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Balanced Rock Winery

Baraboo, WI


Crusin' Rating: B+

Booze Rating: D

Crusin For Booze- Wisconsin Travel Blogger- Balances Rock Winery- Outside

Whew! It has been a while since we reviewed something other than a brewery. Our last winery post featured Bailey's Run Winery in December. The truth is, we like drinking wine, spirits, mead and cider as much as beer but there is just such a plethora of breweries around Wisconsin. Admittedly, there are a ton of wineries as well but wineries do this odd thing where many of them keep the same schedule as my grandparents (before COVID). That is, they are ready and waiting with a warm smile during the warmer months but as soon as it gets slightly cold they are off and away to some beach destination. Yes, a lot of wineries like to keep winter hours (AKA CLOSED). Distilleries are the third most populous libation creators but they are a little more spread out with meaderies and cideries being even more scarce. So if you’ve ever wondered why we do so many breweries, especially around the winter months, there’s your answer! We are making it a goal this year to hit up a few more distilleries specifically, so look forward to those reviews.

This week’s article took us out to Baraboo, Wisconsin which is actually host to four wineries that I can name, a distillery, and two breweries and that’s us counting Baraboo and the Wisconsin Dells separately. It’s a pretty impressive collection of spots on the account of all of the summer tourism the area enjoys. On top of that, it’ll only take you about 45 minutes to reach Baraboo once you hit the Betline Highway coming from Madison. We are taking a look at Balanced Rock Winery on what turned out to be a slightly windy, but unseasonably warm 50 degree day in February.

Balanced Rock Winery is always one of those places that we yearn to love but our past excursions always left us a little nonplussed after a hot day in the Wisconsin Dells or with only an hour to spare with friends. This trip, Hannah and I set aside an afternoon to really take our time and get an in-depth review done. Although we were both starving after a busy day, we were saving ourselves for the brewery/restaurant just down the street (next week’s blog post!). With that in mind we each tried a flight of three wine samples for 11 dollars each which was a little pricey to be honest.

Balanced Rock, as a space, is well appointed enough. It has all the classic hallmarks of a winery. Wood tables, plenty of twinkle lights both inside and out, charcuterie boards and flatbreads to snack on, yoga attire-clad servers, and that classic little corner that has gifts and apparel. The outdoor patio here is nothing to sneeze at even if there’s maybe one too many strand of twinkle lights. It sports a great view over some hills and trees as well as over their budding vines. If I could describe the space in one word: trendy. The snacks, the wine cocktails, the vibe, it’s all very on trend. The building itself is a fancy pole barn, the signage featured corrugated tin, there’s a pair of garage doors that open onto the patio and they feature wine yoga. Trendy isn’t bad, and Hannah and I disagreed on this part but I thought this place was a little too…I couldn’t find the word. Marketed to summer tourism? Like every choice was consciously made to bring in the ladies coming up from Baja Wisconsin on a summer’s weekend. Maybe it was just me. Hannah did not think so and says that the space it cute and fashionable.

What we both agreed on though, is that, like the last winery we reviewed, it seemed a little pretentious. Not in the sense that Drumlin Ridge was pretending to be the West Coast. The staff was friendly, but they didn’t really make an effort to explain much and they were behind the counter the entire time. I didn’t need to be waited on. We aren’t really those kind of people, but when you go out and pay at a place it would be nice, if, even once over the course of an hour an a half, they checked in to see if we needed anything . They came out from behind the counter to bus tables, so why not even a brief “how’s everything tasting?”. No, if you wanted more wine or anything for that matter, you need to go to them.

Don’t get the wrong impression. We don’t need to be waited on hand and foot, we know times are tough, especially in the service industry. We’ve worked it. But when it’s not incredibly busy, and the space is small enough to manage the fifteen people that are there enjoying their wine, just a little dialogue can go a long way. As it stood, we felt like we were intruding and it felt like if we wanted anything, we needed to go up and ask for it. Again, we knew we weren’t going to get table service and we’ve been to plenty of places wherein you have to order at the bar but just something in the terms of friendly discourse would have made us feel welcome there. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

