CHIPPEWA FALLS — A local apple dynasty that branched out into wine sold its businesses to a fellow family that runs an orchard and wedding venue.
After four generations of growing apples in Chippewa Falls, the orchard owned by the McIlquham family since 1924 is changing hands along with the Autumn Harvest Winery it opened in 2004.
“It’s a bit sad to say goodbye, but we are certain the new owners will inherit the best customers around and are confident they will make the experience even better,” Jean McIlquham said in a news release.
Jim and Becky Mullane, owners of Dixon’s Apple Orchard and Wedding Venue in Cadott, bought the McIlquhams’ businesses and the two families announced the change in ownership on Thursday.
Adding the 12-acre orchard will double the apple production the Mullanes have from their current sprawling property about 3½ miles away in Cadott. Apples from both orchards will be sold at the Autumn Harvest site.
“This is going to work out great for apple sales and wine,” Becky Mullane said in a telephone interview with the Leader-Telegram.
As they take over the winery, the Mullanes look to keep what the McIlquhams have built — a selection of wines and a destination for people to visit.
“We are definitely keeping the Autumn Harvest name,” Becky Mullane said.
She does see lots of potential for package deals, events and other ways of using the multiple businesses her family now owns together.
“Definitely they work hand-in-hand,” Becky Mullane said. “Weddings and wine they go together.”
Her family moved to the Chippewa Valley in 2014 after a search for an area that had good conditions for growing apples after their previous orchard in New Mexico was struck by back-to-back natural disasters.
On June 26, 2011, a forest fire burned its way over a hill and into the valley where Dixon’s Apple Orchard stood since 1944 between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Though some of the apple trees survived and bore fruit, floods followed the fire and made it untenable to continue running the orchard there.
Becky Mullane, who learned the apple trade from her grandfather who founded Dixon’s, looked to her Midwest roots for a new place to grow. While the climate of her hometown of Duluth, Minn., was too cold, she found the Chippewa Valley had good soil, fair weather and plenty of groundwater needed to grow apples.
Their 6-year-old Cadott orchard produces Honeycrisp, Zestar, McIntosh and Champagne apples. That latter variety is one that the Mullanes brought with them from New Mexico using clippings from their old trees.
The Dixon name began grafting itself onto the Autumn Harvest Winery website on Thursday, signaling the transition for the business from one family to another.
Following the sale of the family’s orchard and winery, Jean McIlquham said she doesn’t know what’s next. Though her husband Chad continues to work as a commercial airline pilot, the family will now have more opportunities to enjoy each other’s company when he’s home because there are no longer family businesses to tend.
“We’re just looking forward to spending time together as a family,” Jean McIlquham said in an email to the Leader-Telegram. “We loved working together and will try to find another venture where that is possible.”