ROUND LAKE — The Round Lake Vineyards & Winery is in the midst of several construction projects that will increase seating capacity and improve efficiencies at the popular gathering space.
The timing couldn’t be any better as COVID-19 restrictions lift. People are eager to get together with friends and family, wedding bookings are in an uptick and wine production is going strong for entrepreneurs Scott and Jenny Ellenbecker.
In the midst of the pandemic last year, the couple moved forward on construction of a new production facility on the property. Built to house their fermentation tanks — the average size is 1,300 gallons — and open bin containers, they now have the necessary space to produce their wide array of wines. The building also has ample storage for all of the wine barrels previously stored in The Cellar, as well as products they had stored in an off-site warehouse.
Moving everything under one roof will save immensely on utilities, shared Scott Ellenbecker.
“We were full at production time and we needed more space,” he added of the fermentation tanks that had previously been located in the Tasting Room. “When we’re full, there was no walking space. The new facility we have will give us a lot of room.”
The building was nearly complete when Ellenbecker moved contractors to a more immediate need — dressing rooms for men and women in The Cellar. The space, once filled with wine barrels, was renovated into a pair of large rooms for brides, grooms and their wedding party to get ready. Previously, there was no space to do so onsite, although a small Tea House along the shoreline on the property was made available for bridal parties as needed.
Once the dressing rooms were completed, the renovation of a 1950s-era storage shed on the property began. Aptly named The Duck Blind Bar, the spot will provide additional indoor and outdoor seating for small groups such as family and class reunions.
“The Duck Blind Bar is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Ellenbecker said, noting the new space will also ease congestion when wedding guests come early to do a wine tasting. “We are putting in tables and yard games.”
Eventually, the winery’s food truck will be parked by The Duck Blind Bar, but for now it remains between the Tasting Room and the horse stables, where it’s been used to prepare food for guests since 2016. The food truck will be moved to its new space once a major addition to the Tasting Room — including a full kitchen — is completed.
Ellenbecker said the kitchen space will include a four-foot by five-foot cooking surface, as well as a Dutch oven and space for making pizzas.
“We’ve been cooking these awesome dinners (out of the trailer),” Ellenbecker said.
The addition is being constructed above what used to be the fermentation room, and will include an open center to look down on a bar below.
The second floor will connect with existing space that was once occupied by cubicles and staff for the Ellenbeckers’ communications company. Since the start of COVID, those employees have been working from home. That freed up the space for additional seating.
“We needed overflow seating in the winter for our dinners,” Ellenbecker said. “We kind of become a steakhouse during the winter, serving pasta and seafood, that kind of thing.”
The added seating will allow the winery to extend its season with more indoor seating.
“It gives us community space for our community, which is not only Round Lake,” he shared. “With the Hi-Lo closing and other restaurants in the area having problems, people are coming here.”
The tasting bar planned in the former fermentation room space will be able to serve more guests, including large groups and buses of people.
With all of the construction projects, Ellenbecker said a lot of repurposing of both buildings and material has been taking place. White oak beams to be erected inside the tasting bar were reclaimed from an Albia, Iowa three-story barn originally built in 1867 and discovered by Jenny’s uncle, Rod Sather.
Meanwhile, the railings that will surround the opening above the bar are coming from the Ellenbeckers’ horse stable.
“The horse stable was built in the 1970s,” Ellenbecker said. “There’s 18 stalls in there, and we have one horse. We’re taking the bars off the front of the stables, and they’re going to be the railings.
“Lumber is 10 times what it should be right now, so we’re refurbishing what we can,” he added.
A timber-framed balcony that will extend from the second floor of the new addition will include reclaimed telephone poles. They will be trimmed into 10- by 10-inch beams that are 26 feet tall, while the exterior of the poles will be used as wainscoting inside the bar room.
Much of that work has yet to be done, though, as there’s a holdup at the state level for the plumbing permit.
“We can’t do anything with the kitchen and it’s been four months,” Ellenbecker said, noting that since the space was already used for wine production, it had been permitted as a food-grade facility.
While it may be a while before the expansion is complete, Ellenbecker said The Duck Blind Bar should be ready for use within a week, and the production facility includes some minor work to complete office space.