TOWN OF NORWAY — “This is where the magic happens,” Sandy Johnson said as she opens the door to her Norway winery.
A sweet aroma of wine lingers in the air. Several vats of wine are in the aging stage, awaiting to be bottled.
What started as a simple whim about five years ago has turned into a passion for Johnson and Randy Larson.
That passion is now known as the Spirits of Norway, which is in its first official year of full operation, after becoming fully licensed in 2016.
The winery is located at 22200 W. Six Mile Road, just west of Highway 45 north, but currently does not have public hours.
The couple has talked about opening a shop, but there was a neighbor concerned about possible traffic. At this point, Johnson said, it’s a blessing they don’t have a shop because that would require more staffing. Orders can be done online or over the phone, and the wine is also available at Uncorkt, 240 Main St., Racine.
Five years ago, the Town of Norway couple never imagined commercially selling wine. At that time, they were just talking about planting a garden. It started with talk about a few tomato plants to make salsa, then they decided it would be fun to grow grapes for jam.
But, while researching jam, Johnson discovered a whole other purpose for the grapes and ended up going to school to learn more.
Now, their front yard is filled with rows of grapevines and this fall will be the first full harvest for the vines. There are about 700 vines, which is enough to produce approximately 3,500 bottles of wine.
The hard work
But there is a lot of work to be done before they are able to sit down and sip the fruits of their labor.
In recent weeks, Johnson started regularly testing the grapes using chemistry to determine the sugar level in the grapes and what the projected alcohol content will be when fermented.
Each gram of sugar that’s fermented will turn into about a half gram of alcohol.
In addition, as the grapes got closer to being harvested, Johnson and Larson and friends had to cover all 700 vines with netting to prevent birds and insects from eating all of the fruits — a normal step necessary as the fruit ripens.
This year they are planning to begin harvesting the weekend after Labor Day. In celebration of the harvest, they do a little “I Love Lucy”-type grape stomp. But that is just for fun. The real work all happens with equipment, which includes a crusher, destemmer, press and multiple fermentation and aging tanks.
All in all, the process takes about nine months to a year. But it’s all worth it in the end for Johnson, 51, and Larson, 61, who call the winery their “retirement” and have received multiple awards, including a recent gold medal at the New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.
The two are currently working with area retailers to expand where their wine is sold, and they encourage area wine lovers to ask their local retailers to start carrying it.
Their wine list, which includes about 16 red wines and eight white wines, range from about $13 to $20 for a bottle.
Several Spirit of Norway wines are set to be featured at an upcoming Racine Friendship Clubhouse wine-tasting fundraiser on Oct. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Fountain Banquet Hall, 8505 Durand Ave., Sturtevant. The Racine Friendship Clubhouse helps people with mental illnesses achieve their social, educational and vocational goals.
To learn more about the wines and order them go to: www.spiritsofnorwayvineyard.com. Currently, there is free local delivery for anyone living in a 20-mile radius of the winery. You can also call 414-430-0128.