Door County, Wisconsin Scenery, Adventure, and Wine … Lots of Wine!
By Andrea Busche
Every October, Mike and I take a trip – sometimes near, sometimes far, always dependent on our finances – to commemorate our wedding anniversary. I am proud to share that we celebrated 10 years of marriage this month, and we wanted to do something special to celebrate.
When deciding where to visit, we considered advice received from friends and family. Within the past few months, we had heard several great things about Door County, and took it to be a sign.
There were rumblings about wine, scenery, and lots of quaint little shops. Despite the fact that the drive would be a little more than six hours each way, we decided to make the voyage.
What the hay, we figured … you only celebrate a decade of wedded bliss once!
Door County – Where is it?
Door County is sometimes referred to as the “thumb” of Wisconsin. If you look at a map of the state, it’s the peninsula jutting out of the east side like it’s giving the thumbs up sign. Green Bay is considered the base before you enter the Door County peninsula. As of the 2010 census, the population of the entire county was 27,785.
Sometimes referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” Door County is full of adorable shops, orchards, wineries, restaurants, beaches, quaint villages, and the like. The area is famous for growing fantastic apples and cherries.
Crossing Death’s Door
You don’t have to take a ferry or cross a bridge to get to Door County, but you can take a ferry out to Washington Island if you are feeling adventurous. Keep in mind, however, that to do so, you have to cross a strait referred to as Porte des Morts, or “Death’s Door,” in order to get there.
There’s a lot of history behind the name, but in essence, it is so named due to the stormy waters in that area having claimed many lives over the years. We took a pass on that one, and stayed on the mainland!
Headed South … First Stop: Leinie’s!
To kick off our four-night adventure, we decided to make a few fun stops on our way south. Our first stop was the Leinenkugel’s Brewery in Chippewa Fall, about two and a half hours away.
Leinie’s is a well-known fixture in Wisconsin; they have been brewing beer in the German tradition for about 150 years. Tours run every half-hour, seven days a week (this is Wisconsin, after all!), except for major holidays.
The cost is very reasonable: $5 for the tour, which includes five, five-ounce samples plus a taster glass you can keep, or $10 for the tour, including two twelve-ounce beers plus a snack and a pint glass.
The tour is incredibly informative. You get to witness the brewing, bottling, and serving of delicious Leinie’s beer, in an operation that is spread amongst several buildings. Part of the tour includes the “Leinie Lodge,” an immense gift shop with some very nice merch for sale.
Tips from the “Secret Menu”
While Mike opted for a soda since he was driving (what a guy!), I treated myself to the five samples. Oktoberfest and Grapefruit Shandy were on tap, which were both amazing. For my final three, I opted for some fun choices from the unadvertised Leinie’s “secret menu,” including:
- The Honey Bear: ½ Honey Weiss + ½ Berry Weiss
- The Black Bear: Creamy Dark with a splash of Berry Weiss
- The Bumble Bee: ½ Creamy Dark + ½ Honey Weiss
It helps to have a husband who is a beverage salesman by trade!
Three more hours of driving later, and we were in Green Bay. After a lovely dinner and visit with some good friends who live in Green Bay, followed by an unfortunate stay in a bug-infested motel which shall not be named, we were off!
Starting the Day Fresh
Since the drive was so long, it was nice to stay overnight and start out in Door County fresh and alert the following morning. And, we arrived right as the beautiful autumn leaves were peaking, so the drive down the peninsula was breathtaking. We would have missed much of it had we arrived at night.
Our home base was an adorable village called Egg Harbor. We opted to stay there due to its proximity to the things we wanted to do.
We stayed in a private and romantic hotel called The Ashbrooke, which we are happy to report was free of insects. And children. Seriously … it was adults-only.
When researching our trip, the top destination we wanted to visit in Door County was Plum Loco Animal Farm. Mike and I are both animal lovers, and we support people and organizations who rescue animals from unfortunate situations. Plum Loco is one such place. They also offer children’s crafts, and a place to bring a picnic lunch.
According to its website, “Plum Loco is a permanent and loving home to a variety of farm animals, including ponies, horses, miniature donkeys, goats, sheep, pot-bellied pigs, chickens, turkeys, geese, and mini horses.” Mini horses, people!!