Crusin For Booze- Wisconsin Travel Blogger- Balanced Rock Winery

The next thing, which was confusing to us both; if you have glassware for wine, why are flights served in plastic cups? Supply chain issues? I consider myself conscious about recycling and that part stung a little. I looked past it because I know every business has their own issues and if this is what it took to finally get flights (the past two visits since they’ve opened did not offer flights) then so be it. The thing that really got me is, you can stand up at the bar and be served a tasting. You know how much we love that (check out Aeppeltreow for our thoughts). This was the main reason we hadn’t reviewed it yet because we dread being rushed and making a scene by taking notes in front of everyone. Why, though, do you have a flight and a tasting? Isn’t a flight a tasting? Why both? Isn’t it redundant? Why not just do the tasting and be able to bring it to the table? Why is the tasting six wines and the flight three? Why is the tasting done in a glass and the flight done in plastic? So many questions that will remain a mystery. This one may only bother us because of the nature of our blogging. It was odd, though.

Let’s talk about some wine. A lot of these wines threw us off since we are so used to smelling all the different beer notes over the past few months, we had to retrain our noses (or so we thought) to pick up on different scents and get into the right headspace. However, this may not have been the best place to retrain our palates as you will read below.

North Shore - Frontenac The first on our list developed by the University of Minnesota, this Frontenac smelled of jammy red fruit. Unfortunately, the taste lacked depth and what we could find were hints of tartness and cherry cough drop. A mild tannin finish, with higher acidity than we would like for a grape that usually exhibits balance between fruit and acidity. I’d skip this one on the cough drop notes alone.

Edelweiss - This white, made from a Grape Cultivar created in conjunction with University of Minnesota and Wisconsin’s own Elmer Swenson, the light golden color and nose of brown sugar promised me that sort of syrup sweetness that I have always enjoyed from this style. There was nice hints of Easter Sweet Tarts (yes the bunny-shaped candy that only three of you will recall). I’d agree it’s semi sweet but thought that the acidity was out of balance and overpowered the wine.

St. Pepin - A Wisconsin cultivar developed by Elmer Swenson this wine was unfortunately a no go as neither of us wanted to finish it. There was an overpowering aroma of ammonia on the nose and tons of acidity (again, out of balance) on the palate that ended in a sweet, almost corn-like flavor. Any notes of apricot that the description suggested were fully absent. I hesitate to label it as such, but I think this wine was quite awful. Skip it if you are there.

La Crescent - Developed by our neighbors in Minnesota, this white definitely had apricot on the nose with a little floral scent followed by alcohol. A little sweet on the front of the tongue, then tart, with some high acidity but this was closer in balance but still just too high. I know we sound like broken records, but this is coming from a guy who enjoys a Riesling. I know when acidity is called for any when it’s not and here, again, it was a little too forward to be balanced.

Catawba - An American grape that we had not come across yet, this was billed as a Rosé and smelled of apples with a hint of cranberry, followed by alcohol. We tasted red delicious apple skins, some tartness, tannins, and a little sweet at the finish. The alcohol here was not blended into the wine, it was a separate, distinct taste from the body of the wine which was off-putting. If this one had some cooperation between the alcohol content and the flavors of the grapes I’d say this is an enjoyable wine on the roster.

Brianna - One of Wisconsin’s own grapes, developed by Elmer Swenson, this whine was described as semi sweet and I say that this one nailed it. It smelled very sweet, sugary, but we couldn’t nail down much more than that other than fumes of alcohol. It tasted sweet, with a little bit of apple and a little pineapple as well.

Yikes. A little bit of a rough foray back into the winery scene. As I stated before, we’ve been to Balanced Rock Winery a few times. The glaring issues are the fact that a lot of the grapes are not locally grown as those varieties don’t do well in Wisconsin. Going off of that, the cultivars developed by Swenson are not grown on site but I believe they are working to change that which is a step in the right direction. We want to love this place for it’s close proximity, it’s local ownership, and it’s great location but every time we feel that we are let down by the wines which is a shame because we also really love the branding through out. The Wisconsin Dells attracts thousands of tourists each year and this winery is located conveniently so that you can make an entire weekend of wine, brews, and spirits in the Wisconsin Dells/Baraboo area. If you are in the Wisconsin Dells try it for yourself. If you’re at next week’s Crusin’ stop (which is just down the street) and you’re really craving some wine, then stop over. However, if you’re traveling from Madison we believe there are better options in the area that exhibit Wisconsin wine.

Until next time, keep on Crusin’, don’t stop boozin’.

To learn more about Balanced Rock Winery please visit their website at: or on Facebook: @BalancedRockWinery or on Instagram: @BalancedRockWinery

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