Showing posts with label Iowa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iowa. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wine Country: Iowa - Schade Creek Vineyard (And Winery?)

Schade Creek Vineyard has appeared in the Now And Zin Wine Country series before, as have some of their recent troubles with the Waukee, Iowa city government.  The status of the winery is up in the air as of this writing, which led to the question mark in the headline.

Kurt and Jana Schade (pronounced Shady) have been battling the city council for their very survival as a business since the city embarked on a crusade to keep their winery and tasting room closed.  This article, from Waukee Patch in 2012 also highlights some of the struggles Schade Creek Winery has had with the city.

Although the Schades didn’t hold out much hope for a victory against City Hall when I spoke with them recently, I have my fingers sincerely crossed that they can get back to the work into which they have poured their life savings - the work of making people happy by way of their wines. 

In the middle of their struggle, the Schades were kind enough to supply me with some of their wines so I could revisit a few of them and taste some of their other offerings.  Schade Creek’s wines are not labeled with a vintage, but it appears these releases are new, and some are different from the previous vintage.  Their wines sell for about $12 per bottle.

Winemaker’s Reserve
The Schades' 2012 Marechal Foch is Iowa's version of Pinot Noir.  The Foch grape is a cold-hardy orb which ripens early.  That makes it a near-perfect grape to grow in Iowa.  Medium dark ruby in the glass, the wine lets enough light through to suggest a delicate sip.  The bouquet is a beautiful Pinot-like mix of flowers, cranberry, raspberry and coffee.  In the mouth, it's lively and fresh, with an invigorating acidity and great tannic structure.  The cranberry and blackberry flavors are draped in a gentle earthiness that makes it feel like a wine of the nighttime.  The Schades tell me the intensity of flavor from those small berries "is likely due to the drought we experienced last summer.”

Ghetto Fab
This rosé, called a blush in the Midwest, is made from 100% Steuben grapes.  The skins remain in contact with the pressed juice long enough to impart a medium-garnet color.  It looks a lot like a Spanish rosado, or a White Zinfandel.  The nose bears the Iowa earth, with vibrant strawberry and watermelon aromas peeking through.  On the palate, it's the same story - fruit nestled in minerality.  A citrus play arrives late and stays on the finish.  The racy acidity is razor sharp, which means you can pair this wine with a lot more than just a salad.

Soul Mates
This is a half-and-half blend of Golden Muscat and Steuben grapes.  There’s honeyed apricot on the nose, and an earthy aroma permeating it.  It’s full and a bit sweet in the mouth, and the acidity is brilliant.  The flavor profile runs from tropical fruit to peaches and back again, with a lovely Sweet Tart finish.  The Schades recommend pairing with pork and big, bold cheeses.  It also pairs nicely with avocado   They say it’s a great choice for people who love Pinot Grigio, and I think that hits the nail right on the head.

Vineyard Sunrise
Made entirely from the Schades' Vignoles grapes, the nose offers a fresh display of flowers and herbal notes, with an underlying sweetness of apricots.  On the palate, the semi-sweet wine carries lovely flavors of peaches and a terrific level of acidity.  The winemaker notes suggest a pairing with beef or lamb.  I don't know that I would go that far, but it would the perfect wine to pair with garlic shrimp or big cheeses.

Another 100% Vignoles effort, the white wine with the friendly name is crisp and semi-sweet, with a nose of earthy apricots and peaches and a tart, tangy palate.  The Schades recommend it for those who like Sauvignon Blanc.  They also say it goes nicely with salads and shrimp. 

Wine O’Clock Somewhere
This lighthearted wine is 100% Edelweiss. The Schades say the past year’s Edelweiss turned out a bit sweeter than usual.  This wine has an earthy/sweet nose, with honeyed fruit highlights.  The palate shows a great level of acidity, which makes the wine very refreshing and food-friendly.  The full mouthfeel and fruit-driven palate make this an excellent wine for sipping, or for pairing with salads or other light fare.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Iowa Winemaker Fights City Hall

We've all heard the old axiom: "You can't fight city hall."  An Iowa winemaker is finding that you can fight them, it's just not easy.

Schade Creek Vineyard - it's pronounced "shady" - is six acres of vines in the small town of Waukee, Iowa.  Kurt Schade was happy growing grapes and selling them to other winemakers, but he longed for something more.  In 2007, Schade decided to build a winery and tasting room, make his own wine and sell it to thirsty locals and tourists right there on the property.

The land was zoned for agricultural use, but Schade did his homework and discovered that in Waukee's city limits, a class A winery did not require the approval of the local government.  He's a guy who likes to do things right, though, so Schade approached the city staff and told them what he had learned.  The city officials gave him their blessing to create a destination winery that would bring new tax dollars and, likely, new tourist dollars into the commuter community only a few miles from Des Moines.

