Odessa Vineyards

Nestled in the Louisa county countryside is a winding road that leads to an acreage and an unassuming, small brown building. Contained inside that building is a blue walled tasting room filled with the aroma of oaky reds, floral whites, sweets, semi-sweets and more. This is Odessa Vineyards.

“We want to make this a destination, not just a stopping point along the way,” said Corey Nichols, co-owner of the vineyard. “We want them to say, ‘Ah, let’s go over there again that was a really wonderful experience and a good wine.”

Corey owns and operates the vineyard with his wife Tami. The couple began the venture in 2006 after careful consideration of what they could do with their land; starting a Christmas tree farm was a possibility, but they enjoyed the idea of a vineyard and winery more and decided to take classes at Des Moines area Community College to grow their knowledge base. The endeavor started with the planting of five varietals of grapes. Currently that number has risen to seven, comprised of both American and French-American hybrids. These grapes are then made into small batches of wine which are carefully quality controlled by the husband and wife team.

The Nichols said they have a humble goal for the growth of the vineyard and winery.

“We just want to have it be self-supporting by the time we both retire, so we can supplement our retirement income off of it and really enjoy what we’re doing with retirement,” said Corey. “We don’t want it to get huge; we don’t want it to get that big really, just something the two of us can manage.”

The couple doesn’t have employees. They do everything themselves from harvesting to bottling to working in the tasting room. Tami said in addition to the production of uniquely Iowan wines, their customers value that personal, hands-on approach.

“They don’t like to have the person behind the bar not know the wine, not know the vineyard, not know what’s going on in this winery,” she said. “We have the Iowa grapes and we make Iowa wines and that’s what they like to see too. They don’t like to see the cabernets and the merlots because that’s not from Iowa- that’s shipped in juice.”

Also adding to the appeal of the Odessa Vineyards is the relaxing atmosphere the couple worked to cultivate.

“We always try to talk to them and make them feel at home and have them ask questions,” Tami said. “You know the ones who felt really comfortable compared to the ones who, for some reason, didn’t enjoy the experience and there’s very few of those.”

Tami and Corey said they encourage new wine drinkers by not berating them with rules or making them feel bad about their taste preferences. Often they see customers, whose palettes change over time, moving from sweets to drier wines. However, they said it’s not a problem if that never happens.

“You don’t have to drink specific wine with specific food, and you don’t have to feel ashamed that you don’t know what’s going on,” said Corey. “Arrogance is unnecessary. You just want people to feel comfortable.”

Corey said his personal favorite wines they make at the vineyard are the dry, oaked reds, but the most popular is the sweet Randa’s Blush. For him, the most important element in the production of a good quality wine is a simple one.

“As long as you start with good quality grapes, the best thing you can do is maintain that quality product,” he said. “You’re not going to improve upon the grape at that point, but you just need to work at it so you don’t ruin the wine as you go along.”

The quality of other growers’ grapes has been a source of frustration for the couple when they need to buy grapes from elsewhere and find that the care they take with their own grapes is not mirrored in some other vineyards.

“We’re just the two of us so we’ve got a lot to do, and it’s hard for the winemaker or buyers to monitor what they’re doing and it’s unfortunate that a lot of them who have gotten into it haven’t done it correctly,” said Corey.

Despite this frustration, the Nichols said one of the most enjoyable parts of owning and operating a vineyard and winery is getting to meet other Midwestern wine professionals and swapping ideas. They said they look forward to the industry growing even more in Iowa and for the Iowa product to become better defined.

“We have so many different hybrids out here, so I think once we’ve matured enough that we get down to a handful of grapes that really everybody’s going to grow and make a good wine, I think we’ll grow even more at that point,” said Corey. “Up until now, we’re still sort of feeling our way around.”

Odessa Vineyards joined the Scenic River Wine tour in the past year, and they plan on expanding their marketing as they move forward.

“We both work full time elsewhere, so as we get to that point when we’re retiring then we’ll get out and do a whole lot more and maybe get involved in more of the wine industry,” said Corey.

