Jasper's modern winery squeezes the life out of central Iowan grapes to create a delicious lineup of colorful wines. The 60-minute VIP tasting gives groups of four or double-four a tour of the winery's chambers and splashes tongues with tastes of all 11 vintages, which include the crisp and citrusy Edelweiss white and the Norton dry red, whose smells of baked fruit awaken connoisseurs to flavors of currant and blackberry with slight hints of cinnamon and mint.
Only after studying wine literature, discussing options with distributors, and attending tastings do Frank and Abby Bowman decide which reds and whites will join their already massive stock of approximately 200 wine varietals. Their temperature-controlled wine cellar stores nearly 1,500 bottles, which the Bowmans—Linn Street Cafe's owners since 1996—uncork at daily meals, wine tastings, and multi-course wine-pairing dinners. Along with wine pours, their 70-seat restaurant houses contemporary American dishes crafted from sustainable seafood, local farmers' produce, and meats hand-plucked from Iowan gardens. The elegant meals continue to win raves from critics and outlets such as CityVoter, which awarded Linn Street Cafe a finalist position in its 2011 Best Romantic Restaurant competition.
“How do you take your coffee?” asks Andy Morse, son of Breezy Hills Vineyard owners Darrell and Roberta Morse. “We ask people that a lot.”
Here’s what they’ve learned: people who take cream and sugar usually prefer sweet, fruity wines, and black coffee drinkers tend to go for robust, smoky red wines. The staff starts with this simple question because they understand that wine tasting can confound the novice. No snobs, the Morses start off new wine drinkers by introducing them to the basics of tasting and then allowing them to explore for themselves the unique sensory experience of their 17 locally made wines. Handcrafted elixirs such as their popular Misbehavin'—which blends red and white wines to create the pale blush of a sunburned ghost—pair well with the vineyard’s delectable plates of chocolate truffles and nuts.
Nestled in the hills of rural Iowa, Snus Hill Winery hosts a diverse range of regional wines crafted by in-house vintners. Siphon samples from stores of the winery’s award-winning inventory, including a lauded edelweiss, laced with floral notes, and the dry Snus Hill red, imbued with suggestions of oak, smoke, and cherry. The 90-minute winery tour leads curious groups on a thorough behind-the-scenes view of the estate and its operations, giving visitors access to everything but the bedtime stories that winemakers read to each crop in the night. A wine-tank tasting invites oenophiles-in-training to sip prebottled elixirs, and the wine 101 class crams craniums with vital wine vocabulary and facts. A wine-terminology handout keeps the fruits of the experience fresh and plump in pupils’ minds, and an engraved glass reminds sippers of the vineyard’s sweeping panoramas and how many e's are in the word “estate.”
Travelers follow Jo Daviess County's sprawling fields and undulating hills toward Massbach Ridge Winery’s 18+ acre estate. Founded by the Harmston family in 2003, the winery’s proprietors select grapes grown in Jo Daviess County to concoct their batches of reds and whites. Members of the winery family escort guests on impromptu tours before rendezvousing in the tasting room or on the patio for samplings. The outdoor patio grants a heightened view of the vineyards below, which visitors can wander through on quests for vine-ripe copies of The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to its frequent tastings and tour sessions, Massbach Ridge Winery hosts a number of wine-related events each year.
Two Saints Winery holds fast to the belief that wine should be representative of its region. That's why to create its award-winning Iowa wines, Two Saints uses only grapes from its own property or grapes grown by local farmers. Embedded within the rippling countryside of rural Warren County, the facility produces up to 30,000 bottles per year. And instead of using juices retrieved from faraway sources, such as California or the mini refrigerators inside seashells, Two Saints spurns flavor enhancements and lets the natural flavors of Iowa's land emerge by aging bottles for at least a year. Customers, meanwhile, can enjoy those products right at the winery, especially during free tastings and live events held frequently on the property.