Schade tells me "most folks in Waukee drive to work and spend the bulk of their expendable income in Des Moines, so a winery in Waukee seemed like a great idea - good for me, good for the public and good for the city."

Jana and Kurt Schade
He put a lot of his own hard-earned money into creating a new building from the ground up and making the necessary upgrades to the facility - as requested by the city -  to provide the public with an up-to-code tasting room to visit.  He even went to the state capitol to make sure everything was on the up-and-up, and government officials there told him he was within the scope of the law and should proceed with his plans.  In 2008, he started making his own wines and began applying for permits to open the tasting room early in 2009.  Things began to go south in May of that year.

"That's when the city told me they felt they had jurisdiction in the case after all,” Shade says.  “There's a street which ends at my property, and when the city wanted to extend it they would have to build a multi-million dollar bridge.  They wanted to take part of my land - and vines - and they wanted me to sign a letter saying that I agreed to letting them assess me as they saw fit, no matter what the cost."

The city of Waukee wanted to take Schade's land from him - it's called eminent domain - and they wanted him to help pay for the street extension.  "When I started the whole process, I knew there was a possibility that the city might someday want to extend that street through my property.  So I built a berm through that area along the right-of-way, to allow for that.  I never thought their demands would be so unreasonable.  The street will not enhance my property, it will probably detract from it.  I like my community and I'm pro-growth, but if I had known they would claim jurisdiction and make these demands on me, I would have considered selling the property and buying land elsewhere before sinking my life savings into the winery."

Schade Creek Vineyard and Winery
Schade feels he should be compensated for the land and the vines that will be lost to the construction - and that he shouldn't have to foot the bill for said construction.  Since hitting this impasse with the city, his tasting room - which opened last year - has been shut down, killing his retail business.  He's still making wine, but has to do his best to sell it wholesale, which is not something he is set up to do.  "A member of the city council - Mike Watts - was abusing his power and sending the police over to my place whenever a few cars are on the property.  It has gotten very personal."

The city says he should have assumed that these conditions could occur, even though they gave him the green light to build the winery.  So far, Schade has been unsuccessful in reversing the city council's decision, even though locals and other winemakers have come to public meetings to speak on his behalf.

“Waukee's mayor Bill Peard is definitely part of the opposition,” says Schade.  "I worked with the city every step of the way and they waited until I requested the occupancy permit to drop this news on me.  I thought a winery and tasting room with a pond and a fountain and a pretty vineyard would be an attraction the city would want to have around.  No other class A native winery in Iowa has received the opposition we have."

Schade Creek Winery submitted four wines to the Midwest Competition in 2012, in which they competed with wineries from 16 states.  All of the Schade Creek wines were medal recipients - in fact, they were one of only two wineries in Iowa to receive two Gold medals.  One of their wines - Harlan Henry,a wine made from Noiret grapes and named after Kurt’s Dad - received a Chariman’s nomination, meaning it was one of the top 20 wines of the competition.  I wrote about some of the Schade Creek wines in the Now And Zin Wine Country series.

Schade says he now has to decide whether to stop making wine he can't sell, or sell it in bulk to other wineries.  The intervention of a state agency might help, but Schade isn't holding his breath.

"The wine industry in Iowa is still in its infancy," says Schade, "and the state's wine organizations say they're sorry, but they just don't have the money to help fight the fight.   I'm left wishing I had built the winery in a community that would embrace it."

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Wine Country: Iowa - Tassel Ridge Winery

The Wine Country series stays in Iowa for another winery from the Hawkeye State.  You can catch up on Iowa wine here and here, while we taste a third set of wines from Iowa.

Tassel Ridge Winery is located in Leighton, Iowa, along the Heart of Iowa Wine Trail.  My thanks go to Bob Wersen for including some pretty extensive notes on the grapes in his vineyard, some of which I’ll share here.  Bob was kind enough to send six samples of his wines.  We’ll start with the whites.

