In less than a decade, Ryan Zahler has gone from not drinking wine to becoming a wine appreciator, winemaker and owner of the small-batch Bay Winery in Sturgeon Bay. Originally from southern California, Zahler ironically didn’t find an interest in wine until moving to Door County for a work assignment in 2011.
“I moved here for a temporary job, and that’s when I started visiting area wineries. I really liked the different wine varieties, and I fell in love with it,” Zahler said. “After the assignment was over and we had to go back to Louisiana, I started experimenting with making my own.”
Door County left a lasting impact on him, both through the local wineries and the community itself, prompting Zahler and his partner to move back to Sturgeon Bay to raise their two young children. He secured a permanent position with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and began making wine more consistently in 2015.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error,” Zahler said about how he’s developed his wine knowledge.
Bay Winery graduated from hobby to small business with the grand opening of its tasting room on May 18. To prepare, the lower level of Zahler’s Bay Shore Drive home has been transformed from a completely bare space to a rustic, richly decorated room complete with a tasting bar and wine displays. The remodel took a year and a half and can comfortably fit 10 to 15 people.
For the opening, the tasting list included 10 varieties of wine, ranging from dry to dessert. Each wine is small-batch, making them all limited-release. The apple sauvignon blanc sold quickly, and the dry, red black cabernet was also selling well. “What we have displayed here is what is available,” Zahler said, pointing to the several shelving units of bottled wine.
The wine is made using local grapes when possible, and the styles aim to be unique to the area. His current favorite, Midnight, is the only blend on the list, and it uses local Marquette grapes, blackberries, maple syrup and moonshine to create a port-like wine. It’s semi-dry and slightly sweet, with a hint of maple to balance the fruit.
One port is also on the list – a chocolate-raspberry flavor – and it’s certainly a sweet treat. Zahler is excited to try a regular port next. “I’m just lucky that I have friends and supporters who like to drink wine.”
For now, the tasting room is open only by appointment and is available for rent to host private groups or events. Bay Winery also offers a custom wine-creation option for anyone looking to create a one-of-a-kind batch for a special occasion. Visit SturgeonBayWinery.com or email [email protected] to find out more.