The story of Parallel 44 and Door 44 Wineries began in 2005, when husband and wife team, Steve Johnson and Maria Milano planted their first grape vines.
For Steve and Maria, wine was a passion that turned into a celebration of our local grape growing and wine making industry. Steve grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin where his father Carl experimented early on with growing grapes in Wisconsin. Maria grew up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where her Italian born father continued his tradition of making wine for friends and family celebrations. Both developed an early appreciation and love for wine. Steve and Maria met while in school at Madison and then attended law school together. While working as attorneys, they attended seminars on grape growing in Wisconsin.
After years of searching for a location with the perfect soil, sun exposure and temperatures for growing grapes, they found the location that our Parallel 44 site now sits on. Back in 2005 when Steve and Maria purchased the Parallel 44 location, it was a simple corn field and former gravel pit just east of Green Bay, WI. As soon as they purchased the land, they began to plant vines. When Steve and Maria began their journey, planting grapes to make wine was a novel idea. At the time there were only a few cold climate grape varietals available for commercial planting. Most of the grape varietals were brand new to the world of wine and were less than 20 years old. Steve and Maria carried on with their dream and today, over 15 years later, there is approximately 7000 vines or 10 acres of grapes planted in the vineyard at Parallel 44.
A year after the vineyard was planted, in 2006 construction was started on the winery and tasting room for Parallel 44. Since opening on Memorial Day weekend in 2007, Parallel 44 has continued to grow and expanded. Today all of the wines produced by Parallel 44 and Door 44 are either made with grapes grown in Parallel 44’s own vineyards or one at one of the vineyards that the wineries contract with throughout the state of Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. Over the past 10 years the winery itself has undergone several remodels, The first a major expansion of the winery occurred in 2009, which nearly doubled the size of the original. A second smaller expansion and remodel was completed in 2011.
In an effort to bring our unique grape wines to more people, Steve and Maria decided in 2013 to open our sister winery, Door 44, located in the heart of Door County. Another expansion in 2019 occurred, when Steve and Maria built a new facility in Door County on a 20 acre parcel with a vineyard they had been buying grapes from for 10 years.
The geographical location of our vineyard & winery was the inspiration for the Parallel 44 and Door 44 names. Both wineries are situated on 44° North Latitude – which circles the globe, and is renowned as the world’s finest grape growing and wine making regions. This latitude includes the great wine regions of Bordeaux, France and Tuscany, Italy. Unlike our European counterparts we endure winters of subzero temperatures. We do, however, share many similarities with these regions such as seasonal growing climate, annual rainfall, and length of daylight. It is our inspiration to share this latitude with our counterparts, while celebrating our own unique tradition of growing grapes on the “Frozen Tundra” of Wisconsin.
At Parallel 44, and Door we consider ourselves wine pioneers since the grape varietals we grow are relatively new to the world of wine. Our varietals are known as “Cool Climate Grapes”. This means that some of our vines can withstand temperatures as low as -30° in winter, but as summer approaches they spring back to life and produce delicious wine grapes!
Cool climate varietals have the hallmark qualities of bright acidity, fruit forward aromas, and flavors that are unique to our region. The names of some of these varietals are: Marechal Foch, Frontenac, Louise Swenson, St. Pepin and Petite Pearl. These grapes are the genetic cousins of well-known varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Moscato and Riesling.