In the meantime, the Nichols will continue to enjoy the experience of wine and sharing that experience with others.

“Wine really kind of brings people together,” said Corey. “There’s something exciting about opening a new bottle of wine with friends- you never know when you open the next bottle what it’s going to be like.”

Paul Tabor, Winemaker

Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery has a rich history intertwined with that of the Tabor family. Paul Tabor, winemaker and manager of the vineyard and winery, is the fifth generation of a long line of Tabors making their livelihood off of the farmstead.

“At least in Iowa, we are at a time when most are not living on farms but still have a first-hand connection or experience with farming in Iowa,” Tabor said. “To them it is compelling that we viewed our traditional farmstead as an opportunity for a new agricultural industry in Iowa and that we have diversified the farm to meet the needs of a new generation.”

His interest in winemaking was cultivated from an early age as he watched his father make wine out of everything from lilacs to elderberries to wild plums throughout his childhood and teenage years – an introduction familiar to many amateur winemakers throughout Iowa.

“My dad was a very good amateur winemaker, and as a teenager, it was a very interesting thing to join in with my dad as a father-son hobby,” Tabor said. “I am always amazed at the connections that develop when I tell the story of my dad’s serious interest in home wine making and how that had something to do with the development of my interest in wines. It seems that everyone had an aunt in their family that was the family’s winemaker!”

His father’s amateur interest blossomed into a small winery in the basement of their house, creating wines to enjoy at family meals, and these early experiences with winemaking remained with Tabor into his later years through college and graduate school, where he attained his PhD in microbiology (useful later on for understanding the science behind fermentation).

During his time as a professor at Indiana State University, Tabor took over the commercial vineyard of a friend who was having health issues, and in return received most of that year’s harvest. He brought the grapes back to Iowa and made wine with the Marechal Foch grapes that were being grown in Indiana.

“And everybody was just enthralled with that wine and the quality of the wine,” said Tabor. “It wasn’t like concord anymore or any of the other wines.”

Tabor’s interest was sparked and he used cuttings from the vineyard in Indiana to begin his own vineyard at the Tabor farmstead without much thought of those original cuttings blossoming into a commercial vineyard and winery. As the grapes grew, he began doing market research on what it would be like to have an estate winery raising its own grapes and producing most of its wine from those grapes in Iowa. As he researched, he talked with larger wine producers in other states in the Midwest who provided encouragement.

“They said, Iowans really do support good products that are produced in state,” said Tabor. “They were very enthusiastic about promoting me to get started.”

Between 1983 and 1989, they worked hard to evaluate many varieties of grapes and styles of winemaking to help determine what would produce distinctive distinguished wines for Iowa. This hard work and research helped to contribute to the eventual success of the Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery.

“As results of our work, we have made dozens of gold medal winning and Best-of-Class wines from our vineyards,” Tabor said. “It has been very gratifying to see our efforts in viticulture and winemaking be so successful and begin the re-birth of this wine industry in Iowa.”

In 1995, Tabor managed to obtain a forgivable loan sponsored by the state of Iowa for value-added producers not using commodities and retailing a processed product from a facility in Iowa. This helped get the vineyard and winery off the ground, and become an actual business.

“When we were bonded in 1996, this became my full time job and I haven’t really looked back since,” Tabor said.

A major difficulty Tabor found as he began his new venture was helping wine drinkers to move beyond traditional cabernets or chardonnays and try wines distinctively unique to the Iowa region.

“Having known or experienced very sweet fruit and grape wines from Iowa wineries for a very long time, wine drinkers were skeptical that quality fine wines could be produced in Iowa,” Tabor said. “It has been and continues as an educational effort to get wine drinkers turned around to a positive impression of quality Iowa wines.”

Something he found especially helpful as he started out in the wine business was attending conferences on grape-growing and wine making in the Midwest, traveling all over from Missouri to Minnesota.

