This scenic spot on a wooded hillside overlooking the Wisconsin River was used for winemaking as early as 1847, when Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian immigrant, settled here to run a river ferry service and grow grapes. After two years during which his grapes froze in Wisconsin’s harsh winters, Haraszthy followed the gold rush to California. There he met with much greater success, becoming one of the founders of the California wine industry. Wisconsin winemaking did not die with Haraszthy’s departure, however. German immigrant Peter Kehl bought the vineyard and established the Kehl Winery in 1857. Descended from four generations of winemakers, Kehl planted hardier American grapevines and sold his wine to Catholic churches and hotels in Milwaukee.
Kehl first built the “Cave,” an arched tunnel in the hillside, lined with limestone blocks. It was both a wine cellar and Kehl’s home until he built his limestone house. The commodious new dwelling went up in three stages, beginning in 1858. Its walls appear to be made of randomly sized ashlar, but in fact the mason employed a combination of rubble and quarried blocks and then overlaid the walls with raised joints, masking the rubble and lending the structure a more formal look. To create a rich texture, the mason chiseled some of the stones with a rough diamond-patterned surface. His craftsmanship is also evident in the finely tooled and rusticated quoins and in the carved grape-and-vine ornamented spandrel that frames the attic fanlight in the main gable end.
In 1859, Kehl began building the handsome two-story winery. This time the mason used limestone blocks for one wall and rubble for the other three. He gave the structure a strong sense of solidity by employing stone quoins to reinforce the corners and using voussoirs to form the segmental arches over the wide entrance doors. The unusual coffered woodwork around the entrances, the wooden sunburst over each door, and the dentiled cornice create a stylish formality. An especially severe frost destroyed all the vines in 1899, forcing the Kehls to close their winery, but in 1972 the Wollersheim family revived Wisconsin winemaking here.