Tassel Ridge Edelweiss Iowa 2008
Tassel Ridge and all the other vineyards in the midwestern and northern United States owe a great debt to Elmer Swenson.  He was a grape breeder who came up with a number of varieties that thrive despite cold, harsh winters.  The Edelweiss grape is an Elmer Swenson creation.  From Wersen’s notes:

Swenson crossed Vitis Riperia with Vitis Labrusca as he attempted to create a cold climate grape ‘that tasted good.’  He didn’t leave very clear records so we really don’t know exactly what the parentage of Edelweiss (or that of most of his other creations) is, but its Labrusca component is immediately clear.  In order to control the Labrusca qualities, we harvest this grape early with relatively high TA, low pH, and modest sugar.  Because of its natural high acidity, it is best when sweetened after vinification.  So, the Edelweiss is sweetened to about 7% R.S. whereas the White Blossom is not sweetened at all.  The sugar masks some of the natural flavors, but our market in Iowa demands sweet wine, so we sweeten our Edelweiss. We grow all of our own Edelweiss in our own vineyards.”  
Edelweiss is the largest planting of all the grapes in Wersen’s vineyard.

The Tassel Ridge Iowa Edelweiss has a nice, warm, golden tint.  The nose is sweet with candied apricots and pineapple juice aromas allowing only a peek at an herbal scent in the background.  The wine tastes only slightly less sweet than it smells.  Delicious apple flavors in the foreground lead to apricots and oranges on the finish.  There's a nice bit of acidity present despite the full mouthfeel.  Fans of semi-sweet wine should enjoy this effort.  It sells for $14 and carries 12.7% abv.

Tassel Ridge White Blossom
As noted by Wersen above, the White Blossom contrasts with the Edelweiss in that it is not sweetened.  It’s also a 100% Edelweiss wine.  Light in color, White Blossom has only a very faint straw tint.  It smells of pineapple and orange peel, but the fruit seems to lurk behind a wall of wet underbrush.  There’s great acidity in this wine, and the palate shows more orange zest with some green apple notes.  It actually seems rather Sicilian, with a salinity on the palate.  The nose however, shows more earth than ocean.  It’s very refreshing, and should do well chilled for a warm afternoon.  It should also serve nicely with all sorts of salads and some lighter meat fare.  The wine costs $14 and sports a 12.6% alcohol content.

Iowa Brianna 2009
Brianna is another Elmer Swenson creation.  It’s a particularly cold-hardy white wine variety and, for that reason, it has become quite popular among midwestern wine growers.  A golden hue makes the Brianna the richest looking of the three whites. Its nose is quite aromatic.  Denise smelled banana from across the room after I opened it, but I might characterize it as a whole bunch of bananas, an aroma that's both sweet and herbal at once.  There's a hint of oak on the palate, and it plays against the green fruit flavors very well.  It's quite dry with a bracing acidity and the label lists its alcohol content as 14% - rather hefty for Brianna, I would imagine.  I love the sour apple finish. It's a brilliant match with sharp, white cheddar and with a handful of peanuts the taste sensation is absolutely transformative.

Now we turn to the red wines.

Pizzeria + Pasta, Too! is a  varietal wine utilizing 100% estate-grown Sabrevois (I understand the pronunciation is “sa-brah-voy”) from the Tassel Ridge vineyards.  The grape is another Swenson creation, by the way.  This red is very dark in color, nose and palate. Ths is a dense wine, with a somewhat forceful nose that smells of plums well trodden into the ground.  Tarry notes are also present after its been open a while, and a grapey aroma hangs in the background.  It's a medium weight wine, despite the darkness in aroma and taste.   It goes with a cheese plate well, one featuring Vermont cheddar and smoked provolone, walnuts and dried cranberries.  I'll be honest - this is a very different sort of wine than I am used to drinking, and it takes a little getting used to, at least for my palate.  I don't really care for it as a sipper,  but once it hit the food, it was really quite enjoyable.  $13.

Marquette 2009 
The Marquette grape is another hybrid, actually a cross of two other hybrids created at the University of Minnesota.  These are estate grapes, too.  The wine spends a year in new French oak barrels and another 11 months in a mix of French, Hungarian and American oak.  There is an intense expression of fruit on the nose, with a bit of a balsamic edge.  The dark and luscious aromas are actually stunning.  Notes of tar turn flat paint into metal flake.  It’s jammy.  The palate has cherry cola and plums  showing with a richness that reminds me of Port-style wines.  It's not sweet, though - very dry in fact, with lip smacking acidity.  This should be great with a steak.  It sells for $25 - worth every penny - and carries an alcohol level of 16.2%.  That's right in between a Paso Robles Zinfandel and Port.

St. Croix 2008  
The St. Croix grapes are also courtesy of Elmer Swenson - I told you he was a big deal - and are grown on the Tassel Ridge estate.  This is a dry, red wine with an earthy nose, almost funky, with meat and grease notes showing amid an array of spices.  I smelled it immediately after I had smelled the Marquette, and thought something must be wrong.  As I wondered if it was corked, I remembered the Stelvin closure - all six wines are closed with a screwcap - and thought that it was probably just me.  It was just me.  Sampling the nose again on its own, I found it reminded me a bit of a funky, old Côtes du Rhône.  The bouquets on these last two wines are simply worlds apart.

