Saturday, August 8, 2009

On the road again ...

Woo hoo! Five days to travel around southwestern Iowa tasting wines and being tourists. It just doesn't get any better than this. This week we are focusing on the Western Iowa Wine Trail. Unvisited wineries are largely getting to be too far away for day trips now, so vacations together = wineries.

We did learn about a new Web site on our travels; new to us, anyway. How can we have missed Iowa Wines? Anyone interested in exploring Iowa wines, this site is a must-see. Plus, there is a comprehensive list of wineries; Heidi, dare we compare this to the list in the maps we are using?

Most particularly fun this week is that I am the proud new owner of a 2009 Honda Fit Sport, pictured here beneath the entryway to Danish Countryside Vines & Wines, about which more later. Ain't she sweet? (The car, I mean.)

She's a lot smaller than my beloved Cruiser (over which I fear I'll shed tears when I sell it; I do love that car). However, over the course of our trip out "west," all around the west, and then back east, she averaged an exceedingly satisfactory 40.7 mpg. She seemed especially to enjoy those hilly country backroads, county roads, gravel. Okay okay, that's all off the point.

So, we struggled for a couple of weeks over accommodations in southwestern Iowa that would suit our needs and preferences, and finally had to settle for two bases of operations, rather than one. Neither quite meeting our previously set high standards. But both nonetheless fun in their own ways.

For the first three nights, Sunday until Wednesday morning, we settled happily into the Crescent View Bed & Breakfast, and enjoyed the hospitality of Carol and John Meduna. The room's sliding glass doors lead to a lovely terrace atop a bluff overlooking the town of Crescent and the Missouri River Valley, where all trains (and there are many!) run north. (Where do they go? Why do they never come back?) John and Carol have three adorable little Dachshunds, Grace, Elsa, and Honeynut, who were surprisingly a little leery of visitors. I managed to get a few pets in through the course of our stay.

The room in which we were ensconced also had heaters installed along the south wall. We would just like to warn all future summer visitors that, if the room seems warm, it may be more than just that west sun: MAKE SURE THE HEATERS ARE TURNED OFF! Ack. I have to admit, we spent our fist two nights somewhat stymied about why the A/C wasn't really having all that much of an impact. Odd as this seems, our confusion was in part because Carol and John also seemed confused. Breakfasts were delicious all three mornings, and we shared that time with the other B&B guests, a nice young couple named Martha and Austin, who had just been married the previous Friday and were honeymooning in the area.

I've gotten a bit ahead of myself. I should mention that as we arrived in Crescent on Sunday afternoon, our first stop in fact was our first winery of the trip: the Loess Hills Vineyard & Winery (plainly visible, as it turned out, from our lofty accommodations far above). What a delightful place! Here we met proprietors and winemakers Larry and Sheila (pictured) and got to hear not only all about their wines, but about the other wineries on the Western Iowa Wine Trail, the ways they all cooperate, the upcoming wine trail celebration this weekend (which, sadly, we'll just miss), and the history of the place. All this, and the wines were good! I'd promised friends Jayne & Steve, and Laura & Marcus, who are keeping my dogs for me, each a bottle of the best Iowa wine I tasted (their choice, red or white). Perhaps it's a little premature to judge our first winery the best -- but who knows? It's not like we'll be coming back to already visited places if I miss out now! So I got them each a bottle from Loess Hills. Sheila and Larry charge $5.00 to taste eight wines, and you get to keep the glass.

We got to try another varietal that was new to us; here in southwestern Iowa, most of the wineries, it will turn out, have a grape made with the DeChaunac grape. I reallly enjoyed the Loess Hill DeChaunac (di-show-nac); but this is the one that will go to Laura. We talked a bit about the Norton grape, popular, as you'll without doubt recall, from our trip to southeast Iowa. LHV is a little too far north for this one to thrive, so they are doing some grafting -- my confused notes and even more confused memory thinks they are grafting Norton vines to Leon Millot rootstalk to see if they can produce it more successfully. As Larry explains it, the grafting does not affect the grapes; the rootstalk provides the necessary nutrients and should help make it more winter-hardy, but the grapes will be Norton. Larry also mentioned that in Iowa, there are now incentives for farmers to grow alternative crops, which includes grapes.

One of the LHV wines is called SBR (Sneaky Bastard Red) and we were pleased to get to hear Larry's story about how it got its name. It has to do with secret recipes and friendly competition -- when you stop in yourself, be sure to ask. All told, LHV was a really wonderful beginning to our week of wine.

After we had settled in at the B&B, we ventured down the hill again for dinner. Carol had suggested several places in Crescent proper, and we chose Denny's (not the chain). Which was a most interesting choice. Kind of a biker bar, well at least this weekend (but we met a LOT of Harleys enroute to Sturgis on our trip). But anyway, definitely a bar. However, good service and my pizza was very good, though the Diet Coke I ordered was pretty watery. Suppose that's not their specialty.

We ended our evening sitting on the terrace outside our room at the B&B, watching the trains (heading north) and the sunset. The weather was lovely, and cooling down as dusk arrived. What ho! Is that a hummingbird? No, no, it's too late for a hummingbird. It seems to be striped, hummingbirds don't have that color. It is a hummingbird, I can see its beak! No, no, it's got antennae! It's a moth! We bickered back and forth about it until I managed to get this shot, thereby dispelling all doubt. Wow. (Later research revealed it to be a Sphinx moth -- White-Lined Sphinx, to be exact: Hyles lineata.)

End of Day 1. Stay tuned for Day 2, and more Western Iowa Wines!