Road Trippin’ 2013

Little Wine on the Prairie Logo

As you may have noticed, I head out on a road trip nearly every year.  Last year was the exception but only because my girlies started school the day before WBC12 began.  Hm.  Miss the last first day of school for daughter #1 after making a consecutive 14 previous?  or skip the road trip for the year.  Yeah.  You know how I went on this one.

But this year, I am off again for adventures. I’ll be heading west to Penticton, BC for WBC13. This is the first Wine Bloggers’ Conference held in Canada and I am looking forward to it. The bummer? I need a passport this time. I know that this need seems self-evident for most of you, but as a gal who used to cross the border for dates in high school it seems a little crazy to me. Strangely enough, it isn’t getting into Canada that is the issue, but rather coming home and I am loathe to risk another lecture from a self-important douanière (long story).

Since I am largely taking the route that I took to Walla Walla for WBC10, I am looking forward to seeing some sights that I missed on my way out there – namely all the Little House on the Prairie historic sites. Knowing me as you do, you can’t be surprised that I want to do something so nerdy. I loved those books and know that I would have to make these stops sans ma famille. Why? Well, the girls would never put up with more than one stop. Heck, I couldn’t get them to even read the books. It breaks a mother’s heart, it does. But luckily I will indeed be on the road without them and am looking forward to stopping where I please. Oh. Did I mention that there is wine nearby at every stop. Yup. It’s true. Because of this, I have dubbed this trip: Little Wine on the Prairie.

Since Laura Ingalls Wilder never made it further west than the eastern portion of South Dakota, I’ve had to put on my thinking cap (bonnet) to come up with other plans. Here are a couple of ideas that I have thrown around:

  • Sturgis, SD – the location of the big biker rally every year. I believe it is in August. Good lord, I hope it is in August.
  • Yellowstone National Park – Yeah. I want to see the sites but I don’t want to camp or stay in the cabins and develop Hanta Virus (yeah, I said it). Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mud Volcano and the Mammoth Springs are tops on my list. Oh, and if I could figure out where the caldera edge for the mega volcano is, that would be swell too.
  • Lake Okanogan, BC – Naturally, I will be seeing the lake as I will be staying on it. But I think an extensive search of the lake to find the Ogopogo, the lake’s native monster. Is it a plesiosaur like the Loch Ness Monster and Champie from Lake Champlain are thought to be or a basilosaurus like other cryptozoologists think? Either way. Or not. With my luck my camera will jam as I am eaten by the thing.

But first? Before I leave, I must survive high school graduation. Not mine, of course, but rather Celia’s. Cross your fingers and hope for the best both before and after graduation.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Wallace Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

It seems these days I am always on the road and this is a good thing. I love meeting people all over the country who love wine so much that they have dedicated their lives to it. And naturally, I enjoy tasting as well. The best part of wine lovers is that they are everywhere and while it hasn’t been able to said as much about wine makers they are certainly becoming more widespread. In Iowa for instance, there are over 70 wineries.

Wallace VineyardsWallace WineryOne of the common complaints that I hear from those uninitiated in travelling to wineries outside of the west coast is that any wine produced in the rest of the company is sweet. This was certainly the case with the other winery that I visited in Iowa, the Ackermann Winery. Of course, the people of the Amana Colonies would have come by their love of sweet wine naturally given their German heritage and they continued to produce wines in that style when they arrived in Central Iowa 150 years ago.

As I drove down the country roads toward the Wallace Winery, I wondered what I would find. Pulling into the parking lot, I saw that this was part of a working farm. There were grapes growing as well as corn. I entered the tasting room to be greeted two young women who had clearly been enjoying the beautiful summer day as I arrived. I asked about tastings and was greeted with this warning, “Just so you know, we don’t have sweet wines”. Clearly the expectation of the region was for those kinds of wines and she wanted to head off any disappointment on my part. But you can’t disappoint me when I get to try a new wine!

Looking around I found 10 different wines mostly produced from estate grown grapes (only the Joan’s Cuvee was produced from grapes brought in from elsewhere). I started with the wines produced from locally grown grapes. The first was a Chardonel. This varietal is a cross between the Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and is often found in northern climates as it is hardier than Chardonnay. This wine was aged in stainless steel. The wine was fruity and pleasant but very light but would be lovely on a hot summer day.  The next white I tried was their Traminette.  Traminette is a varietal that was meant to be a table grape with the flavors of Gewurtztraminer, but was ultimately found to produce excellents wines. This wine was floral and citrus and like the Chardonel exceedingly light.  Nice for sipping by the pool on a summer day, but not quite what I would serve with dinner.

Wallace Tasting RoomWallace Winery SelectionsAt this point, I tried tasting the red wines.  The Chambourcin, another hybrid is a varietal that I have come to taste often in the Midwest (and Tennessee as that is more southern) and have liked a lot.  This wine like the others was lighter than I would have liked, but still flavorful.  It was like tasting a very light Rhone.  The flavors were pleasant, just weaker than I expected.  This made me curious to taste the last wine on my list the Joan’s Cuvee.  The grapes for this wine were imported from California as whole fruit, not juice.  It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and was aged in oak barrels.  Unlike the other wines, this was full bodied and I was a surprised with the richness.

