The picturesque village of Ephraim is known for its charming, white buildings and tranquil water views, and the newly opened Pearl Wine Cottage matches perfectly by embodying the quaint, relaxed Ephraim atmosphere. Nestled into a space just off Church Street near Ephraim Coffee Lab and Milworks, Pearl Wine Cottage officially opened for service the weekend of Aug. 9 after owners Lars and Monique Topelmann spent five months renovating the early-1900s cottage.
Lars had spent his childhood in Ephraim before leaving the peninsula and launching a successful career in photography. Monique, from Pensacola, Florida, met Lars while attending graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They married and moved to Portland, Oregon, where they have spent the past two decades raising their sons, Karsten and Finn. Once their sons had left home, Lars and Monique decided to return to Ephraim to be closer to Lars’ father, Karsten Topelmann, an artist and the owner of the Hanseatic Art Gallery.
“We purchased a barn house in Ephraim and spent 2018 renovating it. When we thought about what we would do for our encore careers, Lars suggested that we pursue my dream of owning a wine bar,” Monique said.
She had been immersing herself in wine through three years of working at Pastaworks in Portland, Oregon – “It was like a hands-on graduate degree in wine and service” – plus Level 2 and Level 3 awards in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, headquartered in London. When Lars’ father agreed that the cottage next to his gallery should be remodeled to become this new venture, the decision was made, and renovations began.
I visited the wine cottage multiple times after its opening and learned about the journey Lars and Monique had taken to opening the wine bar’s doors. Here’s a Q&A with Monique on their story so far.
When did renovations begin, and what did you use for design and décor inspiration?
We began major renovations in March of this year, 2019. We wanted to keep the characteristics and the feel of the 100-year-old cottage while adding elements of modern and cottage/farm industrial. We were inspired by French and Italian wine bars and Spanish pintxo bars, and we wanted to blend all those into an eclectic space that feels cozy, bright and inviting.
While we had an overriding vision, as we were renovating the cottage, we were able to consider elements, colors and objects that expressed that vision. We found an antique pastry larder cabinet on Craigslist early in the renovations and loved the color and patina of the work top. I wanted to have zinc table tops, and this sealed the deal. Lars is an amazing craftsman and built all of the table tops, bar tops and counters. He basically made all of the fixtures in the cottage – with some assistance from me.
The current wine list is nearly all European wines with a focus on sustainable and biodynamic wines. Being close to Trixie’s, another great wine destination, you made the choice to not overlap any offerings, correct?
Yes, my focus is smaller producers who farm organically, biodynamically and/or sustainably and also use those same practices in the winery. When we were first considering pursuing a wine-oriented business in Ephraim, I spoke to Sarah Holmes at Trixie’s, and her response was positive, supportive and encouraging. I have great respect for the wine focus at Trixie’s, featuring women winemakers and natural, organic and biodynamic producers. We may have similar philosophies and focus when we are deciding on wines to carry in each of our sets, but there are so many great wines in the world that we can remain committed to our points of view and showcase different wines.
Right now you offer small plates featuring high-quality cheese, meat and accompaniments prepared in-house. Are you partnering with any local growers?
We try to buy local as much as we can and are lucky that we live in an area with such great options. We partner with Waseda Farms, Cold Climate Farms, Door County Creamery and Hidden Acres/Northern Door Agriculture.
With your son Karsten helping out with serving, it seems you can be considered a family-owned and family-run business, yes?
We truly are a family-owned and [family-]run business. We wouldn’t be here without our family’s help and support. We couldn’t have dreamed up a better location than the cottage in front of Lars’ parents’ gallery. Karsten [Lars’ father] was open to us renovating the cottage and checked on the progress every day. We are grateful that at 90, he paints daily, and he enjoys coming over to say hello to our guests and maybe have a beer at the bar. Our nephew Miles Weder helped us with renovations this summer when he wasn’t working at the Ephraim Coffee Lab. Our older son, Karsten X. Topelmann, took time off from his job in Chicago to help us set up our electronics and to open our doors. Our “third son” – John Mulcare from Portland, Oregon – has been working with us all summer on renovations and setting up and running the kitchen. John leaves for New York in early September, so Lars and I will be running things with a little help on the weekends from visiting family and friends.
What has been the response so far?
The response has been beyond anything we ever expected. Locals and visitors are very friendly, kind and complimentary. Having a wine bar has been a dream of mine for several years, and to have family, friends and new friends enjoying themselves in a space that Lars and I created is an amazing experience. We are so happy and grateful to our friends and everyone who has come to Pearl Wine Cottage and warmed up the patio and cottage with their laughter and positive energy!
And last, what inspired the name Pearl Wine Cottage?
Three years ago in August, Lars’ mother, Ellen Sprogoe-Topelmann passed away. She was a talented painter, a very unique person, and she loved Ephraim. When we were trying on names for the business, we entertained several different ones but none seemed quite right. One morning last summer, I remembered that my mother-in-law would often say, “Ephraim is the pearl of the peninsula.” Pearl seemed like a perfect name: a way to honor Ellen and have her be part of our new venture. There are other pearl connections that made us know that Pearl was right. When Lars and I first moved to Portland, we lived in the Pearl District, and for special occasions in my life, my mother always gave me pearls. Pearls are a natural treasure found in an unexpected place, and we are inspired by that.
Pearl Wine Cottage is next to Hanseatic Art Gallery, 3060 Church St. (Cty Q) in Ephraim. Current hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 4-8 pm, with plans to be open into early November.