May 16, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

‘It’s not a car dealership’ – Isthmus

4 min read

Jerrold Robaidek admits he’s been “kind of hiding out” in a nondescript building in an industrial area on Femrite Drive, just east of Stoughton Road. That’s the production facility for his Odilon Ford Winery, which has been making wines there since 2016. 

The grapes come from his Sampson Valley Vineyard, located near Green Bay in Sampson, Wisconsin. That land was his father’s dairy farm, and today the vineyard, planted in 2003, occupies 25 acres with three acres planted with grapes. 

But Robaidek is ready to come out of hiding. He’s applied to the city of Madison for a class A alcohol license that will allow him to conduct tastings and sell bottles of his wine from the 4614 Femrite Drive location. It would not allow wines to be sold by the glass for consumption on the premises.

“I’ve had tastings by appointment only, so far,” says Robaidek, “but if you have a tasting and then the people can’t buy the wine, that’s less likely to translate into a sale.” 

Odilon Ford Winery now has enough inventory and varieties to justify tastings, Robaidek says. He makes primarily sparkling wines, as well as three still wines. 

In the past Odilon Ford bottles have been stocked at Steve’s, Brennan’s and Table Wine, “but during COVID, I didn’t get out to those places,” he says. “COVID played with a lot of plans.” The wines are for sale online through the winery’s website.

And, he hopes, by October at his Femrite Drive facility. The city’s Alcohol License Review Committee canceled its Aug. 18 meeting, at which Odilon Ford’s application would have come up. “I’d been hoping to open by the end of September. My harvest starts Labor Day, so I thought people could come see us crushing and pressing the grapes.” If the August ALRC meeting isn’t rescheduled and the license isn’t taken up until the September meeting, the opening might not happen until mid- to late October, says Robaidek. 

The harvest is a family affair; many of Robaidek’s six siblings still live near the vineyard, and his brothers and sisters and their kids and spouses all help out on the farm and with bringing the grapes to Madison. “My three nieces spend the summer helping tend the vines,” Robaidek says, even removing destructive insects by hand to eliminate spraying that might harm honey bees and other beneficial insects. His wife’s sisters and parents are also involved, helping with the harvest and label design. 

Odilon Ford comes from Robaidek’s middle name, Odilon (also a longstanding family name), and his wife’s family name. It’s worked out well, although he says the business is occasionally mistaken for a car dealership.

He made his first wine in 2003. Most of his winemaking training has been online although he has taken classes at UW-Madison and works with a wine consultant through Cornell University, which Robaidek says has an extensive wine program. 

Robaidek’s day job is as a satellite meteorologist for UW-Madison. “I’m responsible for all the data from those satellite antennas on top of the [Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences] building,” he says. Meteorology also provides inspiration for the winery — Nimbus, Cirrus and Opacus are all names of clouds as well as Odilon Ford wines, and a cloud is part of the logo.

Why the emphasis on sparkling wine? 

“I noticed the grapes from Sampson Valley had more acidity, some people might call it the terroir,” he says. The area is close enough to Green Bay that the body of water modifies the climate, with summers not as hot and a longer growing season than in surrounding areas. “My sister and I experimented with making sparkling wines, and they were really good,” says Robaidek. Plus, he notes, sparkling wines are “good food wines, they blend well with many different foods. And I really enjoy them.” 

Right now he likes his Nimbus blanc, a pétillant naturel sparkling wine ( or “pét-nat,”), with the bubbles coming from natural sugars in the grapes, no added carbonation. Pét-nats are very popular right now, but they’re not new, Robaidek notes — they’re the original sparkling wines, discovered when residual sugar in a wine kept fermenting after bottling. His Nimbus pétillant naturel, a red, is another favorite, as is Wisecco rosé, a sparkling wine with added carbonation.

“You can’t make a good cabernet with a Wisconsin grape,” says Robaidek. So sparkling wine it is: “You shouldn’t force the grapes to do something they don’t want to do.”