“You don’t have to go to too many of those to realize you have to keep going because there’s an awful lot to learn in this business,” Tabor said.

Despite the immense amount of information to consume, Tabor said the vineyard and winery community is a very open one, with a desire to help their fellow grape-growers and winemakers.

“I think winemakers as a professional group are very interested in sharing information,” said Tabor. “You find when you’re talking to the winemakers that they’re very open and willing to discuss what they do, knowing that they’re going to get you’re feedback about what you do at your winery.”

Tabor said often it is not a large change or suggestion but rather a matter of tweaking an element or changing the timing of what you’re doing that elevate wine to another level. A level Tabor Home Vineyard and Winery strives for every day.

“All those things are very valuable,” Tabor said. “Those small little things you can learn about the winemaking take the wine from a good or better quality to the best quality.”

As they work every day to produce the best quality wine possible, Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery still looks forward to the future as both a leader in winemaking and grape growing and a source of income for future Tabors.

“I hope Tabor Home Winery is recognized and looked to as the innovator in developing wine styles for the upper Midwest region,” Tabor said. “It is our goal that Tabor Home Winery is successful in providing a good livelihood for another generation on our family farm and that the venture can be an opportunity for creativity.”

Ilene Lande, Brick Arch Winery

Soft golden light spills from the windows beneath the iconic brick arch of the Brick Arch Winery in West Branch, Iowa. It plays along the sidewalk and draws in the passerby, enchanted by the hospitality they catch a glimpse of through the glass.

“It’s cozy and elegant,” said owner and winemaker Ilene Land, of the atmosphere of Brick Arch. “Some people find it intimidating to look at, but it isn’t at all, it’s very comfortable, and the most common description is it’s warm, like being in somebody’s house.”

Contributing to the comfortable atmosphere and the way the business seamlessly fits in with the rest of the West Branch Main Street, are the historic roots of the winery building. The current building is a reconstruction of a 1907 post office, which was later turned into a gas station and retained that function until Lande and her husband bought the property. The building next door to the post office/gas station was a millinery shop and served as the inspiration for the design of the building that currently houses the event space.

Construction came with difficulties, however, and the building collapsed and slid into a hole which had been created for a new cellar, becoming entirely lost.

“It could’ve been worse,” said Lande. “The only casualty was the porta potty.”

Despite the damage, and the further challenges the setback created, the winery opened in March of 2011. Remaining as a reminder to Brick Arch Winery’s historic roots is the original Post Office sign, the keystone and brick from the original building, which help to form the backdrop of the stage in the winery’s event space.

Lande said the new building fits into the entirety of the historic street and also fits in with the legacy of the original building.

“A lot of people, if they don’t look at the new keystone, think it’s the original,” she said.

Brick Arch Winery provides a place for numerous community groups to meet throughout the year. They host many events, and have live music every Sunday. Due to customer demand, Brick Arch has also expanded their food offerings and have a full menu on Friday nights, some food options during the live music Sundays, and pizza on Wednesday nights.

“We try to be a gathering place, and we’re pleased to be part of the small town life,” said Lande. “I think it must be inherent in our nature that food and wine and people go together and always have.”

Lande said being a gathering place for the community is her goal for Brick Arch Winery.

“We’ve tried to make it so that it’s a comfortable place to be and talk to one another. As opposed to a bar where the music is too loud to talk, here the acoustics are designed so even when there is music, you can still talk to each other.”

This atmosphere has proven attractive for a whole new group of customers: single women.

“It’s a safe, comfortable environment,” Lande said. “Someone will always invite you to join them.”

Opportunities for community are everywhere you look in Brick Arch Winery.

“Strangers here are just friends you haven’t met yet,” said Lande.

Garretson Family, East Grove Farms

The green farmhouse at East Grove Farms stands tall and proud. Its yellow accents and cranberry trim lends its façade a regal aspect as it faces the seemingly endless swath of farmland before it. A gentle wind breathes through the fading canopies of nearby trees and rustles the fallen leaves strewn across the lawn. The country air is clean and crisp. Apart from the sounds of the occasional stray car wandering down the gravel road, the sounds of the farm are unassuming and serene.

