The day dawned sunny and warm. It's August 4, 2009. Our wine adventures in southwest Iowa continue. (Isn't this just too dramatic?)
Breakfast with the newlyweds again. Excellent again. Except for the first morning, breakfasts have been around 9:00, which means lunchtime comes too soon. Or gets skipped.
This morning we head for Exira. Though noted navigator, Heidi, suggests our goal, Danish Countryside Vines & Wines, is really much nearer Elk Horn ("the Heart of Dane Country" -- Heidi, I might just point out, is Danish). Home, as the many many road signs (and their Web site) will tell you, of a real honest-to-goodness Danish Windmill.
And not too far outside town we find the lovely Danish Countryside vineyard. This is where the photo of me with my new car was taken (see post for first day of southwest trip). As we drove up to the restored barn, Carol Petersen, proprietress and one of the winemakers, drove up from the old farm house in her mini-van. Pretty smart: she says there is a camera in the house so she can see when visitors arrive. She also says she was downstairs cleaning out the freezer, which made me wonder where, exactly, the camera is, and does it then require some further form of notification if it is not visible from wherever the household members currently are?
Carol was fun to talk with. She and her husband Al run the entire operation themselves, with some help sometimes from a 13-year-old granddaughter. They are retired farmers. They do hire teens to help with some of the labor, but not with the cluster pruning. She was very savvy about marketing, shared information about vineyard care, talked bout restoring the barn (which was very lovely). They have created a party room on the upper level, though she said as it developed she thought it would be great to make it into an apartment and live there. Apparently, however, it turns out that is illegal. She didn't know exactly why, or if it is a state or federal law. This is an interesting thing of note, about which I have two further comments.
One is that at the Breezy Hills vineyard (later today), the winemaker told me, when I mentioned this, that the distinction is you can't live above the place where the wine is processed. So, for instance, you can live above a bar, but you wouldn't be able to live above a brewery. This makes some sense to me, although the question remains, why?
I fished around very briefly on Google just now to see if I could find anything, but didn't come up with a way to search effectively. However, one of the things that came up in my search was one of my earlier blog posts (!! - yippee!), about the Grape Escape winery in Pleasantville (see post dated 8/23/2008), in which I posted that Karen and her husband Rod live in an apartment adjoining their shop, and in which, I might add, they are most certainly processing wine. Is there a distinction between "above" and "adjoining?"
This all requires more research, which I may or may not do. (I also still need to figure out why there was no water in Lake Darling when we stopped last month. There's not enough time in the world ... )
One thing Carol is excited about is that they have purchased a small house in Elk Horn -- right across the street from the windmill (that marketing savvy again), and will open it as a retail shop selling gifts and their wine. She wants to have more artsy stuff there. Customers will be able to open bottles they purchase (staff wil NOT be able to open bottles), and to drink it in the shop (although not in the bonded area where the wines are sold) or on the patio. She doesn't know if she'll be able to sell crackers and cheese to go with them: she'd apparently need a food license to do that! (Our curiosity piqued, and because we had to drive through Elk Horn again anyway, we searched out the house. It is a pretty little yellow home, and what a great location!)
Oh gosh, I keep forgetting to talk about the wines! (Bizarro cartoon at left is courtesy of Heidi, who handed it over in paper version at the start of our trip.) Carol said "a gal from Kansas City designed our label." We got to choose five wines each to taste. I tried two of their whites: Windmill White (made from the Chardonel grape), Twilight White (made from Brianna), and three reds: Tivoli Celebration (Frontenac), Horse Trader (St Vincent), and Hayford Red (Foch). The Petersens have about three acres of grapes and grow all these varietals. They also have wines made from LaCrosse, Edelweiss, and Catawba. (If nothing else, I am learning about what grapes grow in Iowa -- and all these varietals are familiar, at least in name if not in taste.) I found the Horse Trader to be very tart, but enjoyed the Hayford Red and bought a bottle of that. It was very nice to drink last week (later in August), and I shared it with my good friend Martin.