On the St. Croix’s palate, the acidity is bracing and the fruit is tart.  Plums and black cherry show up with an oak spice which makes an appearance but is not overplayed.  The tannins are quite gentle.  Of the six wines featured here, this is the one you’ll ponder over.  For some reason it had me wanting meat loaf.  And I never eat meat loaf.  It’s a $20 wine with 12.9% abv.

So, we have another impressive entry from Iowa in the Wine Country series.  The Brianna, Marquette and St. Croix really stood out for my palate, and for the wonderful way they paired with food.

Iowa is the 20th state from which we have sampled local wine in this series, so we still have a way to go.  If you are a winery wanting to represent your state on Now And Zin's Wine Country, or if you know of one that should, email me:

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The Now And Zin Wine Country series will stay in Iowa a while longer, as some more wineries have provided samples of their Iowa wines.  I was quite impressed with Iowa wine in my first encounter with it, and couldn't wait to try some more and see if the quality stayed high.
Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery is owned by Dr. Paul Tabor, who is also the winemaker.  His family farm in Baldwin, Iowa - 170 miles west of Chicago and 40 miles south of Dubuque - was a grain and cattle operation since the 1860s.  A six-acre vineyard was planted in 1989 and the winery was built in 1996.
Tabor Home is located in the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA, which covers nearly 30,000 square miles.  AVA status was approved in 2009 for this region, snaking through  northeast Iowa, northwest Illinois, southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin.  The soils of the area are generally clay and silt loam on bedrock and limestone.
Tabor Home Winery Toast Of Iowa
Toast of Iowa 2010
This sparkler is made from La Crosse grapes, 70% of which are grown in Tabor Home’s estate vineyard while 30% come from a grower 30 miles away.  The 11.5% alcohol level is reasonable by anyone’s standards, and Dr. Tabor writes that he “kept residual sweetness lower (2.8% RS) so not to mask” the delicate fruit flavors of the La Crosse.  The wine retails for $16 and comes with a bottlecap closure.  The bottle has no punt, by the way.  It's flat on the bottom.
Not truly a sparkler, but definitely a bubbler, Toast of Iowa is labeled as a "carbonated wine."  It has a very light tint in the glass and shows tons of bubbles at first, dissipating quickly.  The nose is highly aromatic and yeasty with apricot fighting it out with an earthy minerality to come in second behind the yeast.  The palate does feature a sweetness, but it's very restrained.  The acidity is marvelous and flavors of apricot and golden plums rise up on the bubbles.  An extraordinary Sweet Tart finish comes as a pleasant surprise.  I would have thought La Crosse lovers would have liked a sweeter version of this, but I'm sure the doctor knows his market.  It certainly hits me the right way.

Tabor Home Winery JackSon RedJackSon Red 2010
This is an estate wine, with all the grapes grown in the Tabor Home vineyard.  The name “JackSon Red” references the doctor’s father, Jack, as well as the winery’s location in Jackson County.  Its alcohol is quite restrained, at 13.4% abv.  Dr. Tabor recommends it to those who enjoy Pinot Noir.
It’s not a Pinot, of course, but is produced from the Marechal Foch grape.  Foch is a cold-hardy grape which has apparently found some favor in Iowa - the previous Iowa winery in the series, Schade Creek, makes good use of Foch grapes.  The wine sells for $14.
In the glass the wine looks very dark - light barely gets through.  Its inviting nose has extremely dark, old world aromas.  Blackberry plays equally with tar, tobacco and anise.  Denise said each time I sampled it that "it smells yeasty, like baking bread."
As someone who drinks California wine a lot, the palate seems almost alien to my taste.  Had I not known it was produced in Iowa, I may have guessed Spain.  The fruit is quite restrained and a lovely minerality rivals it for attention.  An herbal flavor comes just short of tasting green, and reminds me more of sage than bell pepper.  The medium weight of the wine and the gentle tannins combine to make an extremely drinkable beverage.  I see this pairing with a chicken sausage, or lamb, quite well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Now And Zin Wine Country

The Iowa wine industry has seen dramatic growth in the 21st century.  The Hawkeye State now features somewhere around 92 licensed wineries and over 300 vineyards in Iowa, according to Iowa State University's Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute.  That organization cites 13 wineries and 15 vineyards in Iowa back in 1999, so the growth of Iowa's wine indistry has been on the fast track.  Iowa produced nearly 223,000 gallons of wine in 2009, which puts the state about in the middle of the pack for wine production by state.

