Saturday, August 15, 2009

Moving on ...

Today, Wednesday August 5, we pack up and move on to our next home away from home. Last breakfast at Crescent View B&B. Packing up led to new discoveries: odd, that large unusual-looking mirror on the wall near the sliding glass doors? Well, what do you know, it's not a mirror at all! Well, okay, it is a mirror. But it's also a fake fireplace. Wow, wonders never cease -- who knew there were such things? It looked a bit like this. When it was time to leave, hostess Carol took a couple of photos of us -- and emailed them promptly, so I'm able to include one here. Farewell to Crescent, onward and forward, new adventures await!

Enroute to our new digs, we detour to Carson for a visit at Whispering Hills Vineyards. Whispering Hills is in an old restored barn and we talked to Dana; she and her husband Mike run the operation and live on the farmstead. They have about three acres of grapes. Today, she was working with her father-in-law in the shop.

Both Dana and her husband work at other jobs (in Omaha) full-time, and have three kids who range in age from very young to high school - so this couple is hopping busy! We talked a bit about their label design, and about the good cooperation among the Western Iowa Wine Trail wineries. She and her husband have taken classes together, and she says your taste palate becomes more sensitive as you learn and taste more. Neither of them were particularly wine drinkers before getting involved with their own vineyard.

This was a discussion Heidi and I had this weekend, and is a question I'm interested in asking as we continue our voyage: were you a wine drinker before? I completely understand that Iowa wines, made with grapes to which we are largely unaccustomed, will take some getting used to. But isn't it pretentious to become a wine maker if you have no background in wine? Don't you have to know, before you start making your own wine, what good wine tastes like? I admit, I do not know the answer to this, though it seems intuitive.

Dana and Mike used to farm here and in fact farrowed pigs in the barn that they've now restored. They gave up farming for their full-time jobs, but after about five years away, wanted to do something with the land again and so got involved with grapes! I enjoyed my sample of Dana's Catawba, so selected a bottle of that to purchase.

We drove on toward Corning, where we'll visit the Corning Winery and settle into our cabin at Lake Icaria. What beautiful countryside! The Loess Hills, terraced fields of crops, very hilly, colorful wildflowers, large oak trees, a lovely drive!

The Corning Winery was right at the main intersection before we turned toward town. We got to drive beneath a very neat grape vine arbor (the winemaker's Concord grapes, it turns out) and alongside a pond with an enormous (3000 lb.) wine barrel sitting on a deck extending over the water. I've just now discovered that it seems neither Corning (birthplace of Johnny Carson) nor the Corning Winery has a Web site, so no links. That's odd and unfortunate. The winery's Web site as listed in the Iowa Wine & Beer brochure produced an error page. Likewise the Web site listed for Corning at the Johnny Carson Birthplace site.

Though we didn't, you can actually sit inside the giant barrel and relax with a glass of wine as you enjoy the view of the pond and the scenic land beyond. Ron Corey is the winemaker and owner at Corning Winery and was a delightful host. He met us outside as we were getting out of the car and we chatted right there for some time -- he told us all about how he got started, what he used to do (banker, car salesman), how he manages the vineyard (his son helps; he also has a wonderful Mexican couple who are in their 60s and have lived in Corning for many years; they devote many hours to help with pruning and harvesting and are, he says, "good workers").

Ron is planning to build a tasting room ON the pond, possibly by late fall (though he says it would be easier to do when there is ice). Per my previous comments, we learned that Ron was not a wine drinker before starting his vineyard. His current tasting room is obviously a make-do place, basically the room where cases of bottled wine is stored and you use the tops of the boxes as your counter. Hey it works! We used the little plastic tasting glasses, though he offered us the option of using glass wine glass if we were so inclined.

We learned the sad news that his sister had just died the previous weekend; they were obviously close: though we talked about her a fair bit, it did make him sad. She was in Denver. He has a wine named for her and she helped design the labels. He rushed them into production so he could enter a label contest, and was hoping to win so he could tell her before she died. The label didn't win, but several of his wines won medals! So he was able to share that with her. The Corning Winery just opened in December, and at the Mid-American Wine Competition, chief judge and noted wine expert Doug Frost (see also Wine Competition Results press release) commended Ron for his excellent wines.

Ron had a lot of good stories to share! He says he gets a lot of walk-in traffic, being at the intersection of two busy highways; he estimated he gets perhaps 10-30 visitors a day. Heidi and I both enjoyed our visit and his wines. I bought a couple of bottles, including one of St. Croix as a gift for my boss (who later said she liked it!), and a bottle his Edelweiss for myself. This was a really nice wine -- I enjoyed it a lot with several meals, including Chinese hot & sour soup, and a pork meal. The Edelweiss wines are touted as being similar to Rieslings.

We next headed straight through town toward Lake Icaria. Maeve Clark, a friend and colleague of Heidi's and a friend of mine, had pointed us in the direction of Icarian history at this Web site: before we left on our trip.

The lake was lovely and we had no trouble finding Cabin #13, our destination. The cabin was right on the lake and very beautiful; though there was no indoor plumbing, there was a "hydrant" just outside the cabin (water pressure TOO MUCH to be practical, ye gads!). Bathroom facilities were nice and clean, and Heidi reported that the showers were good. Though these things were a good trek from the cabin, particularly in the middle of the night. The cabin was one room with two sets of bunk beds, various benches and shelves, a table, counter, microwave, ceiling fan. A nice front porch, though as I discovered both evenings, a difficult place to enjoy a good book, as the porch light is humming thick with some innocuous little flying insects that seemed intent on suicide -- after annoying the HELL out of me! (They'd fly into my citronella candles and die in the wax, they get through the window screens and dive into the dishpan water to drown, they die in the windowsills, on the chairs, ack!)

I was destined for early bedtimes both nights -- not as early as Heidi, but earlier than was my wont. Inside the cabin, no choice but very bright lights or no lights at all. However, the second night -- and even before Heidi turned lights out (though she was inside to avoid bugs, insofar as that was possible), I was treated to a visit from a tiny little mouse, who was walking all over the blue Coleman chair, across the seat, back and forth, up and over the back; I watched him explore for a minute or two, but then decided I didn't need to have him hiding out in the chair bag, so got up to move that out of his way. He disappeared in a flash.

Not sure how I skipped so quickly to bedtime. I should at least report that we enjoyed a lovely dinner of tortillas with refried beans, tomatoes, cheese, etc.; chips with salsa -- wine, of course. Heidi brought her bottle of Owen Roe -- an expensive investment for her, and purchased after our wonderful wine dinner at Blend in Cedar Rapids earlier this year (co-hosted by 1st Ave Wine House and New Pioneer Co-op -- they brought in the Owen Roe winery guy to do the food pairings). Heidi also brought mega yummy chocolate cake for dessert (which I think was also from New Pi). Though we got to watch many speed boats towing skiers and innertubers before and during dinner, we enjoyed a quiet evening and a lovely sunset on the lake.


  1. It was interesting to learn about the Icarians -- I'd never heard of them. The heartland seemed to attract people who were searching for a place to practice their religions and/or to live their philosophies. After you visit all of Iowa's wineries, you could take up a new goal to visit (and learn about) all of those communities ... Amana Colonies, New Harmony in Indiana, Bishop Hill and Nauvoo in Illinois ...

  2. I understand there are wineries in Nauvoo -- maybe that could be our incentive ...