Mountain wine shop

(First published in the January 16, 2020 issue of City Pages)

Wine Time opened recently in Rib Mountain, by a couple who have been running a winery in Lakewood


Wine Time owner Russell Utech opened the shop after running his uncle’s winery in Lakewood with his girlfriend Deb Koch.

Russell Utech and his girlfriend Deb Koch haven’t spent the past decade longing to open a wine shop.

They found themselves in the business kind of by accident, and  had Wine Time open at 3708 Rib Mountain Drive within four days of receiving their license in December in the former Radioshack location.

Their slow-motion entry into the wine business took place over years as they began to help Utech’s uncle, Armand Baumann, with his business in Lakewood, Woodland Trail Winery. Utech, who had an insurance agency in Merrill, began to learn about the winery business as he served as Baumann’s agent. Koch, a Department of Corrections employee at Lincoln Hills, became more involved in her off hours as Baumann aged. Utech says every time they checked with him, he’d say, “Looks good. Keep going.”

The retail outlet is a new venture for the couple. All of their wines are from the Woodland Trail Winery and the wide variety of recipes has been through a multi-stage refinement process.

Baumann started off as a home winemaker with dozens of recipes. He was known for bringing a variety of wines to family reunions, keeping close track of the feedback from relatives. About the time he decided in 1990 to go into it commercially, one of his daughters married a chemist. Art met science and the recipes, now numbering 92, were refined and improved. The chemist “notched things up to a professional level,” Utech says. “That really increased the quality.”

Utech says, “Philosophically, the winery’s goal is to have something for everybody.” On most days, customers will be able to choose from 50 wines, including blends ranging from dry to sweet. 

The Lakewood winery doesn’t have rows of grapevines out in back. They work from 28 concentrated bases, most of them from the West Coast; some wines use a single base while others might use six, Utech says. They also plan to sell beers such as Bull Falls. Bull Falls owner Don Zamzow, coincidentally, lived across the road from Utech’s dad in the town of Berlin.

Though limited to two samples per person, customers will be able to try out the wines available before purchase. “Anybody can taste anything we’ve got here. If I don’t have a bottle open, I’ll open one,” Utech says.

Utech says every bottle on the shelves is in a price range of $11.99 to $17.99. There is an added value, he says. “It’s a Wisconsin-made wine, made with care and concern for neighbors and the environment.” They invite their customers to bring empty bottles so they can be re-used and they sell products from the Green Glass Company in Weston that are made from used wine bottles.

They carry specialty cheeses and accessories associated with serving and displaying wine. He says some of their merchandise got caught in the holiday shipping blitz, so customers who came in shortly after they opened will find more inventory now.

Wine Time can be reached at 715-616-2204, and is on Facebook. Open 11 am-7 pm Mon.-Sat. and 11 am to 5 pm Sun.