March Wine Quiz

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February’s Wine Quiz

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January 2014 Wine Quiz


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Q&A, Tom Nemcik

Wine professionals and enthusiasts of Iowa are well aware of the existence of vast differences between the native wine industries of Iowa and California, but what specifically differentiates the wine industry in California from the wine industry in Iowa?

Iowa Decanted guest writer, Mallory Hughes, took it upon herself to find a few answers in the following piece:

Iowa in Comparison: California

Tom Nemcik was a horticulturist. He was interested in a wide range of plants, working closely with California native plants in a nursery in Napa County propagating native plants for restoration and creating native habitats for them.

While doing this, he was surrounded by California’s viniculture and eventually found his niche in grapevine nurseries. By applying some of the thinking of native plants to viniculture, he was able to bring new, useful tactics to the propagation of grapevines.

From Nemcik’s perspective, here is what the California industry has that separates it from the Iowa wine industry:

  • Micro climates: California wines can grow pretty much everything in the diverse climates across the state – thus, creating quirky, off-beat, regionally diverse wines
  • Industrial Scale Production: California produces 250 – 300 million cases of wine per year, providing the country with 90% of all of its wine consumption. In fact, if California were an independent country, it would be the fourth largest wine producer in the world.
  • Mechanization of the Harvest Process: Due to sheer quantity, most wineries in California are part of multinational corporations that cannot harvest grapes quick enough by hand. Thus, machines do the pruning and harvesting process.
  • Trade: California has a complex process of designations, and wineries exchange fruit and juice regularly. Some wineries may grow grapes for other wineries and trade the fruit to produce wines with county designation, state designation, or AVA designation as opposed to winery designated.
  • Pest Management: California is a leader in erosion control and pest management. The University of California has programs designated to establish the least toxic, best practice for fertilization.
  • Off-Season Techniques: While California experiences mild winters, post harvesting involves irrigation and light fertilizing. In fact, the state as a whole practices cover cropping, which is planting quick germinating crops, like oats, in rows to minimize erosion and protect wine grapevines from abundant spring moisture.
  • Rapid Globalization: Now, California’s wineries are rarely comprised of entrepreneurs and mavericks who are passionate about what they do. Instead, marketers and managers often run vineyards and wineries to accommodate a more professionalized industry.

Mallory Hughes is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and English with a particular interest in writing/editing for magazines.  She is available for freelance writing assignments and open to job offers starting in May 2014.

December’s Wine Quiz


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Q&A: Lucas McIntire

Lucas McIntire was Iowa Decanted’s first featured winemaker in our inaugural issue in September.  Now that the season has changed and the chill has set in, we decided it would be fun to get in touch with Lucas again to see what exactly is going on at Kirkwood Winery during the colder months of the year.

Iowa Decanted: What are your primary duties in the winery during the winter months?

 Lucas McIntire: As for winter duties at the Winery, My primary focus right now is getting out to the stores and performing wine tastings to help move and promote our product.  It’s always great to talk and share with the public and educate them about our wines and what’s going on at Kirkwood. As for the 2013 vintage, the wines are ready to be “racked” or transferred off the sediments again.  Next I will be fining the white wines with bentonite to remove positively charged proteins that could cause hazes in the wine.  By the end of December we will  “cold stabilize” all the wines by exposing them to our winter temperatures.  The goal will be to achieve an internal wine temperature of 28’ Fahrenheit for a minimum of 72 hrs.  This process helps to precipitate out the tartaric acid or specifically the potassium bi-tartrate ions.   This helps to lower the total acidity of the wine and make sure these “crystals” will not form in the bottle when left in the back of your refrigerator.


ID: What about the vineyard?  What considerations do you need to take during the cold season?

 LM: As for the vineyard, we finally removed the bird netting as I was very busy in the winery after the harvest was done. The vineyard can now go to “sleep” until spring, or until I begin dormant pruning in March.


ID: What are your plans for the upcoming season?

 LM: As for the next season, I am planning out which varietals to plant.  We need more red wine, so I am looking to obtain more Petite Pearl. I also plan to add some extra Frontenac. Finally, I might try taking some cuttings from 2 vines in my row of Geneva red. There were two vines that had markedly different grape morphology that I believe “might” be NY71-or-NY73. That said, we will certainly get to “play” out in the vineyard this spring.


ID: Do you have a favorite drink for the season?

 LM: We just “disgorged” our 2012 Sparkling La Crescent in early November.  This is part of the process for making traditional method bubbly.  We invert the bottles and freeze the yeast in the neck of the bottle (about a 1’ plug of ice/wine), then bring the bottles to an up-right position (45-60’ angle) and remove the crown cap on the bottle.  The Ice plug shoots out at 60mphr! It’s exciting! We now have about 180 bottles of bubbly to sell for the Holiday season. So my drink of choice right now is Sparkling wine! I am addicted! So I’ll be drinking a lot of Korbel or Kirkwood bubbly when I can afford it.  Note: Always look for the wording “fermented in this bottle”.

