Iowa: Cornfields and…Wine?

By Mary Mihaly


I’ve always been a fan of meandering; years of travel writing taught me that every place has its teasers. Iowa is no exception, so when a friend in Denver invited me for a visit, I decided to spend four days getting there: I would explore Iowa wineries along the way.


As adventures go, this one’s a breeze, thanks to the I-80 Wine Trail. Much of Iowa’s finest wine is produced within a 30-minute drive of the interstate; if you leave Ohio in the morning you can spend your first night in Cedar Rapids – and reach your first stop, Brick Arch Winery, before it closes.


Owner/winemaker Ilene Lande is a microbiologist, so she knows her grapes. “Iowa has more wineries than vineyards,” she says, so winemakers here find growers they can trust and stick with them.


We tasted Brick Arch’s “Save the Barn White,” a bone-dry Pinot Grigio-like wine (“We’re the driest winery in Iowa.”), then the unoaked Chardonel and spicy, rich Chambourcin. When we asked how much we owed for the tasting, we discovered another reason to visit Iowa wineries: tastings here are free.


The next morning we stopped at Fireside Winery in Marengo and tasted “Crownfire,” a toasty Cab/Frontenac blend we’d heard about, and moved on to Jasper Winery in Des Moines.


Probably the most stylish winery we visited, Jasper is “a family project,” says owner Jean Groben, who runs the winery. Her husband Paul oversees the vineyard and their enologist son Mason is the winemaker. A glass of Chancellor here made a great nightcap before heading to the award-winning Hotel Pattee, an elegantly restored Craftsman-style hotel in Perry, for our second night.


By the end of our third day, we’d visited 13 wineries as we rolled across Iowa: Cedar Ridge in Swisher, Iowa’s only winery/distillery; Breezy Hills, known for its traditional-method sparkling wine; many more. For the wine-curious, great sipping awaits in the Heartland.


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