Irish Soda Bread

It wouldn’t be March if we couldn’t celebrate the Irish!  Try this traditional recipe for Irish soda bread, you won’t be disappointed.

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 4 tablespoons white sugar

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened

  • 1 ¼ cup buttermilk

  • 1 egg

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Set your oven to 375 and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and margarine.  Stir in 1 cup of the buttermilk and egg.

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead briefly.  Form it into a round and place it on the baking sheet.

Combine the melted butter with the remaining ¼ of buttermilk and brush the dough with this mixture.  Cut an X into the top of the round.

Bake until a toothpick comes out of the center of the loaf clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.  Check after 30 minutes and keep a close eye on it.  Continue to brush the loaf with the melted butter and buttermilk mixture while it bakes.

There are numerous variations and tweaks that can be done to add a bit of kick to this traditional recipe.  We like adding just a hint of ginger and a pinch of cinnamon.  Try this bread as an appetizer with a dry white or as part of a heavier meal with a medium to full bodied red.  Enjoy!

Wire Tension

While you are working in the vineyard this spring you may like to measure the tension of your trellis wire. An easy to do this is to buy a fish scale, the kind you would use to measure that trophy fish. They are inexpensive and easy to carry.

Take a 6 inch by 42 inch board and draw a line to divide the board in half lengthwise. Measure in from each end 1 inch and put a nail in. These nails should be 40 inches apart. Next draw a line to divide the lengthwise line in half. Put in a nail ½ inch below the crossing point. This nail is in the middle between the outer nails. Your device is now finished.

Hold the board so that the trellis wires are above the outer nails. Connect the spring scale in the center of the wire and pull down until you touch the center nail. Read the scale and multiply the number by 20. This will be the tension of the wire. If the scale reads 10 pounds then the tension is 200 pounds.

tension illustration2-01

Tasting Notes: The Purchase

Ever walked into a wine shop and instantly feel overwhelmed?  Sometimes choosing the right wine can be an intimidating process.  Lauren Calupsky-Cannon of The Secret Cellar and Nick Thornburg of Iowa Decanted discuss this challenge and ways to approach choosing the right wine for you.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

This quick and easy recipe makes for a perfect appetizer or snack – and you won’t believe just how delicious they are!


16 oz package of bacon (we enjoy using thick-cut Hickory-smoked, but regular works just as well)

8 oz package of pitted dates



Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Slice the bacon strips into thirds, then wrap each piece around a date.  Secure the bacon in place with a toothpick and place in a baking dish.

Once all the dates are wrapped, place them in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until crispy.

Let cool for 5-7 minutes and enjoy!


Try these with a wine which will complement the sweetness of the date.  Try to avoid bold red wines.  Instead, try this with a semi-sweet white or maybe even a sparkling!


As most of you familiar with grape-growing will know, birds can be a terrible problem for a vineyard.  In fact, they can be downright devastating.  But it may surprise you to know that there are several birds I like having around.

First is the bluebird.  This stylish creature is worth its weight in gold when it has a brood to feed.  It can pick off bugs and larvae that you can hardly see.  The only time I saw a bluebird this past summer was with a worm in its beak.  And since it can have more than one brood, the benefits of having this bird stick around continue through most of the summer.

If you want bluebirds to come around your vineyard, now is the time to get those new houses up and the old ones cleaned and repaired.  The male bluebird will scout out a home as early as February.  Bluebirds like open spaces such as a vineyard’s turning ends.  Try to place houses in a spot that will not receive spray.  On top of a steel post or on a post with a protective cover around it so critters can’t crawl up is the best place.  Place houses at least 50 feet apart.

Owls are another bird that I like having around because they help by getting those mice, gophers and rabbits.  You can make an owl box and place it well up in a tree.  Owls can hatch out a brood in February so get a house up early.  If an owl has enough food it will stay most of the year.