Q&A: Robert Morey

Best Case Wines, an importing and wholesaling company, was founded in 2011 by Robert Morey, with the goal of promoting wines which are characterized by:

  • a sense of graceful, harmonious balance

  • an expression of the place and culture from where they derive

  • value for the money

  • the experience of pleasure they offer to the drinker

The wines sold by Best Case Wines can be found around the state at a number of retail establishments and restaurants.  Iowa Decanted reached out to Mr. Morey in order to get his insights on wine and the industry.

Iowa Decanted: When you are choosing a wine to distribute, what are you looking for specifically?

Robert Morey: To me, wine enhances the enjoyment of meals in good company.  With that in mind I am looking for four things: balance, by which I mean that its component parts — fruit, acidity, alcohol, tannins — harmonize together; an expression of the place & culture of where the wine is grown; value for the money; and pleasure.  If a wine is not a pleasure, I don’t want to drink it.

ID: What is the mark of a fine wine?  What characteristics would you say they have?

RM: To be honest I’m not crazy about the term “fine wine.”  To me it sounds fussy.  There is more good wine today — and it can be had less expensively — than ever before in human history, due to the invention of stainless steel, modern sanitation, and temperature control.  Still, some wines are better than others.  Balance is key.  I don’t want a wine that is too jammy, or too alcoholic, or too tannic.  And also I like a wine with authentic personality, a wine that makes me realize that it is like none other, that it could be grown nowhere but in those particular vineyards.

ID: How would you suggest inexperienced wine consumers approach their education?

RM: The best, easiest, and most enjoyable way to learn more about wine is to drink more wine while paying attention.  Find a friendly wine shop staffer who can help guide you.  Have an open mind and a spirit of adventure.  If you want to be systematic about it, you could spend a while drinking different wines of the same region, or spend a while drinking different wines from the same grape variety.  That way you can learn, for instance, about what characterizes Chardonnay, while also learning the grape’s varying possibilities, too.  And I find that it is always more fun to drink in company, comparing notes with your companions.

ID: The wine industry in Iowa is very young compared to that of the Old World.  What suggestions can you make to growers and winemakers that you think will allow them to become more skilled and competitive?

RM: Most of the world’s most honored winegrowing regions have terrible, barren-looking soil.  That is what traditional wine grapevines like.  Here in Iowa, we have the richest soil in the world, and those grape varieties can’t overwinter here anyway.  So I think it is a mistake to try to make Iowa wines that imitate wines of the Old World, or even wines of the U.S. west coast or the Finger Lakes.  To me it makes more sense to work with grape varieties that thrive here, and work to develop a wine style and a wine culture that’s distinct to the American midwest.  The Iowa winegrowers I actually know, and the Universities too, are working hard to do that.  But the world’s other winegrowing regions have hundreds of years’ head-start.  Iowa’s winegrowing is in its infancy.

ID: Do you have a preferred wine or grape?  If so, what specific characteristics make it your favorite?

RM: Hard question.  I rarely drink sweet wines because they pair well with a much more limited range of foods.  You know that my heart is in France.  I love all kinds of bubbly wine, especially Champagne.  I love dry rosé wine, especially in the summer.  I love the Chardonnays of Burgundy, the Sauvignons of the Loire Valley, dry Riesling especially from Alsace, robust reds and aromatic whites of the Rhône Valley and southern France. . . .  There is a lot to love.

Medieval Vineyard

The wine trade has been a significant part of the human experience for thousands of years.  In many ways it has progressed (particularly in regards to sanitary practices and quality assurance), but in other ways it remains familiar to its original roots.

Take the cost of setting up a profitable vineyard, for instance.

A spreadsheet provided by Iowa State University Extension provides the estimated cost of establishing a one acre vineyard would be $4846.40 at the end of year one.  If we use the average size of a vineyard in Missouri as reference (at 4 acres), that cost would be around $19,385.60.  Compare that to figures pulled from the records of the abbey of Saint-Romain in the Saone valley totaling the cost of maintaining a vineyard for a year in the late 15th century and we see a familiar picture.

  • manuring (cost of dung & baskets for transport): 17 florins
  • digging: 19 florins
  • staking (cost of stakes included, ties, transport, pruning, food for workers and pay): 52 florins
  • Harvest (62 pickers, 48 porters, 11 men on winepress): 17 florins

Average total cost = 105 florins

In today’s dollars that would be around $21,000.

Q&A: Kurt Garretson

The Iowa Wine Grower’s Association held its first ever amateur wine competition in 2013, awarding six Double Gold, nine Gold, twenty-six Silver, and nineteen Bronze medals to Iowan winemakers.  Amateur Wine of the Year was awarded to Joel Garretson of Salem for his Green Gage Plum Wine.  Iowa Decanted caught up with Joel, Kurt, and Justin Garretson of East Grove Farms to get their perspective on a few things.  The spokesman of this unique family farm, Kurt, was kind enough to answer our questions.

Iowa Decanted: What is the philosophy of East Grove Farms?

