black granite bar gleams against the stonewalls and burnished woodwork
in a space that was once a run-down barn. Barrels and bottles of
cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and chardonnay are paired with cheeses,
chocolates and small plates.
When sipping a
glass of pinot gris expertly paired with Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese
while sitting on a pastoral patio with deluxe fire pits, it’s easy
to imagine that one is sitting next to a glen in the middle of Napa
But instead, The
Blind Horse Restaurant and Winery makes its home in Kohler. "We
bring a little bit of Napa to Sheboygan County," says owner Bob
The Blind Horse
is located on the Dreps family farmstead, with the restaurant in the
original home of the family and the winery in the footprint of the old
barn. It takes its name from the family’s favorite horse in the
1890s, Birdie. Birdie was the lead drafthorse for the family and did
her job while not having the gift of sight.
intention of bringing Napa to Wisconsin is easily achieved. Just
opened in April, The Blind Horse has already sold out of several
wines, including their Italian-style Super Tuscan. The restaurant
first opened in 2012, while the winery was being built and the wines
were being aged. "Our three top selling wines are dry reds. Who
would have ever expected that?" says winemaker and general
manager Thomas Nye.
Nye, who is
originally from Michigan, moved from New Jersey to Kohler to open the
winery. (His wife’s family is from Kiel, Wis., and the couple wanted
to move back to the Midwest.) He previously owned the Grape Escape
Winery in Dayton, N.J.
becoming a winemaker, Nye worked in the information technology
business, but a trip to West Palm Beach, Fla., changed his career
path. He and his wife went out to dinner at Seasons 52 with friends
who knew the chef. "He closed the menu and then just started
cooking us courses," Nye recalls.
It was a seafood
risotto made with saffron and paired with an Italian pinot grigio that
changed Nye’s life. "It opened my mind to food and wine
together," Nye says. "I call that the ‘wow’ moment. But
really, it was everything that night that made it beyond any
experience I’d ever had before."
Not only did
that lead Nye into winemaking, but one of his main goals as a
winemaker is to show people how wine and food interact with each other
when paired well.
Nye wants guests
of The Blind Horse to share that eye-opening experience of perfect
pairings. In addition to wine tastings, the restaurant offers wines
paired with chocolates, Wisconsin cheeses and small plates. Nye worked
with chef Marco Rossi, who hails from Rome, Italy, to come up with
small plate pairings change seasonally, and five of the six came
together easily, Nye says. The grilled watermelon with feta cheese
went perfectly with the winery’s pinot gris. The Brussels sprouts
bruschetta goes well with the zinfandel; the dry-aged beef with goat
cheese, lemon and truffle oil with the syrah reserve; and the shrimp
ceviche with the sauvignon blanc.
But trying to
pair bacon with the winery’s cabernet sauvignon reserve took a lot
more work. "It took us 15 tries to get the bacon plate
right," he says. Bacon, because of its fatty nature, can be a
challenge to pair. Finally, Rossi created candied bacon with a
blueberry relish that not only tasted fantastic but paired like a
and Rossi will be hosting several wine dinners during the year in the
cellar room. They also have created perfect pairings on the regular
menu. Suggestions include: a grilled kale salad with white beans and
five-peppercorn yogurt dressing that goes well with pinot gris;
pancetta-wrapped scallops with a bourbon-laced maple syrup that also
pairs exquisitely with a pinot gris; a grilled rack of lamb with
cabernet sauvignon reduction and goat cheese risotto that naturally
pairs with the cabernet sauvignon; and a nightly crème brulee
selection that changes seasonally but still pairs quite well with the
2015, Nye plans to barrel more dry reds, including a red blend that,
at the moment, is to be called Jailbait. The red is inspired by the
Prisoner wine red blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, syrah,
petite sirah, charbono and grenache. Jailbait will likely have a new
— and completely different — name when it is released next year.
Nye also plans to distribute The Blind Horse’s wines more widely,
especially in the Milwaukee area. Just this year alone, the winery
entered six wines into six different wine competitions, winning five
of them. "We have ambitious plans to get out in Wisconsin,"
beer distributor Beer Capitol just picked up a new line of beverages,
but unlike its other brands, which include MillerCoors and Lakefront
Brewery, the new beverage line features wine, not beer. The line,
officially dubbed Friends Fun Wine, is a collection of low-calorie,
low-alcohol wine beverages, including sangria and moscato. The product
caters to health-conscious women and millenials. Friends Fun Wine is
now distributed at select liquor stores throughout Milwaukee.
more at www.friendsfunwine.com.
— Jen Hunholz