The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center notes that the growth of the Iowa wine industry since 1999 has actually been a rebirth:

"During the early 20th century, Iowa was the sixth-largest grape producer in the nation. The industry declined as a result of Prohibition, the growing market for corn and soybeans, damage to grapevines caused by the drift of herbicides and the Armistice Day blizzard in 1940."

Iowa's hot summers and cold winters make grape growing a challenge.  Iowa winegrowers rely heavily on French hybrids and grapes native to America.  There aren't a lot of vineyards doing much with vitis vinifera grapes due to those extreme conditions.

Just five minutes west of Des Moines - in Waukee, Iowa - a Tuscan-inspired structure is home to Schade Creek Winery and their tasting room.  It also serves as a beautiful wedding location, an event with which they have a lot of experience.  For wine lovers, it's hard to beat getting married on a spot that overlooks a vineyard.

Kurt and Jana Schade run the winery, which is no small feat considering it's not the main occupation of the household.  From what I could gather in a flurry of hurried emails while I was sampling their wines, they both wear more hats than many of us would care to.  That's the glamour of the wine business, eh?

All the grapes used by Schade Creek are estate grown.  Since Iowa has no appellations, however, they can’t claim the status of an “estate wine” on the label.  The Schades were kind enough to provide samples of their wines for this edition of the Wine Country series.

Schade Creek Winery Soul MatesSoul Mates White Table Wine 
This is a blend of half Steuben and half Golden Muscat, a red and a white grape.  The skins were removed before the red color could escape, leaving a wine tinted with only a golden straw hue.  It offers "a touch of sweetness,” according to the Schades, and is dedicated to loved ones the Schades have lost.

The nose shows an intense earthiness and a strong herbal note, too.  The herbaceous quality isn't really grassy, but it shows a sense of earth with a layer of sweetness.  It's a semi-sweet wine, characterized by flavors of apples mixed with cherries.   Razor sharp acidity is a lip-smacking delight at room temperature.  Served chilled, that herbal aroma is just as forceful, while the acidity is diminished in the lower temperature, but still zippy.  Not at all cloying, Soul Mates' sweetness is kept in check by the earthy minerals.

Schade Creek Winery Creme de la Creme Blanc White Table Wine   
This is another white wine.  The grapes used here are 100% Niagara variety.  Niagara is the leading white grape variety grown in America.  You usually see them as table grapes, or made into jelly or grape juice.  In Iowa, they make a pretty good wine with them.  Creme de la Creme Blanc has a lighter tint than Soul Mates. The nose shows a bit more sweetness, and the herbal scent is there, too, but there is not so much earthiness. The palate also has more sweetness to offer, with golden apple flavors and a slight hint of butterscotch. The acidity is just as brilliant as in Soul Mates. There's no flabbiness here.  It’s a delicious drink.

Schade Creek Winery Laguna Aftanoona & SunsetsLaguna Aftanoona & Sunsets Red Table Wine   
This wine is my first experience with the Foch grape, a French hybrid.  It’s an early-ripening, cold-hardy grape, which makes it ideal for growing in Iowa.  The wine is medium dark and ruby red, and the mouthfeel is light and easy with red fruit - raspberry and sour cherry.  The 
acidity is very good.  An earthy mineral note on the nose comes through on the palate, too, and brambly cherry notes highlight the finish.  I am really taken with this one - it reminds me quite a lot of a Beaujolais wine - the fresh fruit and nice acidity imitating that French region’s Gamay quite well.

Schade Creek Winery Harlan HenryHarlan Henry Red Table Wine 
Harlan Henry was named for the winemaker’s father.  It’s a product of 100% Noiret grapes.  Noiret is a hybrid of vitis labrusca and vitis vinifera.   The folks at Schade Creek say it’s Iowa’s version of Pinot Noir, and they may well be right. The nose is just gorgeous, full of ripe cherry and raspberry with a touch of red licorice.  On the palate, the fruit is bright and playful, but a dark undercurrent cuts through and brings complexity.  The acidity is marvelous, and there's an outstanding tannic structure to this wine.  Lambrusco meets Pinot Noir meets Cabernet Franc is how it strikes me, and that strikes me just fine.  I would imagine every wine lover in Iowa is drinking Harlan Henry.  If they're not, it's their loss. 

Kurt Schade has acheived something winemakers in all 50 states strive for: he has identified the grapes that work well in his growing region, and he makes good wine from them.

Further interesting reading about Iowa wine can be found at these links:

The Iowa Winegrowers Association has links to Iowa wineries and information about the four wine trails in the state.

The excellent web publication Drink Local Wine has covered Iowa wine a few times, and you can see their articles here.