Lucas McIntire, Winemaker

Steel tanks line one wall of the winery at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The light reflecting off their seashell patterned brush marks makes them seem like a large-scale art installation, but their glow is only the result of a long bank of fluorescent overheads. Labels on their faces indicate what they contain: 33.9 gallons of Edelweiss, 47 gallons of Frontenac Gris. On a nearby table, a carboy of Frontenac Blanc ferments; a bubbling, murky yellow mass in a large glass container. Tubes, buckets, cords, and bottles are scattered about like eclectic decorations.  A whiteboard with scrawled instructions and hurried illustrations sits alone in the center of the room.

Presiding over this workshop is Lucas McIntire. His long dark hair is pulled back and contained beneath a kerchief.  His skin is tanned, evidence of his long hours in the vineyard.  Despite having spent the day picking grapes, he seems full of energy and eager to talk.

“This is my 12th vintage, and I’ve made at least 100,000 gallons of wine, if not 120, so I’ve got plenty of experience to share with all my students,” says McIntire with evident pride.  A confident and disarming smile comes to his lips.

McIntire is the winemaker and vineyard manager at the Vineyard and Winery at Kirkwood. He is also an educator, leading courses for the Wine Making and Winery Facility Management Certificate at the college. The program, which began in 2010, encompasses everything from Wine Making 101 to Fermentation Management and Wine: Pre-bottle to Consumer.

“I want my students to plant their own vineyards and start their own wineries,” says McIntire. “I want you to walk out of my class, and, at least in theory, be able to take the next step and be able to open your own winery.”

So far, McIntire says, he’s had at least two students start their own wineries and has had multiple winemakers take his courses just to refresh their skills.

He stresses hands-on experience in his classroom, making sure students have the tools and the knowledge they need to be able to keep making wine even after the coursework ends. The most important advice he gives to students, he says, is to hold on to their passions and pursue them.

“Don’t give up. If your dream is to have a vineyard or a winery, then go for it, but don’t go in blind,” says McIntire. “I’m here to prevent mistakes. I don’t want to see somebody make a mistake like I did or I could have.”

Students in McIntire’s classes recognize the value in his hands-on approach and appreciate his dedication. Michael Kacher, a former student turned assistant-winemaker to McIntire, says the biggest lesson he learned from his teacher is that “good wine is worth working for.”

“He’s very passionate and always open for our questions,” says Kacher. “He’s always experimenting and doing what he can to make whatever he’s done in the past better, and it shows.”

Out of the 21 varieties of grapes Kirkwood grows, McIntire creates 13 different types of wine. When pressed to make a decision, he says his favorite is the Frontenac Gris, but this changes with his moods.

“It just depends on whether I want a red or a white,” says McIntire with a grin.

It’s easy to get a sense of McIntire’s passion for his work at Kirkwood. As he pops open a bottle of his latest creation (Champagne, or more accurately, Iowa sparkling wine), he exclaims, “Ahhh, magic!”  He seems absolutely giddy about the prospect of getting this new product out the door and in the consumer’s hands.

McIntire says what sets Kirkwood wine apart from other wines is the ideal site selection for the vineyard, as well as the attention to detail in both the winemaking and the vineyard.  It all adds up to what he considers to be a superb product.

“The whites are aromatic and crisp and clean, and the reds are thick and rich and luscious; they’re awesome,” says McIntire. “I think the quality of the wine speaks for itself.”

And quality is the first thing McIntire says he wants consumers of his wine to notice after they take the first sip of his wine.

“I hope it’s just a flavor extravaganza, just a sensory overload in their mouth,” says McIntire as he swirls an imaginary wine glass.  “What is this magical wine that I’m drinking? Oh, it’s Kirkwood, it must be Lucas’s wine, of course!”

People are taking notice of his work, even leaving him notes of gratitude at local restaurants where Kirkwood wine is served. And as McIntire continues to get more accounts, his bottles of wine are becoming easier to find. He says his personal goal is to have sales rise from 300 gallons a year to 500 gallons and eventually 750 gallons.

“I think this should just explode because I think of all the people that go to Kirkwood and then all of the people who are past alumni, if they knew that this wine was out there, it should be flying off the shelves,” says McIntire. “It’s not just local, it’s hyper-local.”

As McIntire makes his wine and further perfects his craft, he says he continues to learn, not just from his every day experiences and experiments, but also from the students he is teaching. It’s not unusual for teacher and students to socialize before class, comparing notes and observations over wine brought in by the students themselves.

“If it’s not me exposing them to some Kirkwood wine, they might be bringing in something from a local winery that I haven’t tried before, and that’s always a learning experience and that’s exposing me to more wines that I wouldn’t normally have bought myself,” says McIntire.

And as he and the program move forward, McIntire says he’s most excited about his latest foray into the world of champagne, as well as a new red grape in the vineyard called Petite Pearl, and the fermenting Frontenac Blanc.

With complete sincerity McIntire says he was born to make wine – and Iowa seems to be the perfect canvas for his many creations.

“Iowans have this creative ingenuity where they can make anything if they have the mindset,” he says, then grins, knowing full well that he is speaking of himself.


  1. Michael De Capria says:

    This piece captures Lucas almost perfectly. His enthusiastic and passionate approach to teaching is amazing and he also allows a hands on environment that will not fail you in your own desire to become the best viticulturist that you can become. His wines are varied and complete. They can please virtually every palate from sweet to dry in both red and white. If you get the opportunity to take any of his classes you will feel blessed to be able to share in his passion for even just one session.

    • Nick Thornburg says:

      Thanks for the generous comments, Michael. We were impressed with Lucas’ wines and his enthusiasm as well! It’ll be exciting to see what he has in store for us in the future.