On Cloud Wine

By Shelby Deering | Photography by Holly Leitner

When you picture a “winemaker,” what do you see? Perhaps a man wearing a beret, huddled in a dark cellar and circling a glass under his nose to “appreciate the bouquet.” Well, that’s not Doug Jackson.

With an easy way about him and a booming laugh, he puts his anything-but-pretentious personality into every bottle of wine he makes at Studio Winery, the passion project he owns with his wife, Kathy.

“We’re not a snobby winery,” Doug says matter-of-factly.

Located on the outskirts of Lake Geneva, the couple opened the winery in 2012, the culmination of a long and storied career for Doug.

Raised in the restaurant business, he was exposed to good food and good wine early in his life, working as the main cook at his parents’ East Troy supper club, Jackson’s Pointe II.

“He’s a great cook and he’s got a great palate, which means he’s got a great palate for making wine as well,” says Kathy.

When his parents sold the restaurant in 1998, Doug searched for a new career and landed upon sales in the wholesale wine market, working for Johnson Brothers Liquor Company, a wine, spirits and beer distributor. For over a decade, Doug specialized in selling to several Lake Geneva area restaurants and resorts, such as Grand Geneva and The Abbey.

“We’ve traveled all over the world, through California dozens of times, visiting wineries and tasting wine. It all culminated into getting into this business,” he says.

While working in wine sales, it seemed only natural that he and Kathy started dabbling in making wine of their own. In 2005, the pair harvested grapes from a roadside and created a delicious blend.

“We made this wild grape wine, and it tasted really, really good. So, we decided to enter it in the Wisconsin State Fair, just to get notes and to see how we’d do,” says Doug.

That whim resulted in a blue ribbon.

“It really lit the fire, and we got started,” he says.

CULTIVATING A WINE EDUCATION

From there, the couple immersed themselves in the intricacies and nuances of winemaking. Through an online course, Doug studied enology, the science of winemaking, and Kathy learned the ins-and-outs of viticulture, the agricultural side of winemaking that centers on the grapes themselves.

They also continued to enter their wines into competitions, such as the Indy International Wine Competition, one of the largest amateur competitions in the United States. Kathy says that they “started getting medals on everything they sent in.”

Doug also earned the impressive credential of CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) from the American Society of Wine Educators, the equivalent of a “sommelier degree” in France.

After hitting the books, it was time for Doug and Kathy to get some hands-on experience. The two were mentored by Steve Kennedy, owner of New Lisbon’s Burr Oak Winery, and assisted in the entire winemaking process, including planting and harvesting.

Doug and Kathy had a foretelling conversation with Kennedy at the start of the mentorship. Kennedy asked, “So, where are you folks from?” The couple lived in La Grange at the time, and as Kathy says, “Nobody ever knows where La Grange is,” so they responded, “We live near Lake Geneva.”

Kennedy said, “Yeah, Lake Geneva’s the perfect place for a winery.” And the wheels began to turn.

Doug says, “When he mentioned that this would be a great city for a winery, it was like, ‘Oh, of course! Why didn’t we think of that?’”

STUDIO WINERY: A WINERY LIKE NO OTHER

After their mentoring experience with Kennedy, Doug and Kathy tweaked their winery plans.

Kathy says, “When we first started talking about opening a winery, we were going to be a farm winery with 10 acres of grapes. It was that first harvest at Steve’s that we, on the trip home, said, ‘Let’s be an urban winery.’”

In addition to being entrepreneurs and wine aficionados, Doug and Kathy are both highly creative as well. A member of the band Hobie and the Leftovers, a local favorite, Doug plays the keyboard, sings and even writes his own music. The band specializes in blues, funk and classic rock covers. “‘Mustang Sally’ is the big hit,” he says.

Kathy is an artist and has created contemporary works for several notable companies, including Bed Bath & Beyond, McDonald’s and the NFL. Although her artwork has been featured on everything from wall clocks to belt buckles, nowadays, Kathy’s handiwork can be seen on Studio Winery’s bottle labels.

Kathy and Doug have brought their three passions together under one roof—wine, music and art. One surprise is that there is a recording studio at the winery. The space also serves as an art studio where Kathy’s lively artwork is prominently displayed. Hence the name—Studio Winery.

A DESTINATION FOR  ART & MUSIC

Doug and Kathy have created a dynamic and vibrant atmosphere at Studio Winery. The colors are warm, the artwork inspiring and there are plenty of places to sit and stay awhile.

The winery comes to life during its many public events, such as their Corks & Canvas classes held twice a month. Kathy teaches a room of novices how to make masterpieces of their own as they paint along with her and sip wine. The wine makes these artists a bit more “uninhibited,” according to Kathy.

Doug and his band Hobie and the Leftovers put on regular performances at the winery, playing the first Saturday of every month. Every Saturday, the winery features live, local bands, but will hold occasional ticketed events that spotlight big acts, like Guy Davis, the famous blues musician, or Sam Llanas, a former member of the BoDeans.

It’s no wonder that these artistic endeavors take place only a few short steps from the winemaking room, a creative process all its own.

SWEET, DRY AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Studio Winery offers two distinct lines— the Musician Series and Premier & Reserve wines.

The Musician Series, a nod to Doug’s love of music, features wines named after revered musicians, such as Amadeus, Joplin and Zappa. Coltrane, a blend known for its notes of honeysuckle and melon, is the winery’s bestseller.

The Musician Series wines are all made using locally-sourced grapes—four farmers are just over the Illinois border in McHenry County, one is located in Stevens Point and the other is nearby in East Troy.

Although Doug takes pleasure in making the fresh and modern wines for the Musician Series, he appreciates the French style of making wine, a method used to create the Premier & Reserve wines. Those wines include the light 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve, the fruity 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and the aromatic St. Croix Reserve.

Doug, a self-proclaimed “old-world guy at heart,” personally favors “big, dry reds.” The thing he loves most about wine is its ability to bring people together, something that Studio Winery excels at.

“Very rarely do people get together around a bottle or a glass of wine to have an argument. It’s a social and cultural thing, and it makes people happy.”

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