Where to Drink Wine at Summerfest

Even if you just moved to Milwaukee yesterday, you know this is a beer town. But what if you like to drink wine at Summerfest?

I don’t know about you but my perfect pairing with Venice Club’s fried eggplant strips is a Pinot Noir and some Spanish Cava with Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que beer-battered cheese curds would be awesome.

Yes, I’m a wine snob. But it’s also my preferred beverage and I’ll take a glass of wine over a pint of beer any day.

Thankfully, Summerfest organizers understand this picky preference. This year they’ve added many imbibing options celebrating wine, with picks from not only the U.S. but far-flung countries, too.

If your idea of nirvana is blissing out to your favorite band while kicking back with a glass of fine wine, here’s how to do it at this year’s Summerfest.

Vintage 1968 Wine Bar

Vintage 1968 Wine Bar—so named for the inaugural year of Summerfest—launches this year. Here you can sip wine by the glass or bottle. Bonus: it’s paired with a lake view, near the BMO Harris Pavilion along the lakewalk.

A variety of price points are poured at Vintage 1968 Wine Bar, from wallet-friendly options like Canyon Road’s Moscato (California), Chateau Ste. Michelle’s dry-style Riesling (Washington) and Cavit’s Pinot Grigio (Italy), plus five varietals from Gallo-owned Dark Horse, to splurge wines. These include Decoy Merlot, a label from one of California’s most celebrated Merlot producer (Duckhorn). If you’re more of a white-wine drinker, no fear, because Decoy’s Sauvignon Blanc is also available.

And because this is a music festival, Cabernet Sauvignon from Dave Matthews’ California winery Dreaming Tree is also at Vintage 1968 Wine Bar. If you like fruit-forward flavors, then the “Crush” red blend is for you, folding in Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Tannat grapes, all North Coast (California) fruit.

To follow my cue and sip bubbles with cheese curds, know that the wine bar will be pouring La Marca bubbles. This Prosecco from Italy features notes of lemon, green apple and grapefruit against a mineral-rich backbone. I’ll also be hunkering down at that wine bar between sets with my beloved fried eggplant strips and a glass of Mirassou Pinot Noir. (Wine Enthusiast gave the 2017 vintage 88 points.)

If temps soar—and they just might, despite the slow start to summer—Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc at the wine bar is an excellent choice as the crisp, grassy New Zealand-style wine with notes of gooseberries provides a dry, clean finish that doesn’t mar your palate. (Because you came to Summerfest to eat, right?). Another refreshing selection is Yes Way Rosé, especially if you like dry styles of Rose out of Provence, France. Organically farmed grapes from that same region were sourced for this Rosé.


Photo by John Quinnies

Corkscrew, a wine bar that debuted at Summerfest in 2017, is back this year with two locations—between the U.S. Cellular Connection and Johnson Controls World Sound stages, and just to the right of the South Gate entrance (also outside the American Family Insurance Amphitheater). New this year, Tamari Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina, is an excellent choice for pairing with grilled meat or roasted corn on the cob.

New Wines to Sip On

Outside of the two wine bars, a bunch of wines are new to Summerfest this year—and they’re not just from California. They include a GSM (wine geeks know it as Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre) from Australia’s Barossa Valley Estate and, at Saz’s Dockside Barbecue, a sparkling wine (Da Luca Prosecco) from Sicily to pair with its sour-cream-and-chive fries or fish fry. And for a classic California Sauvignon Blanc, one of my favorites is Hanna Estate Sauvignon Blanc, from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.



A seasoned writer, and a former editor at Milwaukee Home & Fine Living, Kristine Hansen launched her wine-writing career in 2003, covering wine tourism, wine and food pairings, wine trends and quirky winemakers. Her wine-related articles have published in Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Uncorked (an iPad-only magazine), FoodRepublic.com, CNN.com and Whole Living (a Martha Stewart publication). She's trekked through vineyards and chatted up winemakers in many regions, including Chile, Portugal, California (Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast), Canada, Oregon and France (Bordeaux and Burgundy). While picking out her favorite wine is kind of like asking which child you like best, she will admit to being a fan of Oregon Pinot Noir and even on a sub-zero winter day won't turn down a glass of zippy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.