One of our joys on these trips has become discovering parts of Iowa we haven't seen, and parts you certainly won't see driving across the state on I80. While traveling, we try whenever we can to avoid the major highways, and Heidi truly is a great navigator for finding scenic backroad by-ways for getting where we need to be. After leaving Danish Countryside, we took the backroads to Walnut, Iowa's Antique City (official designation!), marveling at the scenic and hilly countryside -- so many beautiful wildflowers! What a great time to be traveling around Iowa. In Walnut, we visited several antique shops; Heidi made the only purchase, a green-handled metal spatula to add to her collection of green-handled kitchen equipment. We stopped in at the local bakery for coffee and a baked treat in lieu of lunch, since neither of us was yet very hungry after Carol's generous breakfast at the B&B this morning.
Back to the backroads for a lovely drive to Breezy Hills Vineyard & Winery in Minden. (Honestly, who's ever heard of Minden? There are so many PLACES!) At Breezy Hills, Amber, a quite knowledgeable 19 year old employee, was our hostess. (She's too young to taste, so couldn't make a pronouncement about her favorite, but seems to love her job and says she has "learned so much!") Vineyard owners are Darrell and Roberta Morris. At Breezy Hills, we could also select five wines.
My choices here included dry reds Tamarack Red (bronze medal winner), DeChaunac (on sale for $6/bottle!); semi-dry LaCrosse (winner of two bronze medals!); semi-sweet Tres Hermanas (silver medal winner, and a blend of La Crescent, Brianna, and Edelweiss grapes), and sweet red Misbehavin' -- which I felt I really ought to try since it is a double gold medal winner! It was too sweet for my taste, but I bought a bottle, thinking to give it to my neighbor Wendy, who's suggested her front porch swing is a great place to sit and drink wine and that maybe I can educate her. Breezy Hills also produces some fruit wines, though are currently sold out. They will be harvesting peaches, soon -- check out photo of Heidi in front of some of their peach trees.
As an aside here, let me mention that I talked with my friend Amy Ackman, whose cottage business, Photo Prose, was doing a spanking good business at the Downtown Farmers Market when I went last Saturday with my mom, and when she heard I was going on another wine trip, she asked if I would consider taking along one of her WINE words to show off to the wineries as something they might like to add to their gift shops. She loaned me a WINE and gave over a stack of business cards. So I have been diligently showing off her stuff, and most of the winery folks seem interested, some are enthusiastic.
So that having been said, when Heidi and I were done tasting and finished chatting up Amber, Heidi left to take our purchases to the car. I asked Amber if she could get Roberta to come out so I could show her Amy's word. Well, Roberta and Darrell both came out and then, what fun! This is what we enjoy most, talking with the winemakers and winery owners. It was so interesting and I just kept hoping Heidi would come back when I was taking so long.
It was Darrell who told me you can't live above a place where wine/beer/food is processed, that it's the processing part that is key. I didn't think to pursue that to ask why; Heidi did later when we were in the car. Too late. Darrell agrees that Iowans tend to prefer sweeter and white wines, which he is sorry about because he loves to make reds. Roberta commented that she thinks Iowans' tastes will change over time as they get more accustomed to drinking wines. We talked about how fast the industry is maturing in Iowa and how fast the wineries are changing. He says his colleagues will mention something they've learned or are doing and "you can taste it in their wine."
I mentioned that we'd done Tabor Home long before we really started our project and planned to end with them as our finale winery, and he said they have a big advantage over many of the Iowa vineyards because "he's been doing it so much longer." It was a delightful chat, and I was so sorry Heidi wasn't there. When I left, she was sitting just outside the door at a little table, enjoying the day. Alas.
We took the backroads back to Crescent and stopped at the Pink Poodle (recommended by the honeymooning couple at the B&B) for supper. This was a really typical small town steakhouse, but we had good service and pretty decent food. Martha, the bride, had said she had the most awesome dessert ever when they ate here. My question as we ate was, how the heck did tiny Martha manage to eat any of her substantial dinner and still have room for dessert?
And so ends day 3.