Friday, July 31, 2009

Scenic Rivers Wine Trail - Northwest Vine, Part 2

Okay, down to the wire again. Heidi and I leave for our week-long wine-tasting adventure to southwest Iowa day after tomorrow, so I need to get caught up tonight.

I'd like to share our adventures from our second day exploring the Northwest Vine of the Scenic Rivers Wine Trail, July 19, 2009.

Sunday morning in the cottage was lovely, particularly since the neighbor's maniac barking dogs were completely silent. Sweet. I played outdoors a little bit with the fat red non-barking doggie next door, she of the underbite, Chelsea. No pic, more's the pity, she was sweet, and seemed to enjoy having company. Heidi and I went for a walk into Bentonsport again -- and plumb forgot to watch for the Amish carriages that Rick (our host) had promised us parade past on the main road on Sunday mornings on their way to church. Shame.

We crossed the restored pedestrian bridge again, stopping enroute to admire the river. By the time we were back on the Bentonsport side of the river, some of the little shops were open, so we went visiting. One was a shop full of fabricky, stuffed, embroidered, sewn stuff, loads of pretty things, a few antiques in back room. Not much my style, but even less that of the proprietor, an older guy who sat very glumly at the front desk looking like this was the last place on God's green earth he wanted to be spending his Sunday morning. He barely greeted us and certainly didn't offer any pleasantries or assistance. How his wife talked him into doing a stint there is beyond me.

We enjoyed quite awhile in the Greef General Store, which is basically a large antique shop now, also dabbling in fudge. Odd. Samples were tasty. Because we'd only left home for a walk, I hadn't any money, but managed nonetheless to find a few things I wanted to buy, so once we were done, we went home, packed up, and enroute to our daily wineries stopped again to make some purchases. One of my buys was a six-volume set of books, The Young & Field Advanced Literary Reader, published in 1916, only $15 for all six! Now to read them. OMG, check this out! Here is Book Six in Google Books! The Internet is SO WONDERFUL.

Okay, shopping finished, we bid our fond farewells to Bentonsport and head off for Sunday adventures. Today, we're headed for Alabama! At least you'd rather think so: goal historic communities are Selma and Birmingham. However, on the way, since we are going through Keosaqua again anyway, we are making a little detour to Whispering Pines, to get our passports signed since "the boys" neglected to tell us about these when we visited yesterday. This time, sister-of-Shawn/wife-of-Dustin was there, with another baby, and she apologized, stamped our passports, and I think was really just as glad she didn't have to do the wine spiel.

We were very literally quite through Selma before we realized it and had to find a turnabout spot so we could head back. Oops. Here was one of the fascinating little wineries that make the trip worthwhile, so far afield from a Tassel Ridge or a Southern Hills, no fancy retail place, this. Crane Winery is located in a building that has housed a community center, Post Office, and hunting lodge. Gerri was our proprietress and was full of fascinating historical anecdotes about Selma (population fewer then 100 people now) and the surrounding area, including tales of the Ioway Indians, Black Hawk, the Underground Railroad. This little corner of the state is bursting with history! And yet now so little remains of most of these communities. Crane is in a building that's pretty beat up, in a big room that looks extremely lived in, with kids, toys, and young adults. Not at all the sort of place you'd expect to find wine. But very welcoming, just oddly charming.

Gerri served up her wines enthusiastically and chatted us up about them. She poured a Concord wine which was the best I've tasted on our tours so far -- the best since
the Concord my former work colleague Gerhold made for me from my own Concord grapes a few years ago. It was quite dry. (I think - hope - I bought a bottle of this one.) She also had a wine made from the Norton grape, very different from the Norton at Whispering Pines yesterday; it was quite thick but still pretty good. They plan to make a port from this. The wines here were mostly fun and reasonably tasty; Heidi described them as "more flavorful" than many Iowa wines we've tried in many fancier places.

Next stop, Birmingham. Another teeny tiny burg. They're everywhere! And loads of them have wineries. What an odd new phenomenon. In Birmingham we beelined for Stone Fox Winery, a nicely renovated and kept little building in the middle of town. Yesterday, when we'd passed through, there had been a sign along the main street with an arrow pointing to the winery. Today, no sign. When we arrived, though, we were greeted by a lovely young woman, who apparently got interested in wines because of her husband. He walked in shortly -- my gosh, I'm just here to say, you have no idea who all is making wines in Iowa. To see this guy on the street, you would just simply never think wine. He couldn't have been more pleasant and was glad to talk about his wines. But he looked a kid, longish scruffy blonde hair, maybe early 20s.

The couple has had some financial help from parents, notably with remodeling the building. They are already looking ahead to a bigger building, a place where they can have parties, weddings, celebrations, be more commercial. We mentioned the missing sign and the young man pretty promptly left to go down to the corner and put it up. They are really pleased that one of their whites recently won a silver medal in a Midwestern competition and talked a little about how you enter those things. The lady is still waiting for the actual medal and is really hoping she'll get one! (Me too.)

She designed the fox on their labels -- and I'm sorry to say the fox doesn't show up at their Web site. Heidi had showed me the site before our trip and I didn't care for it. It looks canned and I don't like sites with music. But now, revisiting it after our visit, I like it much better. It makes a difference having met the people and knowing a bit about what's going on. I didn't notice on my first visit that their winery dog, Merrick, gets front page billing and is helping to raise money for rescue causes -- I wish I'd known that; I would have donated. We did meet Merrick, a nice nearly white (!) Shiba Inu, who is very good with winery guests. My girls wouldn't be so calm and and polite, I'm sure. I do hope they can add the fox to their site, though. All this fun, and they had pretty decent wines, too. Heidi and I each bought a bottle.

Three bottles this weekend from five wineries. And they were only a little bit obligation purchases; I do try really hard only to buy bottles I have pretty much enjoyed!

Heading home, thinking of lunch but not sure what to do. We are contemplating wine, cheese, crackers. We'd thought maybe to sit outside a winery with a bottle of their wine and our own cheese and crackers, but the two we visited today didn't have that sort of option. So we drive through Fairfield -- no sites are evident. Driving on, we come to a turnoff for Lake Darling. Sounds inviting! We turn in, and follow the signs for the wedding. :)

When we reach the shelter and the beach, we pull in. Puzzled. What happened to the lake? Seriously. There is no water. I still haven't taken time to investigate this. At any rate, we did stop for our light lunch, and finished an open bottle of Heidi's white wine, drinking from yogurt cups in the assumption it's probably not okay to drink wine in a state park. I probably shouldn't be writing that here, should I?

After empty Lake Darling, all that remained was the drive home. Weekend vacation over. Boy, we did a lot, saw a lot, learned a lot! Southeast Iowa was fun!


  1. I'm glad you're continuing the blog! I like that you include information about your trips and not just a description of the wineries. I enjoy your writing style, which sounds just like you and makes me feel like I am sharing a little bit of the adventures you and Heidi are having. Maybe you can become a full time travel writer when you retire? Get some publication to pay you to travel somewhere and write about it?? -- Sue Lerdal

  2. LOL, I write about the trips because I am not good enough at evaluating the wines to say all that much. Basically, I liked it or I didn't isn't going to get me far. We are just back from our week in SW Iowa and all those days' travels now hang over my head. Will try to do a day at a time, makes for more manageable posts, anyway. Travel writing might be fun. Can I take the dogs?