This is the farm of the Garretson family, and has been since 1837. Already a rich legacy exists, enveloping the many acres in history and lore; but for the last three years a few of the family members have been adding their own signature to that legacy with a new venture. Joel Garretson and his two sons Justin and Kurt founded and operate East Grove Farms, practicing sustainable farming techniques and growing alternative crops, specializing in elderberries.

“A lot of what we do is take ground like you see north of us, old fields, and then revitalize them and get them to grow in a way that makes the ground healthier, so when we’re dead and gone those fields will be in better shape than we found them,” said Kurt. “You’re not losing nutrients, you’re gaining them over the long run.”

Now the three-year-old business is branching out into elderberry wine, which the Garretsons say is a good way to add value to the crop while also providing a way for others to experience the fruit.

“Wine is a good way to preserve the fruits of native Iowa, and bring those flavors to other Iowans,” said Justin.

In addition, they will also be making mead, which the family says is something not many people in Iowa are doing.

Elderberries, for which East Grove Farms is best known, are a fruit with a fairly low sugar content, but not too much acidity. They are not extremely tart or particularly sweet. And what does it taste like? Well, that is difficult to describe.

“It’s like asking somebody what a strawberry tastes like; well, it tastes like a strawberry,” said Kurt. “What’s an elderberry taste like? Well, it tastes like an elderberry. It’s its own distinct thing.”

The berry is also a good fit for the farm because it is a native plant used to Iowan weather.

“It grows all through North America, so it’s used to weird and wacky Iowa winters and summers; cold doesn’t really hurt it, and rain makes it grow better,” said Kurt. “It can survive drought—it doesn’t fruit well during drought, but it won’t kill it off.”

There are a vast array of challenges that come with running a farm and business, and although the Garretsons said applying for a winemaking license and everything that went with it was a difficult and lengthy process, what stands out to them as the most frustrating element of farming is the unpredictable weather of Iowa.

“Basically all of your stress comes from the weather,” said Justin.
Kurt seconded that opinion and added that the hardships of earlier this year are what contributed to their low yield.

“We went from the wettest spring in history to the driest summer in history,” said Kurt. “The water literally just turned off, and we weren’t ready for that. Had we been ready with irrigation, it would have been a lot different yield-wise.”

Despite the challenges that come with farming in Iowa, the Garretsons said those difficulties inspire (and force) them to come up with new ideas.

“We reconsidered how we were going to make elderberry wine and that was an awesome change, so thank you drought, and thank you low yields this year,” said Justin.

The Garretsons compare the deep, purple elderberry wine to a heavy bodied red wine in taste. But, they said, it can be difficult to achieve the perfect balance of flavor.

“You want to make sure you have the distinct flavor of elderberry, but you don’t want it to be overpowering,” said Kurt.

Balance is also key for the sweet meads.

“The key to that is having it be sweet but not syrupy, there are a lot of sweet wines that end up tasting like cough syrup,” said Kurt. “There’s just too much in them, so we try to get that sweetness, but with a lightness—that’s our goal.”

The Garretsons said they are excited for when their wines and meads will be available to the public and hope that they receive a positive reaction from customers.

“Well, the first reaction is, ‘what is that?’ I’ve never seen that on the shelf before,” said Justin. “I don’t believe any of the products we have or that we’re planning to have are being made by anybody commercially—we’re doing our own thing.”

Kurt quickly added, “The second reaction would be, ‘Damn, that’s good!’ That’s our hope.”

Not only does the family enjoy producing fruit, wine, and mead, another favorite aspect of the farm is seeing visitors experience the idyllic setting.

“We enjoy sharing the farm with others,” said Justin. “Getting people out of the city and showing them the country; you can have culture in the country, and be educated and be a farmer.”

The Garretsons feel the farm is exactly where they’re supposed to be.

