Saturday, May 10, 2008

Visit With Chuck

May 10, 2008: Farley, Iowa -- once-upon-a-time home to Chuck Friedman, a good friend of Heidi's and mine from our high school days in Grinnell. And today, the launching site for our next wine adventure!

Chuck is visiting his mother, who still lives in Farley -- though alas, we didn't get to meet her as she'd gone galavanting off to a grandson's graduation in Ames. We did, however, get to admire her new flower bed -- graciously planted by son Chuck, and tour her lovely apartment. (Thanks, Chuck's Mom!)

After a driving tour of some of Chuck's old childhood haunts, we headed off for Bankston and the Park Farm Winery. Despite the weather being kind of gloomy and overcast, it was a lovely drive! Northeast Iowa is very scenic, many hills and picturesque farms and curvy roads.

Park Farm Winery has just built a new building, very lovely! They can host celebrations, parties, get-togethers, reunions, etc. and it sounds like they are very busy! There is a deck with lovely scenic seating for over 200.

We made our way into the tasting room, and quickly made friends with Dave-the-Worker (as opposed to owner Dave Cushman and his son, Dave). As we chatted about our project and how the goal is sort of a moving target (74 wineries and growing), Dave said in fact some of them are now closing so the number may begin to decline. He suggests maybe people were getting into the field without having done enough research and without realizing how labor intensive the work is.

Park Farm was the 14th winery in the state and they have been producing wines for four years. Grapes in the vineyards were planted in 2000 and they produced their first wine in 2003 (first sold in 2004). Dave knew a lot -- about the vineyard and the wines. He's a student at Loras College in Dubuque, but works wherever needed at Park Farm and also comes from a family that's been involved in wines.

He also knew about the vineyard cat, Boo-Boo ("I didn't name him"), and the vineyard dogs, Ollie, Milo, Lady, and Ginger. We saw Ollie (a dock dog!) and Milo as we came in, but they weren't around for photos when we left. He also knew a little about the labels: they are created by a local graphic design firm. One, on their Sweet Old Timer (concord) wine, is of Duncan, the owner's father-in-law. Another, on their Cranucopia (cranberry) wine, was created by a Wahlert High School student in a local competition. Dave pointed out a very cool tray created by his dad and including all the winery labels. He says he does these for wineries around the country and sends them as gifts, sometimes getting a case of wine in return!

Oh, and then there were the wines! This was a pretty professional set-up. We could try five wines at no charge, though if we wanted to try their special Vineyard Select 2005, they charge $3; it's their only entirely homegrown wine and is more limited in quantity. (Heidi tried it -- I tasted hers; it was pretty nice, but in the end not what we chose to buy.) I also tasted the Fume' LaCrosse 2006 (a nice dry white), and tasted Heidi's sample of the Vidal Reserve 2006 (odd, the flavor sort of disappears). For reds, I tried the Vintner's Reserve Chambourcin 2006 (very nice dry, light red -- this is what all three of us bought in the end), the Vintner's Reserve Chambourcin 2005 (Dave said he didn't think this one was nearly as good as the 2006 and we all agreed), the Mississippi Red ("off dry," easy to drink, smooth, not bad though a bit sweet), and the Sweet Old Timer (made with concord grapes -- really, quite fun! like Welch's Grape Juice with a kick!). I'm kind of enjoyng the concord wines, though none has struck me like the stuff Gerhold made from my own grapes.

On to our next stop -- lunch in Dubuque. Heidi to Chuck: "Do you have a map?" Chuck to Heidi: "No, but I have my instinct."

Enroute, we went through Durango, where were located the vineyards for this afternoon's winery: Stone Cliff Winery in Dubuque. More lovely scenic roads and vistas, still wishing for a bit o' sun.

We did manage to find Dubuque, based it would seem pretty much on Chuck's instinct. Though frankly, it's probably hard to miss Dubuque. Heidi seemed to know her way around in town and got us to the Port of Dubuque. The parking lots were all very full! Looks like graduations going on. We found a spot requiring a short hike to the Star Restaurant -- located in the renovated Dubuque Star Brewing Company building and owned and operated by Chuck's first cousin once removed, Matt Kluesner, and his wife Sarah. We met Sarah just inside and she assured us a lovely table with a view. Lunch was fun, the service good, the food tasty, the company excellent. And now that we had food in our bellies -- it was time for more wine!

Just downstairs on the first floor of the old brewery building is the Stone Cliff Winery. Quite a different experience from Park Farm. That old adage Location Location Location! certainly applies. Being right in the midst of historic riverfront Dubuque pretty much assures this winery a constant flow of tourists and tasters, and the tasting bar area was basically full while we were there. The gift shop was nice (I got a cute onesie for my new granddaughter, Maggie Rose!).

Kaitlin was our server here, and she didn't have time to be as attentive as Dave-the-Worker, but she was nice and pleasant and answered our questions as best she could. She is a long-time friend of the family so has been working at the vineyard since she was eight! ("Picking them [the grapes] is the worst job in the world!")
She explained the deal for tasting: you can taste five wines for $4.00 and at the end you get to take home your glass. The actual winery is located across the lobby, and you are welcome to go and walk through.

I asked about the logo on the wine labels, and she didn't know how it was created, but it represents the bluffs in the area and the creek that flows through the vineyards. I tried four of the wines, their Cardonnay (not bad, grew on me as I drank it), Cabernet Sauvignon (nice -- bought a bottle of this), Riesling (sweet, nice flavor -- I'll bet I'd like it with "riesling-food"), and Sweet Concord (again, pretty nice, fun, grape-juicey -- not as good as Park Farm's earlier, though).

As we sipped our last samples, we wandered through the winery itself. No one to guide us, no one there at all, in fact. Still, a neat place. Looks like there is room and seating here for parties and celebrations, too. Not sure about the Wine Glasses frog and no one to ask.

Another day of Iowa wines with friends comes to a close. We took a short walk along the River Walk and headed back for Farley, and from there said our good-byes to Chuck (still no sign of his mom) and headed home.