“You know what they say – never have a farm bigger than your wife can handle,” jokes Steve DeBaker, who co-owns and operates Trout Springs Winery in Wisconsin with his wife, Andrea, who manages day-to-day activities there.
They started the farm, 20 miles south of Green Bay, as a trout hatchery in 1985, and over the next several years, added water gardening design and installation services. A vineyard came next, in 1995, before wineries were big in the state (there were only about 16 Wisconsin wineries at the time; now there are more than 100). Slowly but surely, the operation has grown from a side project to an award-winning facility welcoming up to 4,000 visitors each year, with Steve and Andrea greeting the vast majority of them personally.
Trout from Pond to Plate
Over the last few decades, Trout Springs has primarily raised its namesake – brook, brown and rainbow trout – but is now widening the stream, so to speak. They were the first hatchery in Wisconsin to raise Arctic char, and they’ll also be among the first to raise Atlantic salmon in the next year or so. “We’re always evolving,” Steve says. On an annual basis, they raise about 80,000 fish.
Restaurants are the hatchery’s top customers. None of the fish are ever frozen, ensuring a superior quality. Chefs from local spots such as Chives Restaurant in Green Bay and Stone Arch Brewpub in Appleton place orders on Mondays and Tuesdays. The fish are processed on Thursdays so they’re ready for Friday delivery (in time for a Wisconsin tradition, the Friday fish fry).
Several times a year, the farm also hosts four-course, farm-to-table wine dinners for up to 60 guests featuring their fish and wines – and often the fish are cooked in the wine. The fall wine dinner is among the most popular.
Wisconsin Wine, Stein and More
Many Wisconsin wines tend to fall on the sweet side, and while Trout Springs does offer a few of those, they take a different approach. They don’t heavily filter their wines, so some of the darker reds, like Petite Syrah, have a bit of sediment – and a richer flavor. “I like to do things more like old Europeans do,” Steve says. “We try to educate our clientele that the more you take out of [wine], pretty soon you’re drinking Kool-Aid.”
Not one to rest on his laurels (or his vines), Steve decided to expand to beer after finding several recipes from his great-grandfather, who’d immigrated from Belgium. Due to state restrictions, they were unable to produce the beer on premise, so they contracted with a local brewery to produce three microbrews. After one variety, the nitro stout, is brewed, it’s transported to Trout Springs and aged in port-wine barrels. After five or six weeks, Steve says, the brew picks up notes of toast, cassis, smoke and “all those things you can only get from barrel-aging a beer.”
Steve also created a dietary supplement called For Goodness Grapes that offers all the health benefits of wine without alcohol or sugar. The farm sells it in capsule form, as well as incorporated into cheese and their own dark chocolate bar.
If you’ve imbibed a little too much or simply want to have a romantic getaway in Wisconsin wine country, stay over in Trout Springs’ glamping accommodations, added two years ago. An 18-foot bell tent sits right in the vineyard, with its own private campfire area and a flush toilet, and is open from about June through October, depending on the weather. If you like, you can even order the Hobo Trout Dinner, in which you receive all the ingredients to cook a meal over your campfire. Out there, Steve says, “You can be as connected to the world as you want or as remote as you want.”