“We have very deep roots here on this farm; it’s difficult to describe other than a real feeling of home,” said Justin.

That feeling is shared by both brothers.

“I’ve lived in a lot of different places, but they were never home,” said Kurt. “Iowa was always home.”

Seth Miller, Cedar Valley Winery

The noise of the nearby freeway, with its grumbling cars and roaring trucks, seems to evaporate on the grounds of the Cedar Valley Winery in Batavia, Iowa. It is replaced by the hum of insects, and the gentle sounds of wind blowing through the distant trees. The scene is composed of carefully manicured and well-kept rows of grapevines, expanses of green grass, and the rustic charms of a red barn.  A windmill sits above it all, its rotors spinning to the measure of the wind. It has the look of a traditional Iowan farm with the perfect pastoral touches that make it feel like home, but with the added touch of something reminiscent of a west coast vineyard – as though it had been transplanted from the idyllic set of a Hollywood film.

The atmosphere seems effortless, like it sprang into existence and immediately fit perfectly into the landscape, but this is not the case. Cedar Valley Vineyard and Winery came about after years of hard work and dedication from the owners, the Miller family.

“The two things that I enjoy most are the experience that our customers have whether it is just appreciating the wine itself or coming out to our facilities and having a really fun time getting away from life and being able to relax with friends,” said Seth Miller, winemaker of Cedar Valley Winery. “The other thing is the compliments that we get on the high quality of the wine that we produce.”

The vineyard began in 2002 with three grape varieties on 1.5 acres.

“In the first three or four years we would pick 30 to 40 pounds and take it up to the house and stomp it and get the juice out of them,” said Miller. “I have to admit the wine wasn’t that good. So I realized if we were going to do this on a commercial scale making thousands of gallons of wine, I was going to have to learn a lot more to get high quality wine and have that consistency.”

To begin his wine and grape education, Miller began attending the annual conferences held by the Iowa Wine Grower’s Association, hearing from professors and speakers from across the country, places like UC Davis, Cornell, University of Minnesota, and University of Missouri. According to their articles of incorporation, the Iowa Wine Growers Association was established to help people like Miller by improving “conditions of those engaged in viticulture” as well as “the quality and marketability of grapes produced in Iowa through the use of education and research.” IWGA conference attendees like Miller are given the chance to hear from experts experienced in making wine and spirits from places as far away as South Africa and Australia.

Conferences are split into a viticulture & vineyard track, and a winemaking track. When Miller started attending, he began with the vineyard classes.

“We would go to all of the vineyard stuff, and as we progressed into making wine, I started going to the wine-making classes, and they were very informative and very helpful,” said Miller.

Another resource he took advantage of as he worked to get the vineyard and winery off the ground was the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute out of Iowa State University, specifically the help and advice of Dr. Murli Dharmadikari.

“He started reaching out to all of the Iowa wine-makers and offering suggestions on how to improve the quality of the wine – from the grapes in the field all the way through the bottling process,” said Miller.

When contacted by Iowa Decanted, Dr. Dharmadikari said the questions he gets from vineyards and wineries have to do with everything from how to grow the best quality fruit, to how to be successful and profitable in the business. But the biggest piece of advice he gives is simple.

“Have a sound business plan before starting the venture. Spend time and money to make sure you have the passion, funds, and a sound plan to grow and profit from the business,” said Dharmadikari.

This advice seems to be working for the Millers and Cedar Valley Winery.

“They are a small but excellent family winery,” Dr. Dharmadikari said. “They produce quality wines from grapes adapted to their soil and climate.”

As Miller learned, the family vineyard was expanding to 5 acres with seven grape varieties by 2007. That same year the winery began making wine on a commercial scale, and by the next year they produced around 2,500 gallons of wine from the very grapes grown in their vineyard.

Miller said learning everything behind the production of wine, including the chemistry and science, has helped in his creation of the popular and well-respected wines that Cedar Valley Winery is known for.

“If you’re diligent in monitoring, and you know all the chemistry behind the wine, you can see where it’s going, and you can keep track of it to make a high quality wine,” said Miller.

