The 170-acre grounds of Debonne Vineyards in Madison are uncharacteristically quiet for a Saturday afternoon. With a light rain falling, just a few plucky souls sit sipping wine at picnic tables on the long, covered patio skirting the front of the main tasting room.
But inside, it is packed, as patrons dance along with a rock 'n' roll band in the hospitality room — which overlooks another patio, annex tasting room, bocce court and grassy lawn — and spills over into the cozy bar area.
On the weekends at least, every extra square foot is welcome. Debonne has blossomed into one of the most event-centric winery destinations in the region, hosting live music up to three days a week, along with an annual hot-air balloon rally, classic car show and pet day.
We manage to claim a few feet of standing space at the bar and opt for the $5, off-dry to sweet varietals tasting tray, featuring eight of Debonne's many wines. The three riesling varieties prove to be our favorites — zingy and not too sweet.
A $1 pour of the award-winning ice wine is worth the price as well (super sweet, as any good ice wine should be). But it's the convivial atmosphere that really makes Debonne come alive — and it's something the Debevc family has nurtured over decades in the industry.
"In '72, there was nobody out here," says third-generation owner Anthony Debevc.
"I credit my father for having the vision and faith in me to operate this thing."
The Debevcs had a long history in the area as fruit farmers, but Anthony convinced his father that the future was in winemaking. The family transitioned from Concord and Catawba grapes to more traditional rieslings, pinot noir and vidal blanc grapes, and built the winery: a chalet-style affair that received a new tasting room and expanded patio this year.
Through it all, the family atmosphere has remained a constant. The good-natured revelry we encounter rarely gets out of hand, Debevc notes.
"If you have a 6-month-old, bring them up here," he says. "We're an old wine family that has been drinking wine way more than the national average. We drink it consistently, at meals and with friends, and that's the type of place we've always tried to be."
As we make our way through a second tasting tray, this one featuring eight beers from fourth-generation Tony Jr.'s adjacent Cellar Rats Brewery, we plot our return: Bring our young son to the balloon rally? Get a babysitter and cruise out for the jazz fest? No matter what we return for, we hope there will be a few chairs with our names on them.