A recent visit to the property found the grapevines wound about their trellises, soaking in the July sunlight, and the FeNori wine cellar already under construction.
Standing amid bunches of Maréchal Foch grapes, Cepolski said his focus is on creating truly unique wines produced entirely from coldweather grapes he grows himself.
“If I want to be a great cook, I just don’t want to buy my groceries from anyone. If I can grow them, it is going to help me be that much better. Not to mention, when I give someone that plate of food, I am going to be able to tell them, from the beginning, what went into that dish,” Cepolski said.
“To me that’s what wine is really about. It is not just how it tastes. It’s ‘what is the story behind it?’ That is my personal goal here. It’s not, how can I retire making the most wine? Or have people saying, ‘Scott’s got the best wine.’ It’s ‘OK, what’s unique about it?’”
While there are plenty of wineries that produce wine from cold-weather grapes, Cepolski says many of them combine the juice from those grapes with those from grapes they buy. He wants to be a leader in making wine solely from cold-weather grapes. Right now, he has the Maréchal vines, which can withstand below-freezing weather, as well as some of extremely cold-weatherhardy La Crescent grapes, which can survive temperatures of 36 degrees below zero.
Eventually he hopes to grow other varieties, like Frontenac grapes, which can also handle frigid weather.
Unlike European varieties, which have been grown for centuries, most cold-weather grapes were only developed around 30 years ago by universities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York State. Being on the frontier of working with the grapes is something that excites Cepolski.
“I probably won’t be alive when cold-weather grapes really start to get big, but the opportunity to be at the beginning of that growth is awesome,” he said.
In addition to the five acres here in Waukesha County, Cepolski has land in Sawyer County, where he hopes to someday grow around 9,000 vines of the coldest-weather-hardy grapes, and even someday make ice wine, where grapes must freeze on the vine before being harvested.
Although Cepolski could end up making wine from his four-year-old Maréchal Foch grapes this year, whether he’ll be in a place to sell any of that wine will depend on whether he likes the wine himself and wants to share it, and if he has all the necessary approvals.
In the meantime he’s focused on making sure his youngest vines grow up to be just as healthy as the Maréchal vines. Doing that requires a lot of picking and pruning to ensure that the roots grow deep into the soil and produce plenty of cordons, which are the woody parts of a grapevine that produce the grapes.
“You want to have more of those little buds that can survive in case there is a frost. It’s your new growth that produces the grapes,” he said, inspecting the La Crescent vines.
He’ll also be spending plenty of time honing his craft, both in viticulture (vine growing) and oenology (winemaking).
“It’s like carpentry. I grew up doing it, because my dad did. How to hit a hammer with a nail is one thing, but then you start learning all of these nuances of how to be a carpenter. It’s the same thing with viticulture. It’s all about the experience,” he said.
“I took classes to get that basic knowledge. Now, it’s all about making mistakes and getting things right. From a viticulture standpoint I think I am about 90 percent there, but that’s as far as I am going to get, because I am always going to be learning.”
Although Cepolski is mainly focused on growing vines that will produce the best possible grapes, he recently received approval from the town Plan Commission to run what Cepolski has dubbed FeNori Winery out of the couple’s soon-to-be-expanded home. The name is a combination of his father’s and mother’s first names: Felix and Norine.