After going through the process of starting a vineyard and winery and learning as much as he could about grapes and wine, Miller said the biggest piece of wisdom he can offer to others just starting their own vineyards and wineries is to start on a small scale and get in touch with all of the resources available to them (such as the Iowa Wine Growers Association and the Midwest Wine Institute) in order to learn how to make quality wine before going into a commercial scale.

“I think the biggest concern that most Iowa wine makers have is that somebody new wants to jump in immediately and then they come out with good quality wine, but they also might release wine that is not as good as it could be which then impacts every customer out there and gives them a negative inference on what Iowa wine quality is like,” said Miller. “So starting off small…before they start making wine on a commercial scale helps them make consistent good product to submit out to the market place.”

All of this hard work and dedication is paying off for Cedar Valley as they were named the Iowa Winery of the Year at the 2013 New York International Wine Competition out of 1,000 entries from the United States and over 30 countries from all over the world.

“We’ve submitted wines to numerous competitions over the past several years, and it’s always nice to have individual wines recognized for their quality,” said Miller. “But to actually be named the Iowa Winery of the Year in a national wine competition was very exciting.”

As the Millers keep learning and growing, it seems likely that many more awards will be in their future.

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.

Nicholas Herbemont: Viticulturalist, Winemaker, Innovator

Technology and knowledge have evolved over time, enabling the process of winemaking to become streamlined, easier, and better able to produce a higher quality product.

Despite these many changes revolutionizing the wine world throughout the years, one thing remains the same: the passion and drive of the winemaker for producing good wine. Although a gap of more than 150 years separates the wine visionaries of today from Nicholas Michel Laurent Herbemont, a winemaker originally from France living from 1771 to 1839, he possessed the same passion and pride in his creations as the winemakers of today.

“If Bachus himself could condescend to pay us a visit and drink some of my wine, he would readily acknowledge that he never had drank better in his lifetime, and not often as good” –Herbemont, 1832.

Herbemont changed the way many people viewed the practice of growing grapes and making wine in the early 19th century. His revolutionary ideas for grape growing included using high trellises to increase air circulation and keep black rot under control, as opposed to the common practice of growing grapes near to the soil, in the fashion of growers out of his native Europe. In the realm of wine production, Herbemont tried to lead his American peers away from strengthening their wine with Brandy and from using large amounts of sugar to increase the alcohol content.

“The vine has been given to man that it may enliven his spirits, gladden his heart, produce cheerfulness and good fellowship in society, and enable him to support unavoidable afflictions, under which he would frequently sink in despair.” –Herbemont, 1828

He believed in the taste and power of the grapes grown in American soil, and wanted wines to be the vessel of showcasing these grapes. He advocated for a light touch rather than a heavy hand,

The vintner and wine maker published 60 writings in his lifetime including his article “Wine Making” which was published in American Farmer in 1833 and explained his process of wine production. This article was reprinted and reissued many times, making it the most popular and trusted instruction in the process of wine making in America for a generation.

Although he did sell cuttings of his vines and bottles of his wine to the public, Herbemont focused most of his attention on experimentation in order to produce the best possible product. Fame and fortune never seemed to drive his work, rather a simple desire to gain more knowledge and be able to share that with the public spurred him forward.

“The culture of the vine is an art which cannot be easily acquired from the mere analogy with other objects of cultivation; neither can it be learned, except by very few, by books alone.” –Herbemont, 1827.

All of these factors contributed to the Frenchman being recognized as “the finest practicing vigneron of the early United States.” Many of his philosophies and practices are still used today, and many still regard him as a vital forefather in the history of American viticulture and wine making.

Although the last bottle of Herbemont’s wine was consumed in 1915, his legacy lives on through the small grape that bears his name and the winemakers of the day who read his writings.


For additional information about Herbemont, refer to the book Pioneering American Wine: Writings of Nicholas Herbemont, Master Viticulturalist, edited by David S. Shields.