Grafton vineyard owner eager to uncork his dream

John Leo Weber is hard at work growing vines on this land off Ulao Parkway in the hope of building Anton Vincent Winery next year
Ozaukee Press staff

It’ll be another year before John Leo Weber makes wine from the grapes he’s growing on 20 acres in the Town of Grafton.

Weber, who is establishing Anton Vincent Winery on the property he purchased from We Energies, planted about 1,000 white grape vines on one acre of the property on Ulao Parkway and another 1,100 red grape vines on about 1-1/2 acres and has been watching them grow.

He pulled the flowers off the vines this year, a move that prompted the vines to send their energy into establishing roots, not fruit.

“We missed a few,” Weber said of the flowers, so they had a few grapes to harvest this year.

By next year, he said, he’ll have a partial harvest of grapes, and in 2024 he should have a full harvest, with each vine producing 10 to 20 pounds of grapes.

By then, Weber said, he expects to have built his winery, complete with a tasting room, atop a hill on the property — an area marked today by an American flag.

“You’ll be able to sit up here and look over the whole vineyard,” Weber said.

His original plan was to construct the building this year, he said, but escalating costs forced him to hit pause.

“I’ll rebid it this fall,” Weber said, with an eye toward building in 2023.

Weber also plans to create a “hang out area” near the vineyards, complete with a pergola that would be ideal for holding weddings and small receptions.

“People have already been asking about that,” he said.

Weber has planted seven varieties of grapes, mostly French American hybrids developed to grow well in this area.

The whites, he noted, are doing well while some of the reds are shorter — the result of different micro-climates on the property.

“The land up there (where the red grapes are planted) is compacted a little more,” Weber said.

The pond on the land — a headwater for Ulao Creek — can change the temperature on different parts of the property by as much as one degree, he said, and that affects how things grow.

His favorite red grape, Weber said, is a Marquette, which is based on pinot noir and was bred to withstand cold weather.  His favorite white is a St. Pepin used for chardonnay and rieslings.

Next year, he said, he will add some experimental vines to test a few new varieties he’s excited about.

Eventually, Weber said, he plans to cultivate about six more acres of vines to support his winery.

But that’s not all he’s growing.

Weber has planted some table grapes — the grapes intended for wine aren’t great for eating, he said, because they’re small and seedy — as well as some apple trees.

He’s busy restoring a prairie on his land and improving the woodlands on the property. He removed a significant number of dead ash trees and planted 150 native trees in their place.

He’s added birdhouses and is working with bird conservation groups to try and attract kestrel hawks and screech owls.

“We have a lot of wildlife here,” Weber said.

Most vineyards discourage birds because they have been known to enjoy the crop, he said, but he embraces them because they hunt such pests as voles and mice.

“We work around them,” he said.

Weber said he’s committed to growing vines the natural way.

“Everything we do is about sustainability,” he said.

While many vineyards use chemicals to control weeds, he planted grass and clover with the vines to help control weeds.

“It’s extra work for us to weed-whack,” Weber said. “But we’re doing this the right way and doing it sustainably.”

He doesn’t irrigate either.

“We let nature do its thing,” Weber said. “My philosophy is to match what you’re growing to the area you’re growing in. We’re growing plants that want to grow here.”

Weber said he made several cases of dark rose wine this year with locally grown grapes, producing the wine in his Grafton home, and gave the bottles to family and investors.

He can’t sell his wine until he has a building, he said, noting that’s required to obtain a federal permit.

Next year, Weber said, he expects his vines to produce enough fruit to make half the wine he wants to produce, with the rest coming from local vineyards.

By 2024, Weber said, he hopes to make all the wine from his own fruit.

While he expects to make 1,500 cases of wine in his first full year, he would like to scale up to 5,000 cases within five years, Weber said.

He plans to specialize in white wines, roses and sparkling wines that will ferment in the bottle.

“That’ll be our niche market,” Weber said. “You can get really creative with them.

“This is not a vanity wine. This is my passion.”

Weber said his interest in wine was sparked several years ago when his brother Doug worked for a wine bar and later became a traveling wine maker.

“He would bring these great wines home and tell these awesome stories about them. We started to bond over it,” Weber said.

He had a good career in marketing at the time, but began to indulge his passion. Eventually he decided to pursue wine full-time, going to Texas Tech to learn about wine making and obtaining certification as a sommelier.

He came back to his hometown of Grafton and searched for land, noting that the area is in the Wisconsin Ledge American Viticulture Area, a  prime grape growing region.

He named the winery after his great-grandfather, who was a farmer.

“I think we’re doing something kind of special out here,” Weber said.

“I love it out here. This is my baby. I want this to be where I work every day for the rest of my life.”



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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