Frenchman makes wine in land of cheese"
By Steve Hannah


Reprinted with permission of the author

               PRAIRIE DU SAC --

Philippe Coquard pulls the spigot on the big steel tank and watches the glass fill with the rich red pinot noir. He sloshes the wine from cheek to cheek, and emits a sound I have heard most often in a dairy barn. It is an impressive performance but nothing compared to what is to come.
        He lifts his head slightly, purses his lips, then sends a stream of wine into a grate on the floor, four, maybe five feet away. His delivery is straight as a string. Not a drop stains the concrete between his mouth and the grate. His technique is superior to anything I have witnessed at the annual Pardeeville watermelon seed spitting competition.
        "No, no," he insists. "There are much better spitters in France. I know a man from Beaujolais who could hit not just this grate, but that little hole in the grate. Compared to him, I am a novice."
        Philippe is chief winemaker at the Wallersheim Winery here on the hill overlooking the Wisconsin River. Sampling, smelling, sloshing and spitting are critical parts of making 93,000 gallons -- or 465,000 25-ounce bottles-- of Wallersheim wine each year.
        Philippe is not your average cheesehead winemaker. He grew up in the Beaujolais region of France, where his father, uncles, cousins and neighbors were in the wine business.
        "Where I come from," he says in the accent that reminds me of Maurice Chevalier, "it is all grape growing and wine making. We think of wine, we talk of wine, we dream only of wine."
        He finished wine college in France in the mid-1980s and signed up for an exchange program in America. He figured that he would be sent to northern California. Instead, he drew a strange sounding place called Wisconsin. He grabbed the wine encyclopedia. And found?
        "Not much," he says with a shrug. Putting the best face on fate, he decided that he would spend a few months in this place Wisconsin, pack up and make his way to California.
        That was fourteen years ago. Shortly after he arrived in Wisconsin, he met Bob Wallersheim's daughter, Julie. Two years later they were married, and Philippe joined the family business. So much for California. So much for France.
        "It was hard for the first three years," says Philippe, 35. "But then it was very good. I love my work. I have three beautiful children, and I am so much in love with my wife. I don't think it can get much better."
        "Also, I feel less and less French each year. I embrace the American culture head-on."
        He hesitates for a heartbeat.
        "I am, " he adds, sounding a lot like Charles de Gaulle proclaiming his Frenchness, "a Packer fan."
        He tells me that although the business is 70% whites and only 30 % reds, it is the making of red wine that really matters to a winemaker. Not only that, he assures me, drinking a couple of glasses of red daily really will reduce cholesterol.
        And Philippe's personal favorite? He laughs, then turns serious.
        "This is like asking a man which of his children does he love the best, " he explains. "I put the same commitment, the same passion, the same love into all the wines, from top to bottom. Only for me, there is no bottom.

        "To say something about this column, drop a line to Steve Hannah, A State of Mind, P.O. Box 121, Prairie du Sac, WI 53578, or by e-mail at: stofmind@execpc.com

This column appeared in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, November 8, 1998.


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