During the first week of August 2022, a bulletin board at Seaquist Orchards – a farm north of Sister Bay in Door County, Wisconsin – indicates to visitors that five varieties of cherries are currently being harvested. And while that may sound like a lot, the sign also shows that 23 varieties have already sold out, up for the season.
Door County, Wisconsin is a peninsula that extends into Lake Michigan, anchored by the town of Sturgeon Bay to the south and Washington Island to the north. This Midwestern port welcomes about 2 million visitors in a standard year, and they all know that cherries are the fruity bread and butter of the peninsula.
According to Destination Door County, a Swiss immigrant named Joseph Zettle discovered in 1862 that the same Door County landscape that had been unfriendly to traditional crops was, in fact, the perfect landscape for growing fruit orchards. In the 1940s, Door County growers produced 50 million pounds of cherries annually, accounting for 10% of the world’s production.
Now there are approximately 2,500 acres of cherries in Door County, an attraction for people who want to pick their own cherries or buy products made from cherries. At Seaquist Orchards, for example, there is everything from dried cherries to cherry jam to chocolate covered cherries. Freshly baked cakes and treats are made on site, and more than a few visitors stop by to sample.
But in the evenings, when the orchards and farmers’ markets rest, cherries appear in bars, boats and holiday home kitchens all over the peninsula in the form of wine, cider and beer and cocktails.
Door County Cherry drinks to taste
Door Peninsula Winery near Carlsville produces (at the time of this story) at least seven fruit wines and ciders, including Door County cherries. A favorite with local beer gardens and bars, Sparkling Cherry Mimosa consists of freshly pressed Door County sour cherries blended with an aged sparkling cider. It’s a fresh and easy-to-drink bubble for summer afternoons.
Nearby, at Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery, Door County Cherry wine is considered “a visitor favorite.” It’s a sweet fruit wine made from, you guessed it, Door County cherries. For lovers of textured and dry red table wines, this may lean into the dessert area, but it’s always a good idea to try products made from the work of local farmers.
And the adult drinking scene goes beyond cherry wine. Hinterland Brewery — located in Green Bay just south of Door County — makes Cherry Wheat, a malt beverage made with tart Montmorency cherries. It’s a drink “inspired by endless Door County summers.” Door County Distillery near Carlsville makes a cherry vodka made with fresh fruit and local botanicals. It also makes a cherry-flavored brandy, which is distilled from Door Peninsula Winery Cherry Wine and Door County Moonshine, made from neutral grain alcohol and Montmorency cherries grown at Seaquist Orchards.
If this is all starting to sound like a closed loop of producers and creators in Door County working together, the assessment would be correct. While Door County is a substantial player in the cherry game, this is a place dedicated to family farms and small-town economies. Sturgeon Bay, the largest community on the peninsula, has fewer than 10,000 permanent residents.
According to a report published by Destination Door County, food and beverage purchases make up more than 20% of visitor spending in a location largely dependent on tourism. If you’re new to cherry drinks, consider them a way to get closer to the community and support local family farms and businesses while in Door County.