Hawks are another bird of prey that will stay around most of the year and may use the owl box that you put out.  Hawks are useful to keep other birds away from the grapes during the daytime.  They’re a pretty intimidating presence and will scare birds off whenever they fly overhead.

Go to the North American Bluebird Society for plans for a bluebird house and for additional information about bluebirds:

Go to the Missouri Conservation Website for good plans and information on building an Owl box:

You can find a large amount of information from many sources on the Web.  It is a nice change for creatures to help in a vineyard instead of being a problem.  All it may take is a little time to make a welcoming home.

Tasting Notes: ‘Corks’

Ever wondered about the difference in the various corks found in bottles of wine?  Lauren Chalupsky-Cannon of The Secret Cellar and Nick Thornburg of Iowa Decanted discuss the most commonly found corking methods and their effect on wine quality.


Deer Control

Deer have long been a pest in the vineyard.  Unfortunately, there is no permanent way to keep these critters out.  All methods are simply deterrents.  Some work better than others.

A fence works pretty well but it must be high enough that they are unable to leap over it, and it should be fastened down so that they’ll be unable to push their way underneath.  Deer would much rather crawl under a fence than jump it, but a fence of at least 10 feet high should be used.  Unfortunately, as with many things, cost is an issue.

An electric fence may work well but needs to have constant attention since it can be easily torn down by a deer running through it.  If you can’t use the wide electric fence conductor, tie some marking tape every few feet.  The deer can easily see the tape… and so can you.  From a distance you’ll be able to tell if it is still up.  Deer are by nature curious and will go up to the tape.  They’ll be shocked when they get too close.  An easy way to teach them to stay clear.

Another way to get deer used to an electric fence is to put peanut butter on some aluminum foil about 4 inches square and fold the foil over the wire.  The deer will smell and see the foil and be curious enough to get close and get a shock.  Use fiber glass posts to prop the foil in place since the foil will move down the wire in the wind and short out the fence to a metal post.

There are other deterrents, of course.

I have cut out the side of a plastic milk jug and put a tablespoon of bloodmeal  with some water in the jug.  I then post them several feet apart in the vineyard.  I have tied dryer sheets by young plants.  The strong smell seems to help keep the pesky deer away.  A dog is a good deterrent, definitely, but it would prove difficult to keep one in the vineyard.  Dogs are social creatures, as we know, and would not take kindly to being banished to the lonely vineyard.  I have tried scarecrows but without success.  The deer only seemed to want to get a closer look.  I have tried planting rye around the vineyard since the deer don’t seem to like to eat it.  I don’t think it was worth the effort.

Try not to plant near a wooded area – although in our area, a high deer population seems to come with any territory.  Sometimes, if you find that one side of the vineyard is getting hit harder than another, a double fence will help.  I have made a cheap fence by hanging hay bale wrap from a wire.  This seems to confuse them.  Deer like to walk on a trail or in a mowed area rather than high grass.  If you are able to block their open routes, this can help.

I used to raise Christmas trees and the deer were a terrible problem.  Finally, I had to leave a field just for the deer to browse and used deterrents to protect the rest of the trees.  I hung smelly soap like a Christmas ornament from the trees but, unfortunately, it attracted mice.  A planting away from the vineyard just for the deer may help.

Remember, everything you will try is only going to be a deterrent.  Even deer season is a temporary solution.  Since deer have a large range, even if you eliminated all of them in one given area, more will take their place in a short amount of time.

Of course, everyone seems to have their own favorite deterrent.  Some will prove more effective than others depending on the deer population in your given area during a particular time of year.  If you have a way to keep deer from being a problem don’t be afraid to share.

I, for one, would be glad to try it out.

‘Busy-Bee’ Almond Cake

We all get busy, but this cake recipe makes it easy to enjoy something fresh, fun, and delicious without having to spend too much time at it.  It’s a particular favorite of Iowa Decanted staff – and perfect for pairing with a semi-sweet white or a fruit forward light-bodied red.


