Sunday, August 30, 2009

One day, three wineries ...

August 6, 2009. Day five, and the last full day of our southwestern wine vacation, is a full one. It's a beautiful day to wake up on the lake, and we enjoy a leisurely breakfast from food we brought along and have been trying to preserve all week. Not too much has spoiled. Except my cocoa. VERY spoiled. Ugh. And Heidi is having to cut away good big bits of once-pretty strawberries.

Then we head out for our day of touring and drinking. Once again, we note the gorgeous Iowa countryside in this part of the state, there is beautiful and striking scenery. And charming small town names: Nodaway, College Spring, Coin, Silver City -- where do these places get their names? WHAT college? What coin? Was there silver? And Nodaway sounds like a child's lullaby. And out here, in the middle of nowhere in particular, close to nothing of any significance, here is a huge old mansion. Why? Who built it and who were they trying to impress out here? And Red Oak, which has a bright ORANGE water tower -- and are there really red oaks there? I am filled with wonderment over Iowa scenes and villages I never knew existed.

Mileage on my sweet little new car continues to creep up as it, too, enjoys the southwest Iowa backroads; it'll edge up to 40 mpg as we arrive back in Corning this evening.

We passed through Clarinda, Home of Glen Miller, and it struck me that Iowa is the childhood home of very many very famous people (this weekend alone, we have been within spitting distance of the homes of Johnny Carson and Glen Miller, but also of note are Buffalo Bill Cody, John Wayne, Mamie Doud Eisenhower, Ann Landers, Henry Wallace, AND, of more recent fame, Elijah Wood and Ashton Kutcher -- famous folks who chose NOT actually to BE famous in Iowa). (Though as an aside, can I just mention that I saw Kutcher play Jem in Washington High School's "To Kill a Mockingbird," back in the day.)

We drove through Villisca, home of the Villisca Axe Murders (if I'd looked at this site first, maybe I would have recognized the house when we drove past it!), and made a half-hearted attempt to find the axe murderer house, but had no luck. (Ah, I see there are at least TWO (count 'em two!) "official" Villisca Axe Murder sites.) Heidi's reference, the Iowa guide book I'd just given her for her birthday (Iowa: An Explorer's Guide, by Lauren R. Rice - KUNI: The Exchange 7/21/09 (2009-07-21)), said there are tours available, but arrangements needed to be made in advance, they take quite a lot of time, and you also have to (um, get to) see a bunch of stuff that neither of us cared much to see. So no axe murderer house for us. Maybe another time. It does seem a shame that a nice little Iowa town has only that as its claim to fame. On the other hand, at least it HAS a claim to fame.

A couple of other axe murder notes to Heidi:
1) That murder I was puzzling over about which I'd read a book? The one where they hung a guy and later figured out it was pretty much a sure thing he wasn't the killer? Well, it wasn't Villisca, though it was a multiple axe murder: The Woolfolk Tragedy, took place in George in 1887.
2) Lizzie Borden. That's the name I could not come up with as we discussed briefly prominent axe murders -- "Lizzie Borden took an axe/Gave her father forty wacks/When she saw what she had done/Gave her mother forty-one" (this site mentions both cases:
3) The OTHER Iowa axe murder I was struggling to come up with while in Villisca -- yes, ANOTHER Iowa axe murder -- was the case of Margaret Hossack, who allegedly killed her prosperous farmer husband.
4) Okay, so it was mostly ME discussing axe murders. Heidi apparently doesn't seek out books about axe murders. Go figure.

But I digress. Seriously.

We stopped in Sidney for a snack and bathroom break and explored their nice little grocery store. I was pretty sure, and commented about it, that Sidney is the home of a quite well-known rodeo. This wasn't familiar to Heidi. So I must just point out now the Sidney Iowa Championship Rodeo Web site ("Rodeo Town USA") -- AND the fact that we actually just missed the thing! The dates for this year's rodeo were July 28-August 1! More's the pity.

