Trails and Tales, Issue #1
by Alyssa L. Ochs
If you’re new to the concept of traveling along a wine trail, where better to start than with one of the originals? The Iowa Wine Trail is the oldest wine trail in the state and features a wonderful collection of wineries in the Upper Mississippi Valley wine region in the Northeastern part of the state.
This part of Iowa known for its rolling hills, scenic byways and cold-water streams filled with trout. But for wine enthusiasts, it is also a place to learn about the region’s special varietals from experienced winemakers that produce award-winning wines. Better yet, there are semi-annual events scheduled along the Iowa Wine Trail, other local attractions to see throughout the year and Bed & Breakfast partners to make a full weekend out of your vineyard adventure.
Region and Trail Details
When you take a trip along the Iowa Wine Trail, you have the opportunity to visit some lovely small towns, including Baldwin, Bankston, DeWitt, Decorah, Fredericksburg, Guttenberg, Marquette, Waukon and West Branch. For geographic reference if you are not from the region, the trail is generally located east of Waterloo, west of Dubuque and north of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. The route skips the big interstates and takes you through the backroads via Highways 3, 18, and 52.
The Iowa Wine Trail is a very well-established craft beverage trail with its own website, map and passport program. For the passport program, visitors go to each member winery along the trail and receive stamps that can be traded in for a souvenir wine glass at the end the experience. No purchase is necessary to receive the passport stamps or wine glass. Visitors can get their passports stamped on any day except during an Iowa Wine Trail event and redeem passports at any time.
Unique Features of the
Iowa Wine Trail
Something that makes this wine trail unique is the specific grape varietals grown in the region. The grapes here must be very hardy and be able to survive when temperatures drop to 35 degrees below zero in the winter. Early and late frosts, high humidity and nonstop rain are issues that make growing grapes in this part of Iowa a challenge. Yet the wineries that have persisted and succeeded in this harsh environment produce world-class wines that are unlike any other you’ve tasted before. Grape varietals featured in the Iowa Wine Trail wineries include Brianna, Edelweiss, Frontenac, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, La Crescent, La Crosse, Marechal Foch, Marquette, Seyval Blanc, St. Pepin and Petite Pearl. Local wines are produced not only from locally grown grapes, but local berries and honey too.
Beth Guzman from Winneshiek Wildberry Winery told Iowa Trails and Tales that the Iowa Wine Trail is rewarding for travelers because it accomplishes many travel goals, such as sightseeing, learning and indulging in locally made flavors and goods.
“Naturally, our name of the game is wine and we’re here to celebrate with other wine enthusiasts by opening our doors to share our unique creations,” Guzman said. “The Iowa Wine Trail additionally offers opportunities for local members to get out and try new wineries and the wines that they offer. Of course, many travelers take advantage of the traveling opportunity to see what The Driftless area offers. We produce wines and grow grapes that can grow well in the Midwest, like Brianna, Petite Pearl, La Crescent, Frontenac (red, blanc and gris) and Marquette – to name a few!”
Participating Wineries to Visit
There are approximately nine participating wineries that are part of the Iowa Wine Trail, which is a manageable number of establishments to visit if you spend the whole weekend in the
region. These are family-owned wineries that are small to medium in size and also friendly places where you can chat with a winemaker and meet new people.
Here is a list of the wineries to visit along the Iowa Wine Trail and where they are located:
• Winneshiek Wildberry Winery: Decorah, IA
• Empty Nest Winery:
• Eagles Landing Winery:
• Promise Land Winery:
• Park Farm Winery:
• Tabor Home Vineyards & Winery: Baldwin, IA
• TYCOGA Winery & Distillery:
Our featured winery for this article, Winneshiek Wildberry Winery, is a special stop on the route because it is a family-owned and-operated business that was built up on a 150-year-old family farm. It has had many generations work within the winery and still does. Kenny and Yvonne Barnes live on the property in their quaint home up the hill. The Barnes couple started growing grapes, and a few years later kicked off the winery with their daughters, Beth Guzman and Darla Jones. Guzman can be found throughout the winery, ensuring its smooth operations, while Jones is often found working hard on the winemaking and productions. When you come to visit, you might find some of the other family members working as well; otherwise, Winneshiek Wildberry Winery is run by its hardworking employees that are practically family too.
“Aside from our family-centered operations, Winneshiek Wildberry Winery stands out as a winery but also for our kitchen, where we produce simple yet savory meals,” Guzman said. “Like many wineries, we offer meat and cheese trays, but we go beyond that with our homemade soups, pies, sandwiches and flatbreads.”
The Winneshiek Wildberry Winery has a gift shop filled with branded merchandise and wine accessories, and there is also a party room available to rent for special events. To learn more about the winemaking process, join a group tour on weekdays or selected weekends by appointment.
Trail Events to Check Out
Although the Iowa Wine Trail is open and accessible all throughout the year, there are two particularly special times to plan a trip here. There are spring and fall events typically scheduled each year with food pairings, special wine tastings and informative sessions. However, like everything else in our world today, these events have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. During normal times, people can purchase tickets to the spring and fall events on the wine trail website. The events are held rain or shine, and tickets are non-refundable.
But even when regularly scheduled events were put on hold, the trail organization has continued to offer special discounts on glasses and bottles of wine at the tasting rooms in exchange for wearing a specially designed Iowa Wine Trail t-shirt or sweatshirt.
The Iowa Wine Trail’s Facebook page @iowawinetrail is a good place to check for information about upcoming events and promotions. It is also recommended to sign up for the wine trail’s mailing list to receive monthly newsletters and details about wine releases and events.
Nearby Local Attractions
It’s easy to see why Northeastern Iowa is a big hit among wine lovers, but there is a lot more to do in this region in addition to just the wine trail. For example, this area is also a great place to go for a hike and enjoy the great outdoors. Guzman from Winneshiek Wildberry Winery recommends the three waterfalls in the area: Dunning Springs, Siewer’s Springs and Malanaphy Springs, which involves going for a mild hike and getting the reward of a beautiful, mossy waterfall.
“The next hidden gem is Chattahoochie Park,” Guzman said. “This park hugs the Upper Iowa River, which is a stellar place to spot bald eagles. Siewer Springs is another great place to see eagles. There is also the trout hatchery at the 12-mile paved Trout Run Trail. In fact, we have a wine named after it: Trout Run Bald Eagle!”
Here are some other ideas for things to do around the wineries of the Iowa Wine Trail:
• Driftless Area Wetlands Centre
• Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
• Local antique shops
• Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum and National Historic Site.
• Hoover Nature Trail
• Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch
How to Have the Best Iowa Wine Trail Experience
Traveling along a wine trail is more comparable to a marathon than a sprint, and the Iowa Wine Trail is no exception. This serene part of the country presents a rare and refreshing opportunity to shift your mindset, change your pace of life and enjoy life’s simple pleasures in a way that soothes the soul from the inside out.
“Our advice is to slow down,” said Guzman from Winneshiek Wildberry Winery. “Slow down and enjoy the countryside, your company and take time to experience the flavors of food and wine that are produced close to home. Slowing down will also help you find the signs and turns for our winery!”
You can also directly reach out to one of the member wineries listed above with specific questions.