2 & 2/3 Cups all-purpose flour

1 & 1/3 Cup sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 & 1/3 Cup Almond milk

1/2 Cup butter, softened

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a large rectangular cake pan and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.  Once mixed, add the almond milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined, then spread into the greased pan.

Bake until the top of the cake begins to brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Around 30 minutes.  Let cool for ten minutes and serve warm with your choice of topping.  Goes well with fresh berries, whipped cream, or a buttercream glaze.

Tasting Notes: “Sparkling Wine”

Want to celebrate, but don’t want to empty your pocketbook on a bottle of Champagne?  Join Lauren Chalupsky-Cannon of The Secret Cellar and Nick Thornburg of Iowa Decanted as they discuss sparkling wine and Champagne alternatives.

You Can Make Wine!

Have you ever wondered if you could make wine?  It might be easier than you think.

It’s possible that you know someone who has tried to make their own wine.  I’ve met plenty of folks whose Grandfather made wine in the basement – and a good majority of them wished it had stayed there.  But with a few basic tools you should be able to make a very respectable wine that you can be proud to call your own.

First, I would recommend that you read several books on wine-making at home.   This will give you a good solid understanding of the process, then you’ll be ready to get into the knitty-gritty.

You can start with as little as two, one gallon jars, airlocks for the jars, some juice and sugar.  You’ll have to purchase some yeast and I would recommend getting a hydrometer (a device to measure the amount of sugar in the juice), to determine the correct sugar level in the juice.   The last thing you’ll need is a piece of clear 3/8ths hose to transfer the juice from one container to another (in wine-making terminology, this is called racking) and you’re in business.

There are two things to remember about making wine.  The first is sanitation.  Always keep everything sparkling clean.  Never use chlorine but some other cleanser.  The second is to keep the outside air from touching the wine.  Always use airlocks on all your vessels, and make sure they are filled as close to the brim as possible.  This will eliminate the danger of oxidation.

When I began making my own wine, I didn’t need to spend too much money.  I started out with a primary fermenter which was a food grade 5 gallon bucket.  I had 2 carboys (large glass jars) and 2 airlocks.  I used a floating hydrometer and some used wine bottles.  I bought some corks and an inexpensive corker.  I purchased yeast at the local liquor store which handled wine-making equipment and supplies.  I placed my equipment on a two shelf cart which could be moved with little effort.  The first wine I ever made was a superb cherry wine.  It didn’t take much effort and it had surprising complexity for a fruit-forward wine.  I followed that up with a rhubarb wine which wasn’t too bad.

After that, I was hooked.  I have tried many grape varieties and juices.  Some were good and some were used to clean the drain.  But I have had fun experimenting with mixtures and flavors that you will never be able to find at your wine retailer or even at a local winery.

If you’re looking for juice, ask around and try to find a vineyard in your area and see if you can buy a few gallons.  Most will have a few grapes or juice that you can try and usually they’re more than willing to talk to you and lend a bit of advice.  And, of course, bringing them a bottle of your finished product should help put you in their good graces so you’ll be first on the list to purchase juice for next year.  Let them know several weeks (or even months) before harvest that you are interested.  Some vineyards may even let you pick some of your own grapes.

Here are some books that I recommend to get you started.

Micro-Vinification – A Practical Guide to Small-Scale Wine Production by Murli Dharmadhikari and Karl Wilker, Missouri State University.

Wine Making by Stanley Anderson, Dorothy Anderson, Harcourt Brace

Home Winemaking by Jon Iverson, Stonemark Publishing

Of course, there are a number of great resources on the internet as well.  And if you’re looking for a local vendor for supplies, there are a number of wine making stores and grocery stores now carrying basic supplies for the hobbyist.

It is incredible to be able to craft your own delectable drink.  If done correctly – with love and attention – it will always taste better when you make it yourself.  And unlike those folks whose horror stories we hear all too often about Grampa’s basement wine – you’ll have something to be proud of.