Iowa Sideways: A Quest for Wine in the Midwest – 1
On Sunday, November 25, 2007 Brigit and I trundle into Rob Benson's Honda SUV along with Marzia, my daughter and Rob's wife, and their two lovely daughters, Erica and Lauren. We take the Iowa back roads to Keosauqua, near the Missouri border, to check out the Kaiser Home Winery.
While in town, we notice the Louisiana Purchase Diner, with vaguely southwestern decor and menu, so we decide to warm up with lunch there before hunting down the Whispering Pines Winery.
It had snowed on Thanksgiving day and the night before, so despite the fact that most of it has melted away, the light white coat which still cover patches of the countryside is enough to keep our California-accostumed bodies colder than we care to be.
After lunch we find without problems the Whispering Pines Winery without problems. It is owned by Steve and Becky Tucker, who opened their facility only a few months ago, after having studied winemaking, working for a local grape producer and experimenting privately.It is very interesting for us, as all the wines are made with different grape varieties from the ones grown in California. Actually cultivated in upstate New York, these varieties thrive in colder climates, thus they suit the local weather pattern better. For now, Steve and Becky are experimenting with different grape varieties in their small vineyard to find out which varieties will do better in Iowa, where the hot summer season is fairly short-lived and the winter is early, long and freezing.
As we find out afterwards, we are actually lucky to have found out about this winery, as all the wines presented are made with grapes, with the exception of the Cherry Delight, a semi-sweet table wine made with cherries. Should you decide to go wine tasting in Iowa, we find out that it makes sense to check in advance with the winery to see if their wines are made with grapes.
We follow Steve's advice and taste the wines in a different order than I would have chosen, so we start with the Hunter Red (there are lots of hunters in this part of the country), a dry red made with Chambourcin grape, followed by the Autumn Blush, a semi-sweet pinkish wine made with Catawba grapes which should be served chilled, then the Lakeside Red, made with 100% Concord grapes which, judging from the taste of the wine, is related to the Fragolino grape variety cultivated in the northeastern wine zones of Italy, in the Veneto, Friuli and Trentino regions. Then it's time to taste the Cherry Delight made with tart red cherries from Michigan, which we agree would pair well with desserts and cheese platters. Next we taste the Niagara Breeze, the only white wine produced by Steve and Becky made from Niagara grapes and finish with the Happy Hollow White, a sweet dessert wine made with Steuben grapes, which pairs particularly well with chocolate.
To close, Steve pours a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon from the barrel in which it is ageing, awaiting the right time to be bottled. Though definitely too young, the wine shows good possibilities of turning into a respectable Cab. We purchase a bottle of Lakeside Red and one of Niagara Breeze, in addition to a piece of Prairy Delight cheese, produced by the nearby Milton Creamery LLC.
Next, following the directions given to us by Steve and Sean, we drive the mile or so to the Kaiser Home Winery, where we find out that all the wines but two, are made with berries and/or fruit. The owner/winemaker is Joyce Kaiser Thomas, who moved to Kaiser Home when she was 14, after having spent all her summers in the farm with her paternal grandparents. Joyce started making wine following a recipe handed down to her by her uncle George and, when the "need to find an alternative to milking cows and raising corn came along" to say it in Joyce's own words, "Kaiser Home Winery was established.
Kaiser Home Winery
The tasting couldn't have been more informal. Joyce hands us miniature clear plastic toy-looking cups and tells us to "dig in", pointing to the open bottles lined up uncorked on the counter.
The first wine is the Iowa Whitetail, made with Niagara grapes imported from Wisconsin. It tastes sour and is too warm, but that could be due to the fact that the bottle has apparently sat there open for a while. The other grape wine is called Bootlegger Boar Doe and it's made with Concord grapes. All the other wines available at the time have playful names, such as 'Get Layed (sic) Larry', and are made with berries, apples, and pears. We pass on most of the selection and, not wanting to walk away empty handed, I buy a bottle of the Bootlegger Boar Doe (get it?)
After that we head back to Marzia and Rob's lovely home in Centerville, where we start getting ready for our trip back home to California the next day.