Other wines produced by the winery include a Blanc de Blance made from the Chardonel, ‘Iowa Barn’ White, a blend of Chardonel, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles, ‘Iowa Barn’ Red a blend of Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes, a Vignoles, the Nouveau made from 2008 Chambourcin and the River City Port which is produced from Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The prices of the wines range from $11.99 to $22.99.

The winemaker is Dr. Edward Wallace who has turned his love for wine from a hobby into a business.  (Dr. Wallace is a chiropractor in West Branch, Iowa ((Home of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum)).  Dr. Wallace has been making wine for 15 years and opened his tasting room five years ago.  My conclusion after tasting his wines is that he can produce good flavors but that the quality of the local grapes must be improved to bring greater depth to the wines.  Overall, I was impressed with his desire to make dry wines in an area that seems populated with wineries producing sweeter varieties.  It appears to be a more difficult undertaking and I wish Dr. Wallace good luck in his winemaking quest.

Wallace Winery
5305 Herbert Hoover Highway
West Branch, Iowa 52358

Ackerman Winery in the Amana Colonies

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

All across America there are towns that were formed by religious separatists who in their zeal to serve the Lord left their homelands to end up in places like Iowa to live in communal bliss until the dawning of the 20th century when Nietzsche and crass commercialism killed God and turned their towns into kitschy havens for people to go antique-ing or stay in a cute bed & breakfast.

Ackermann BarrelThe Ackerman Tasting Room

Most of the time, the organization that created the community has gone the way of all flesh. This is not the case of the Amana Colonies. The settlers of the seven Amana village moved to America in 1842 settling outside of Buffalo (an area that was no stranger to new religious movements. The Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Lily Dale Spiritualism and Shakers were active or founded in the area). They moved to Iowa in 1854 where they established six villages: Amana, High Amana, South Amana, East Amana, North Amana and Middle Amana (Amana means remain true). The seventh village, Homestead was established later as a transportation hub.

Cute dispensersAwards

While the members of the community no longer live as communally as they used to, they still exist and the much of the land is still owned by the Amana Society, Inc. and at the church men and women still enter the pews from different sides of the central aisle.

That being said, they are cute shops, antiques and B&Bs in the area. And wineries.

In fact, wine has existed in the colonies since they were established. Each village had a winery when only some of them had a brewery (ok, most….still…). So, while driving through Iowa and entering the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area I decided to make a stop. Currently, there are six wineries in the colonies, all in the Village of Amana. So, I decided to stop at one, the Ackerman Winery.

Museum - wine making processMuseum - wine making

The Ackerman’s began selling wine in 1954.  Because the communities’ vineyards which had been established with cuttings brought from Germany, were destroyed in 1919 because of Prohibition, the wines were fruit or country wines.  Specifically, they began with rhubarb and strawberry wines.  They have since expanded to apples, apricot, blackberry, black raspberry (called Razzy), cherry, crimson cranberry, gooseberry, mango, peach, plum crazy, pomegranate, red raspberry, a series of cranberry blends and some grape varietals Concord, Catawba, Niagara, Riesling, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Shiraz and White Zinfandel.

Of the country wines, I found that the rhubarb, cherry and pomegranate were the best.  The rhubarb and strawberries are still grown locally while the remaining fruit including the grapes are bought in juice.  In general, I found the country wines to have fuller flavors, on the other hand they have been the specialty of this winery longer.

The winery building was a simple wooden structure, typical of the Amana Colonies.  The tasting room dominates the largest part in the front with wine taste being available from old fashion glass dispensers and the assorted tchotchkes that is usually associated with a wine tasting room.  The building also contains a museum of the wine making and the Ackerman Family.  This was a pleasant addition to a stop on my trip back home.

Ackerman Winery
4406 220th Trail
Amana, Iowa 52203
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9-5 Sun, 10-5

Ackerman Winery Heritage Wine & Cheese Haus
4402 220th Trail
Amana, Iowa 52203
Hours: Mon-Sat, 9-5 Sun, 10-5

Other wineries can be found at the Amana Colonies at:

Little Amana Winery
I-80, Exit 225
Little Amana, IA 52203
9-8 Mon.-Sat., 10-5 Sun

Ehrle Brothers Winery
4105 V Street
Homestead, IA 52236

Sandstone Winery
4505 220th Trail
Amana, IA 52203
Phone: 319-622-3081
Apr.-Dec.: 9-5 Mon.-Sat., 10-5 Sun

Village Vintner
4313 220th Trail
Amana, IA 52203

Village Winery
752 48th Avenue
Amana, IA 52203
Phone: 319.622.3448
10-5 Mon.-Sat., 11-5 Sun.