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One family brings one-of-a-kind apple to Wisconsin

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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CADOTT, Wis. (WEAU) - Building a new life from the ashes of a natural disaster, one farm family moved halfway across the country to start again.

“I would describe it as being sweet yet spicy,” said Becky Mullane of Dixon’s Apple Orchard.

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,” Mullane said.

Her grandfather, Fred Dixon, first developed the champagne apple in the early 1940′s on his ranch in New Mexico.

It quickly grew in popularity as a variety of apple good for anything from eating to baking.

“When you thought of fall in New Mexico, it was the balloon fiesta, green chili and Dixon’s apples,” Mullane said. “That’s what everybody knew in New Mexico.”

Their roots ran deep in the southwest until disaster struck.

“We lost our ranch to a forest fire in 2011, so when that happened--it was a huge fire,” Mullane said. “It was called the Las Canchas forest fire, and it took our whole mountain. It was such a hot fire it just singed everything--everything was gone, and so after that the flooding started, and we couldn’t keep farming there in that valley,” Mullane said.

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.

“It was scary,” said Jim Mullane, one of the owners of Dixon’s Apple Orchard. “I mean, we moved up here not knowing a soul. We just got connected to the right people.”

Jim Mullane said he’s thankful for all the people who helped a family of Wisconsin transplants make a new home.

“People gave us a chance, and it’s all kind of helped to get us where we are today,” Jim Mullane said.

Moving came with its own challenges. They had to adapt their future champagne trees for a new climate.

“We were able to save it, bring it, get it to a root stock that will survive these temperatures in the winter,” Becky Mullane said. “That’s kind of tricky.”

Once they were able to plant their trees, it became a waiting game.

The Mullanes said it takes about five to eight years for apple trees to start producing harvest-ready fruit.

As they waited for the apples, the Mullanes got into the wedding business.

“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,” Becky Mullane said.

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. They also have another future plan.

“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,” Jim Mullane said.

As they continue pushing their business to the future, they never forget their roots.

“ I think of it so much, especially this time of year when we’re picking the apples,” Becky Mullane said. “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.”

With thousands of trees growing different apple varieties, the Mullane family has plans to plant 1,000 champagne trees next year.

This fall they’re hosting a haunted corn maze for the first time at their winery.

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