Wine country, filled with its tastings and tours, used to be something we needed to travel to the coasts for to get the “true experience”. However, as more and more local wineries pop up in our home state, residents are able to enjoy their vino closer to home.
The Hawkeye state has worked hard to stay on top of the trend as interest in wine and winery experiences has increased. According to Iowa State University’s Viticulture Specialist, Michael White, the state had only 30 acres of grapes in production in the year 2000. By June 2012, that number had increased to 1,200 acres.
With all of these options available, the next question becomes: Which winery should I visit? While my answer would be all of them, a 96 winery tour cannot be completed in one day. If you’re looking to begin exploring Iowa’s winery scene to find your favorite place, here is my advice:
Start Close to Home
Given that we have approximately as many wineries as we do counties, there is bound to be a winery within a 30-minute drive from home. Each winery certainly has its own merits, so find something you enjoy about each one. Maybe it’s the location, the quality of the wine, or even the staff.
Stop By When You Travel
Most of us have friends and family scattered throughout the state. The next time you go visit, make sure to set aside a little time to visit their local winery. Maybe you’ll only have time to stop in for a glass. This is where talking to the staff can be incredibly helpful! Ask them what their most popular wine is and what differentiates them from the other Iowa wineries. You may be pleasantly surprised and find a new favorite travel destination.
Make It An Occasion
Can’t think of a special birthday plan, anniversary gift, or unique night out? Travel an hour or two to go check out a new winery! I know many people who still haven’t been to an Iowa winery, and making it into an event can be a fun way to change things up. Set up a tasting for you and your friends. Try the entire menu. Enjoy the winery amenities. Many wineries have amazing outdoor patio and entertainment areas. Live music and fire pits abound. Better yet, go during grape-picking season and help harvest! Many wineries will offer incentives to help them collect their grapes in the summer and fall.
Regardless of which winery you choose or why you plan to go there, you’re assured to have an enjoyable experience. While I still haven’t been to every Iowa winery, I try to check new wineries off my list every year.
Whether you find yourself listening to live music at Fireside Winery in Marengo or watching the sun set over the Mississippi River at Sunset Ridge Winery in Dubuque, you’re sure to have a good time and plenty of wine options.
(Photo courtesy of Ashley Lindley)