Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Heart of Iowa Passport

July 19, 2008. Saturday. Summer. Central Iowa. The next leg.

I have to say, I have postponed writing about this leg of our journey for far too long. Now, with the trip so far behind me (today is August 27), I'll be scrambling to come up with details. I am really HOPING that my colleague in wine (hello, Heidi!) will at least make some comments about this post, add in some details -- particularly about the cultural part of the trip, fill in some blanks!

Anyway, we took off bright and early in Heidi's brand spanking new Subaru Forester, and headed for Newton. And just in time! Jasper Winery is moving to Des Moines -- and today is moving day! It was a lovely summer day, though, and Jasper was destined to be the highlight. We browsed around outside the building for a little bit -- though it's tucked back in an out-of-the-way industrial location, they have a small Rain Garden; we stopped to admire the flowers, bees, and butterflies.

We headed on into the building and pretty soon got hooked up with Joan, who shared wines and talked about the winery. Jasper had its first harvest in 2003-2004. Paula and Jean Groben are the owners, and their son Mason is the winemaker; he has a degree in enology. Joan told us they have had to create a new label, as a California vineyard that uses the "J" apparently complained about their "j" label. You can see the new "JW" label at the right side of the photo below.

I tried their Le Crescent, which was fruity and tasted good alone. The label on this one has a picture of the new winery. Their Seyval Blanc was drier and Joan said it goes nice with creamy food. I didn't care for the Back Road, but their Behind the Shed was nice -- would be good with chocolate! I also tried the 2006 Iowa Chancellor. Ended up buying white -- a bottle of the Seyval Blanc. There is a winery dog -- Lucy -- but we did not see her, alas.

Also at Jasper, Heidi and I committed ourselves to the Heart of Iowa Wineries by purchasing passports. At each of the Heart of Iowa Wineries, we will get a stamp, and once our passports are filled, a gift! Worth $25? We shall see!

Joan gave us some ideas for lunch restaurants and we headed back into town. We found a new little place she had recommended, Bistro 211, and had quite a nice little lunch. The proprietor was in there chatting up the customers, most of whom he seemed to know. It was a small place and he seemed dedicated to the cause, but somehow wasn't the kind of guy to be running that sort of bistro. Of course, he's not really attracting the kind of customers you might expect at that sort of bistro, either, so maybe it'll all work out.

Before leaving Newton, we took a little cultural tour, driving past the Emerson Hough home, which is near the eponymously named Emerson Hough Elementary School.

Because we bought passports, we modified our plans for the day, figuring we should get started knocking Heart of Iowa wineries off our list. The passports are for 2008, so our time is already limited. We decided to circle up to Tama and the John Ernest Vineyard & Winery for our next stop.

Another pretty new building. Scenic, vineyards nearby, green, flowers, not terribly unique. Whitney helped us out inside. Preparations were underway for a party that evening and we talked a little about that. They have a special banquet room available and caterers were in attendance getting things ready. John Ernest is a family affair and we did meet DeeDee, the family matriarch.

At JEV I tried the Iowa Sunset (made with Iowa Foch grapes), the Pinot Noir (grapes from Chile), and the LaCrosse (Iowa grapes). I also tried the Timber Ridge (made with Iowa Frontenac grapes -- it touts a cherry aroma and I could definitely smell that!), the Ernest Delight (Iowa St. Croix grapes), and the Lincoln Highway Red (a blend of Iowa Frontenac and Merlot wines). Wasn't impressed enough with any to make a wine purchase, but did buy a prettily packaged Wine Glace' -- a powder that you use to make "wine-a-ritas." I don't know why. I guess because I felt like I ought to buy something. And because the idea of a "wine-a-rita" intrigues me. Though you've definitely gotta have a party to use this, and it's not as though I have a lot of parties.

We didn't get a tour of the winery; somehow, it didn't seem right even to ask. I don't think I even remembered to ask about their labels.

JEV had two resident winery dogs! Jed (called Nuts), a very cute older gold dog, and Scabbers (Buster), a Schnauzer.

Next stop: The Fireside Winery in Williamsburg! This one doesn't count toward completion of our passports, but it is on the way home. Another vaguely uninspiring building -- all these new places must have the same architect.
Pretty countryside, pretty flowers, handsome old white church across the street. Got my favorite photo of the day here, anyway (below).

This place was busy. Much gift shop. Many customers. We didn't get much opportunity to chat with anyone who knew anything. We talked a little with Renee, who was serving our wines -- and also serving to many others, so busybusy. I tried their Matchbox (Chambourcin and Merlot) and thought it too sweet, although Heidi liked it;
their Serenade (my note says "Yeah!", although I apparently wasn't impressed enough to buy any); the Amberglow (note says "nice"), the Iowa LaCrosse (this was good -- I think I didn't buy any because I just wasn't excited about the place overall, and because since no one working there cared whether I was there or not, I didn't feel any obligation to buy anything). Also tried their Iowa Vignoles (notes say "cool treat by itself," and "very unique!" -- again, no purchase).

No wine dog. Didn't ask about labels. Want inspiration on next trip, please!

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