CADOTT, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Many say farmers are the small-town heroes that keep our communities moving forward. In our series Harvesting Heroes, we celebrate agriculture workers, whose hard work and innovation make a difference.
In this month’s story, one farm family moved halfway across the country to start again.
First News at Nine’s Maria Blough shares how they’ve put down roots here in western Wisconsin.
Champagne Apples are only grown by one family in the world, and they call a farm in Cadott home. Though the apple tree roots are now in Wisconsin. They started halfway across the country.
“It was a wild tree growing in the canyon in New Mexico and he tried that. He tried others too because there were different wild trees, but this is the one he went with,” said Becky Mullane.
Becky Mullane is one of the owners of Dixon’s Apple Orchard.
Her grandfather, Fred Dixion, first developed the champagne apple in the early 1940s on his ranch in New Mexico.
It quickly grew in popularity as a variety of apple good for anything from eating to baking.
Their roots ran deep in the southwest until disaster struck.
Mullane said, “We lost our ranch to a forest fire in 2011, so when that happened–it was a huge fire. It was called the las canchas forest fire–and it took our whole mountain. It was such a hot fire it just singed everything was gone. And so, after that the flooding started and we couldn’t keep farming there in that valley.”
Like her grandparents did more than 60 years earlier, the Mullane family had to start their orchard from scratch.
Part of starting over meant moving more than a thousand miles north to a place with plenty of water: western Wisconsin.
Mullane said, “It was scary. I mean we moved up here not knowing a soul. We just got connected to the right people.”
Jim Mullane says he’s thankful for all the people who helped a family of Wisconsin transplants makes a new home.
Moving came with its own challenges. They had to adapt their future champagne trees for a new climate.
Mullane said, “We were able to save it, bring it, get it to a rootstock that will survive these temperatures in the winter. That’s kind of tricky.”
Once they were able to plant their trees. It became a waiting game. The Mullane’s say it takes about 5 to 8 years for apple trees to start producing harvest-ready fruit.
As they waited for the apples, the Mullanes got into the wedding business.
“Mullanes said, “Weddings we were able to start immediately to start having an income, and that was so important because we didn’t have income from the trees until now, so the weddings have really been an important part of our business. Very important.”
As their champagne trees started to ripen. They needed a place to sell their apples.
That started them on a new adventure: owning a winery.
At Dixon’s Autumn Harvest Winery, they carry on the tradition of its previous local owners with wines made from other apple varieties like honey crisp.
One day, they hope to make a wine from champagne apples.
Another future plan:
Mullane said, “Our goal is to make cider, and we want to be able to have a facility to process the fruit, and yeah, we just want to be able to supply apples to as many people as we can.”
As they continue pushing their business to the future, they never forget their roots.
Mullane said, “I think of it so much, especially this time of year when we’re picking the apples. He would be so proud of us. He didn’t, he wasn’t around, my grandad wasn’t around for the forest fire, so I’m so thankful for that because he built that place from the ground up, and now we’ve built a place from the ground up.”
In Cadott, Maria Blough, First News at Nine.