No sour grapes at Vines & Rushes

Dan Solberg REMOVES a pizza from a wood fire at Vines & Rushes Winery. The pizza stove, which bakes pizzas at 750 degrees, was imported to Vines & Rushes from a father-son business in Salerno, Italy. Ariana Hones photo

by Ariana Hones

The year was 2007.

Ryan Prellwitz, a Ripon native, was working in information technology when the question arose of whether to return to the family farm of Prellwitz Produce.

Farming ran deeply in the family going back to the 1940s, when Prellwitz’s grandfather first started the business.

Although originally a corn, soybean and dairy farm, it has transformed under the guiding hands of Ryan’s father, Chuck Prellwitz.

Ryan first test run farm project became grapes; originally to sell as a commodity crop to wineries.

However, just as long as the family farm has existed so has the desire to have consumer-facing agriculture — to which all who visit the famous Prellwitz strawberry patch during the summer can attest.

Thus, Ryan asked himself, “What would it look like if we opened a winery?”

Ever the entrepreneur, Ryan began the foundational year of Vines & Rushes turning out 1700 gallons of wine. He felt drawn to the work in every facet from the accounting to business marketing to the actual growth and cultivation of the grapes. And he enjoyed it all.

This year, Vines & Rushes is producing 12,000 gallons of wine.

“Ninety-eight percent of wine is sold right through out front doors with the other 2 percent sold by local retailers,” Ryan said.

As production has continued to grow, so has the physical space of Vines & Rushes.

In 2014, the warehouse was expanded and in the summer of 2016, a dining space was added to provide more seating for customers.

During this time, a wood, fire-brick oven, imported from a father-son business in Salerno, Italy, was added, as well as a designated space for events to take place such as the weekly live music performances.

“We wanted to give people more reasons to come out,” Ryan said.

Not only did Ryan want a visit to Vines & Rushes to be a unique experience for his customers, he also wanted to build relationships and collaborate with other businesses in the area.

“We work together as businesses or we die alone as businesses,” he said.

One of the partnerships Ryan has is with Lotus Root Yoga for Yoga in the Vineyards on Wednesday summer nights. He described it as “not an obvious choice, but a natural one.” Other events he holds are vintage trunk shows, craft fairs and a fashion show.

The fashion show came out of a local boutique wanting to be part of the vintage roadshow. But when that couldn’t happen, they created a fashion show instead to highlight the growing collection of boutique wear in Ripon.

The fashion show, as well as the numerous business collaborations, is a testament to the mission of Vines & Rushes to be a venue for the entire community.

In both life and at Vines & Rushes, Ryan’s philosophy is “iterate and adapt” while trying to engage the community as much as possible.

In the quest to reach as many people as possible, Ryan is proud of its growing consumer bases in Milwaukee, Chicago and the Fox Valley area, with more than 40,000 entering the doors of Vines & Rushes in the past year.

Integral to this growth is the focus on quality.

“We are going to do a really high quality job,” he said. “We want everything we do here to be a reason for people to come out.”

A great reason?

Vines & Rushes Neapolitan-style pizza.

Rooted in the pizza-making tradition of Naples, Italy, pizza at Vines & Rushes is fired in a 750-degree oven for a mere 90 seconds.

Why pizza?

“The idea came from assessing our weaknesses; we didn’t have a whole lot of food options and we wanted people to come in and grab something substantial,” Ryan said.

Dreaming up new wine flavors and pizza combinations allows for Ryan’s natural creativity to flow as he describes his work as “the ultimate combination between science and art.”

While the grape decides the flavor of the wine, Ryan and his team are there to nurture its characteristics.

For pizza making, Ryan works hard to partner with local food suppliers like Olden Organics and Boerson Farm to ensure that ingredients are fresh and supporting the local economy.

Although wine tasting is available whenever Vines & Rushes is open, pizza can be consumed Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Dining in on Mondays goes to support the “Cause of the Mondays” initiative as 25 percent of food sales goes to support a local non-profit.

Each non-profit is chosen based on which is “closest to our employees and closest to our communities” in terms of its mission and work.

This year, Vines & Rushes will support 26 organizations.

Extending the legacy of the Prellwitz family farm, Vines & Rushes creates a space for community among the farmlands that have nourished the local area for centuries.

Whether one glass or one bite at a time, Ryan creates an environment where bike riders, yoga enthusiasts, one-time visitors or year-round locals can enjoy each other in a deliciously welcoming environment.