Keeping Spirits Up

Chippewa Falls winery adds distilling gin, whiskey, and vodka to their operation

Amelia Kimball |


Standing outside on a gorgeous sunny day, gazing out at the vineyards and sipping a quality glass of wine is an experience. An experience River Bend Vineyard & Winery in Chippewa Falls is committed to.

Guests will soon be able to enjoy spirits as well. Owner/winemaker Donna Sachs said they’re shooting to open their distillery the first weekend in June.

With their permits in hand, Sachs said they’re one step closer to offering gin, brandy and other spirits. Sachs and her husband have been working with grapes for 10 years, so they thought they would use their experience to make gin with grapes.

“We’re always interested in trying to produce something new and different...It’s a good extension of the business,” she said.

Gin originated in Europe from grapes, but a lot of them died off because of the cold, so people started to make gin from grain, Sachs said. Because gin and vodka are neutral spirits, they can be made from grapes, and that’s exactly what the vineyard intends to try.

Distilleries are growing everywhere in response to local food movements. People, especially younger generations, want to know where their food and drink is coming from and what’s in it, she said.

“The younger consumer is really into trying new and local things,” Sachs said.

Young people aren’t typically loyal to certain products. They’re willing to try different things. For example, young women today drink whisky, and that wasn’t a big thing when I was younger, Sachs said.

Getting a distillery in place is a long process. You have to be sure you want to do it, Sachs said. They had some barrels and necessary equipment in place already, which was helpful. Having the winery as a starting point made a difference.

“Starting from scratch would have been intimidating,” she said. 

Sachs said she heard someone say all wineries will be distilleries in 10 years. It’s a fast growing business and a good extension of a winery. Although she believes this, she said it takes commitment, patience and quality to make it work.

For the River Bend Vineyard & Winery, Sachs said it’s important they use local resources. For the upcoming distillery, they’ll be using grain from a farmer they know. It gives our products a local flavor and connection, she said.

“We want to keep our reputation intact,” Sachs said. “For us, the wine takes center stage…it’s what we hang our hats on.”

Journey Ahead

We all get old. In fact, some of us, right at this very moment, ARE old. V1's guide to challenges and opportunities of growing older in the Chippewa Valley. Presented by the ADRC of Eau Claire County