We spent a couple of hours loving up those sweet animals, who were all completely tame and super friendly. We were even able to hand-feed carrots to the horses, and grain to the sheep and goats. It was pure heaven!
Door County Trolley
A highlight of day two of our trip was taking the Door County Trolley. While there are plenty of super fun sounding themed tours (such as the Bloody Mary & Brunch Tour, the Ghost Tours of Door County Tour, and the Lighthouse Tour), we opted for the regular old narrated scenic tour, which didn’t disappoint.
Our tour guide was an effervescent elderly gent named Boyd. Boy, does that man love Door County!
The tour took about 75 minutes, and it included a trip through Peninsula State Park, where Boyd pulled over and we disembarked from the trolley to view some nearby islands and scenic bluffs. We learned about the aforementioned Death’s Door passageway, along with other factoids not generally known by tourists. Totally worth the 30 bucks, in our opinion. Our trolley car was completely full, even though it was a Monday, so it’s a pretty popular choice.
If you’ve read any of my other stories on Duluth.com, by now you probably know I appreciate a good adult beverage, especially from local establishments. Therefore, the abundance of breweries and wineries on Door County was definitely something that appealed to us.
Egg Harbor is home to a microbrewery called Shipwrecked. We stopped in for dinner and a flight. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with the Green Bay Packers’ most recent ugly loss, so there was a dismal feeling in the bar that day.
We soldiered through the sea of bad vibes and ordered a flight, which included:
- Pumpkin Ale
- Door County Cherry Wheat
- Captain’s Copper
- An IPA
- Peninsula Porter
- Bayside Blonde, and
- Lighthouse Light
There are rumors the building is haunted. While we didn’t witness any supernatural events that day, we did have the horrible misfortune of watching a toddler lose her lunch directly into the purse of another customer seated nearby. I promise you, I couldn’t make this up. Thankfully, the lady was understanding. But, who brings a baby into a brewery? Sigh … I digress.
Door County is incredibly well-known for its wine; specifically, its fruit-based wines, made from fruit grown right on the peninsula. I’m happy to say we took the time to visit not one, not two, but three wineries to sample their fare. (Samples are tiny, but yes … this was kind of a wine-soaked vacation). Normally, I’m a dry, room-temp red wine kind of girl, but I am happy to report the sweet-tart cherry wines we tried were phenomenal.
Our favorite wine experience was at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country. Owned and operated by Bob Lautenbach and his two daughters, this family business has been in operation since 1955. Lautenbach’s consists of 100 acres of orchards and vineyards, where they grow cherries, apples, grapes, raspberries, and pears for use in wine and other delicacies.
The business is also home to a cider mill, winery, and farm market. We opted to take the tour, which, astonishingly, was given by Old Man Lautenbach himself. For $8, Mike and I were given an informative tour, got to try samples of three wines, and each got to keep a charming stemless wine glass.
To Your Health!
My favorite Lautenbach wine was the Cherry Blossom varietal, a semi-sweet, slightly tart wine made with fresh-picked Montmorency cherries. Lautenbach made sure to expound on the health benefits of these tart cherries, which include arthritis relief, lowered blood pressure, and a stronger immune system. Salud!
Some other highlights from our trip included:
- Sitting on the pier in Fish Creek admiring the leaves and basking in the unseasonably warm weather
- Visiting a shop that sold only cat merchandise (aptly named Kitty Corner)
- Dining in several of the local restaurants
- Lazily browsing antique shops, and
- Visiting the Wood Orchard Market, where you can “try before you buy.” We sampled many delicacies including fudge, cherry salsa, and Amish peanut butter. The peanut butter, made with marshmallow crème and maple flavoring, was so good we purchased some to give away as gifts.
Simply put, Door County was as charming as everyone said it would be. We encountered friendly people just about everywhere we went, up and down the peninsula. It was a quaint and romantic destination we would definitely recommend for a special occasion like a honeymoon or anniversary. And, visiting in the fall made it even more special.
If you enjoy beautiful scenery, quaint villages where you can shop, dine, and explore, or wine … especially wine … Door County may be the perfect place for your next getaway!