Our first official stop today is at the Sugar Clay Winery & Vineyards in Thurman. What a pretty place! Buried in the woods, this neat old restored building has loads of decks and wooden walks leading from one to the other, birdhouses, wildflowers, a lovely setting. At Sugar Clay, we talked with the winery's full-time employee (whose name I neglected to get, sorry!). She was charming. She used to clean house for the owners before being offered this job and says it's a great deal. She is in charge of managing the retail story and buying for the gift shop.

We also met a sweet winery dog, Germand Shepherd Cash (named for Johnny Cash -- NOT from Iowa), who was friendly and obviously right at home in the winery, though he was sure a mightily thin boy! The winery owners are Johnny Cash fans.

I didn't personally care for any of the wines I tasted here and this may have been the only place where I didn't buy a bottle. I believe Heidi did, however. For awhile, I was getting past my sense of obligatory purchasing, but I have sunk back into it now. It just doesn't feel right to take up so much of the winemakers' time, chatting about their wines and their wineries and vineyards, and their backgrounds and what led them to do this, tasting all their wines -- and then to walk out empty-handed. And I'm usually able to find at least one wine at each place that I'm confident I'll enjoy at home with meals. I'll talk a little more in my trip wrap-up post tomorrow about my thoughts on Iowa wines at this point in our voyage.

Our next stop was King's Crossing Vineyard & Winery in Glenwood. I'm glad to say I ended up enjoying this place more than I expected to. The whole medieval/renaissance theme didn't really capture my imagination the way it obviously did the owners'. However, in fact they managed to carry it through pretty well, including the decor of the entire place (indoors and out -- there's even a dragon skull!), the names and labels on their wines, and the wine descriptions on their tasting notes sheet; they also have themed parties and feasts. I enjoyed most their Jester's Quandary (which has a story -- about the quandary -- on the label), and bought a bottle of that.

Our last stop of the day was Prairie Crossing Vineyard & Winery in Treynor. Imagine my surprise when we walked in and the lady behind the counter immediately said "Jo!?" I stumbled and guessed wrong once, but as soon as she said "Diane," I knew it was our old Grinnell High School classmate, Diane Turner (now Forristall)! Does the world get any smaller? We had a great visit with Diane, and learned that in addition to working for Prairie Crossing, she and her husband have their own small vineyard and make wine -- just up the road. The Prairie Crossing wines were very nice; I bought a bottle of Wagon Trail Red -- and I must admit here that this is one of the rare bottles I have finished off as a standalone wine (that being without my customary crackers and cheese). It was that good.

Diane's on Facebook and we're now friends. She must be some sort of wine goddess in southwest Iowa, she works with the Iowa chapter of IWFS (International Wine & Food Society) planning and attending wine dinners that seek to pair just the right wine with each course, works in a winery, OWNS a winery and makes her own wine, is involved in other local vineyard and winery activities, and recommends good wine books (My First Crush, by Linda Kaplan; The House of Mondavi, by Julia Flynn Siler). I'm excited to have re-discovered her. Plus, this is such good timing because as I write this tonight (August 31), Diane is updating her Facebook status with photos of their ongoing grape harvest! So exciting to read about now that we've just been visiting.

After leaving Prairie Crossing, we headed for home, driving past Diane's place (notable for its ISU wind sock) and taking the backroads once again, guided by Heidi, my trusty navigator. We got back to our cabin on the lake in time for a nice dinner -- though we did end up splitting up: too windy and buggy for Heidi out at the picnic table. Another evening without plumbing, feeling the loss ...

The end, day five.


  1. John's mom taught in College Springs in 1938-1941. The college was Amity College ... long out of operation in her time. More info at


  2. This just gets better and better. I will be sorry for your trip to end. (I know it has already ended, but not quite yet for us readers!)

  3. Sue, how delightful! Thanks for a little bit of history and some answers to my questions! So glad you're enjoying reading about our adventure.

    Actually, the voyage isn't over yet -- on our way home, we double-checked our map, and we figured 42 down, 18 to go ...