Kurt Garretson: As a family we have been living in Iowa for 176 years. That is seven generations of Garretson’s and we hope to create opportunities that keep another seven generations on the farm. We do that by implementing conservation practices that improve soil fertility, developing agritourism, and expanding into what we believe is an emerging market for wines or meads that represent the native fruits in Iowa. The name East Grove comes from the original community that settled in and around the farm. We like to continue that tradition of pioneers by honoring the past while planning for the future.

ID: How did you become interested in winemaking?

KG: My grandfather Joel Garretson Sr. used to make elderberry wine in his basement. And later my dad Joel Garretson Jr. started making elderberry wine in his basement, so it seemed appropriate that the next generation start making elderberry wine in the basement. Outside of our Grandfather’s shop there used to be an Elderberry bush that grew from the left over pressings from wine.  That bush is gone, but around the corner there is a field of fruit trees and Elderberries. Fermentation is a great way to preserve what we grow on the farm, and as a family we have been doing that for decades.

ID: What has been your most significant challenge in regards to winemaking?

KG: We want everything to be as local as possible. Most of the fruits will be grown on the farm or in the surrounding area. As with all farming operations, the weather is a constant challenge. We have the additional challenge of trying to make a high quality wine using fruits that don’t produce as much sugar as grapes while still holding true to our values. This is why we are looking to start with a selection of meads, or honey wines. The honey is locally produced and adds the sugar needed to produce a good wine. We are working on some Elderberry recipes that use grape juice as a base as well.  These are still experimental but I think there is a lot of promise for a blend of grape and elderberry.

ID: Much of the wine you produce has been made from fruit other than grapes.  Is there a particular reason you focus on non-grape wine?

KG: We started growing Elderberries because we believe there is an emerging market for them due to their health benefit. There is a lot of scientific research going on right now into Elderberries as the next super fruit. Our goal is to grow many of the native Iowa fruits like Elderberry, Aronia, Juneberry and Persimmon as well as other heirlooms such as the Green Gage Plum and White Peach. In my opinion a good wine is free of technical flaws and has a clean fermentation that brings out the flavor of the fruit. We want to fill a different niche by providing a taste of the native, locally grown fruits of Iowa.

ID: What do you think the biggest misconception is about Iowa wine?

KG: We are not sure if there are many people outside of Iowa that have any conception of Iowa wine, but those that do probably think of the sweeter table wines. Most Iowa wine is sold to Iowans and they generally buy sweet wines, so that is what people produce.  The grape wine market is very competitive, and until recently it was difficult to make good dry wines from Iowa grown grapes. The Midwest Grape & Wine Industry Institute and the Northern Grapes Project are doing a lot to raise the quality of wine made in the upper Midwest. New varieties of grapes are coming out that are capable of producing a world class wine.

ID: Where would you like the Iowa wine industry to be in ten years?

KG: In order for the Iowa wine industry to grow, there will need to be something that differentiates it to people outside of Iowa. East Grove Farms is doing something completely different, but it is also untested. We would like to see Iowans work more with fruits that naturally grow well here. At one time, Iowa was the leading producer of apples in the the U.S. and hard cider is making a comeback as a popular drink. For the grape wine industry we would like to see the new varietal wines like Marquette become respected household names like Cabernet.

Cato the Elder

De Agri Cultura, written by famed Roman soldier, author and statesman Cato the Elder around 160 BC, is among the earliest manuals covering the growing of grapes and the making of wine.  In it he writes detailed instructions on the proper establishment of a profitable farm and vineyard.  He emphasizes the careful selection of vines, taking into consideration the specific type of soil of the vineyard site.

“In soil which is thought to be best adapted for grapes and which is exposed to the sun, plant the small Aminnian, the double Eugeneum, and the small parti-colored; in soil that is heavy or more subject to fogs, plant the large Aminnian, the Murgentian, the Apician, and the Lucanian. The other varieties, and especially the hybrids, grow well anywhere.”

He gives a complete list of the staff needed to manage a vineyard of 100 iugera (66 acres), including “an overseer, a housekeeper, 10 labourers, 1 teamster, 1 muleteer, 1 willow-worker, 1 swineherd — a total of 16 persons,”  and his list of equipment is comprehensive, listing even the number of candlesticks and pruning-hooks the prospective vineyard manager will need.

The 1st century B.C. manuscript reads almost like a modern instruction manual for vineyard management, exhibiting a sophistication that is hard to believe existed over two thousand years ago.   Cato encouraged vineyard managers to take an active role with grapevines with vigorous training, pruning, and fertilization.

“Tie a well-knotted vine straight up, keeping it from bending, and make it grow vertically, so far as you can. Leave fruit-bearing shoots and reserve stubsat proper intervals. Train the vines as high as possible and tie them firmly, but without choking them… In an old vineyard sow clover if the soil is lean (do not sow anything that will form a head), and around the roots apply manure, straw, grape dregs, or anything of the sort, to make it stronger.  When the vine begins to form leaves, thin them. Tie up the young vines at frequent intervals to keep the stems from breaking, and when they begin to climb the props tie the tender branches loosely, and turn them so that they will grow vertically. When the grapes begin to turn, tie up the vines, strip the leaves so as to expose the grapes…”