wine,” she said. “When making wine in particular, we only pick the quality produce. The better the fruit, the better the wine.”
Several years ago, the region experienced extreme drought and frost. As a result, the orchard’s harvest was virtually nonexistent and the Kleins had to order apples from other growers in order to make wine.
According to Lisa, the finished product was far from the flavor their customers had come to expect. Far from the quality blends that won the winery multiple awards in its few years of operation.
“We have vowed to never use anyone else’s fruit again and we have found that our wines are best when made with around 90 percent honeycrisp apples,” she said. “The variety gives the wine a cleaner, crisper taste that genuinely tastes like apples.”
Along with apple wines, the winery also produces blueberry, pear and peach wines, plus a Marquette pinot noir. Customers come from far and wide to sip a few samples in the on-site tasting room.
The winery keeps a select assortment of cheeses on hand to pair with their wines. Some spend their entire visits enjoying spirits while others split their time between the tasting room, picking apples at the orchard, browsing the cool cars at the annual classic car show held there and enjoying the wide array of other activities for everyone from tiny tots to older adults.
The orchard currently grows 14 different types of apples. The Kleins are very particular with the produce they purvey, as most ends up in their wines, cider or other goods. They go to great lengths to research the available varieties before settling on each one.
“We are adamant that every variety we plant is the best quality and has a flavor that people will like,” said Lisa. “One year, we took an apple variety on recommendation from someone and it was not very good. We were able to press it into a cider with our other apples, but by itself, it was not an exceptional apple at all.”
The same care is taken to tend to the orchards. Jay and Lisa monitor the trees closely for insects and other potential issues. Whenever possible, organic methods of pest control — like seaweed, fish oil and garlic — are used.
“We have a newer apple variety which is ready to pick at the end of August, so people start coming out then to pick their own. While here, they also enjoy the outdoor play equipment for the kids and apple slingshots with targets for the adults and kids,” said Lisa. “We also have a bouncy house, a bouncy pillow, disc golf, hay wagon rides, walking tours and a 12 ft. inflatable Zorb Ball that people can get inside of and roll around.”
Lisa sells pies, caramel apples and other dessert items baked in the certified kitchen that was installed when the winery was built. Her focus is on the orchards while Jay oversees wine production. Their daughter Christina assists wherever needed during the busy months.
Together, the family plans to continue adding new products, activities and events to the mix each year. In 2014, they will be hosting live concerts every other weekend.
“We will invite people to bring blankets and lawn chairs and picnic items to enjoy as they sit and listen to live music at our orchard,” said Lisa. “While they are here, we hope they try some of our new wines, like a new chocolate raspberry wine and sparkling wines that we just started making. Or the hard cider we plan to make this year too.”
The winery will also be making small bottles of wine for people to buy as souvenirs, gifts or as single servings at special events, like weddings.