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Hit Iowa's Wine Trail

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Eagles Landing Winery, Marquette

In 1993, Roger and Connie Halvorson opened a bed-and-breakfast in Marquette as a retirement hedge. Roger, an amateur winemaker since the 1950s, provided complimentary bottles for guests. It wasn't long before they went into winemaking in a bigger way, opening their winery across the street from the B&B in 2000.

Eagles Landing is one of the largest, best-known wineries in Iowa, with vineyards in nearby Fayette. Their son Jay, who returned from Texas to become chief winemaker, said he expects to produce about 6,000 gallons in 2008.

The winery has more than 20 different labels, but Rogeta Halvorson, the Halvorsons' daughter who manages the shop, says they are especially proud to be one of the first wineries in Iowa to produce and sell its own port -- Port of Marquette, in its fourth year on the market.

It's difficult to picture a better setting for a winery than Marquette. The small town at the foot of some of the Mississippi River valley's tallest bluffs, is well-established as a tourist destination on the Great River Road.

The community has antique shops, flea markets and, for gamblers, the Isle of Capri riverboat casino.

127 North St.; Marquette, across the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien, Wis., is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 18 and Iowa Highway 76; 563-873-2509; www.halvorson.org/vineyard

Winneshiek Wildberry Winery, rural Decorah

The winery is on a farm that has a 140-year history. Visitors can get an inside look at the workings of Iowa agriculture.

The barn housing the business was erected in 2004 on the site of the original dairy barn. It was constructed by a crew of Amish builders. Grapes were first planted in 2001, and in the fall of 2005, shortly after family member Beth Guzman got a license, the winery began selling its own wines.

In addition to the vineyard for growing some of the grapes used in production, Winneshiek also has rhubarb wine to sell that is made from a two-acre patch growing on the property. "You have to have a taste for it," said Beth, "but it's a specialty of ours and does well."

As the northernmost stop on the Iowa Wine Trail, this winery is a bit more isolated. But nearby Decorah, just 10 miles away, with its Norwegian-American cultural stops, annual Nordic Fest in the summer, Luther College, and some serious trout fishing in area streams, has long been a jewel.

1966 337th St., which is 3 1/2 miles north of Decorah on U.S. Highway 52, turn right on North Winneshiek Road for 4 1/2 miles to 337th Street, where you turn right and go 1 mile to the winery. 563-735-5809; www.wwwinery.com

Park Farm Winery & Vineyard, rural Bankston

"When we first got started at this, I was kind of naive and said, 'No weddings here,'" said David Cushman, a civil engineer who returned from construction in Denver to join his father and brothers in establishing the winery. "We got so many calls it became impossible to say no. Now, there isn't a weekend in June we don't have one."

Small wonder. The spacious chateau's west side deck has a breathtaking view of steep valleys, woods and hills -- complete with a tall church steeple in the distance.

Park Farm, which saw its first grape crop harvested in 2004, is a popular stop for wine tours. Since the retail shop opened in 2005, every state has been represented in the guest register. There is music on the first and third Sunday of each month.

With Dubuque only 10 minutes away, tourists can easily package a visit to the winery with the many attractions in that historic Mississippi River community. Also, Galena, Ill., another popular tourist destination, is about 30 minutes away.

The winery's business in the winter is especially good during the holidays, Cushman said, echoing a sentiment heard throughout the trail.

From Dubuque: Asbury Road west; 6.2 miles past Sundown Mountain Ski Resort, turn left on Thielen Road. Winery is .7 miles south of Asbury on Thielen Road. 563-557-3727; www.parkfarmwinery.com

Tabor Home Vineyards & Winery, rural Baldwin

Paul Tabor is the fifth generation to make a living off his family's farm, but, with wife Martha, certainly the first to do it as a winemaker. This can be an extremely educational stop, considering the former college professor is a go-to expert on Midwest viticulture.

Tabor has one of the older wineries in Iowa, opening in 1997, and the vineyards are 18 years old.

The Tabor Home wines have been well-received outside Iowa, winning prizes, and the cathedral-ceiling tasting room overlooks production facilities. Visitors frequently see winemaking taking place.

The setting is strictly pastoral. For city slickers, this is an opportunity to get an up close and personal look at a working farm just across the road. A barn near the winery has been remodeled and serves as a venue for musicians who perform at least twice a month in warm weather.

The Tabor farm and winery is 2 miles north of Baldwin (follow directional signs), which is 8 miles west of Maquoketa on Iowa Highway 64. It is 40 miles south of Dubuque. 877-673-3131; www.taborwines.com

Daly Creek Winery, Anamosa

On a June weekday afternoon, a bride-to-be, her mother and her future maid of honor picked several bottles of wine to take home to consider for her September wedding in Iowa. One was Penitentiary Red, named for the Iowa prison a few blocks down the street. "It's our most popular label," said co-owner and winemaker Jim Langer.

Langer, an amateur winemaker for 20 years before getting into the business full-time, and his brother Michael have turned an old farmer's co-operative creamery into both a winery and bistro-style restaurant in downtown Anamosa.

Daly Creek is in the heart of Grant Wood country. The Grant Wood Art Gallery, where copies, satirical or accurate, of his best-known painting, "American Gothic," can be purchased, is around the corner on Main Street a few blocks from the winery.

The National Motorcycle Museum, where the original Captain America bike from the movie "Easy Rider" can be seen, is also downtown.106 N. Ford St.; Anamosa is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 151 and Iowa Highway 64, 17 miles east of Cedar Rapids in east central Iowa. 319-462-2525; daly-creek-winery.tripod.com

Wallace Winery, rural West Branch

Thousands of motorists whiz by this farm daily on Interstate Highway 80, which is within view of customers sitting on the deck and tasting wine. The winery is located halfway between, and only a few miles from, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch and the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

"We've got a very good location to prove ourselves," said John McNutt, an agri-business consultant and partner in the Wallace Winery. "This is an area with an appreciation for wine, especially with a large university nearby, and you have to show your product is worthy. At the same time, there are plenty of people to introduce to wines. "

The original winemaker is Edward Wallace, who began making wine more than 30 years ago and saw this interest grow into a winery opening in 2005. An adjacent three-acre vineyard provides some of the grapes, but most are imported from elsewhere in Iowa and outside the state.

A barn has been remodeled on the inside and hosts musicians on weekends. In fact, a tribute to the fast-fading farm building was the thought behind Wallace's Iowa Barn series wines -- a crisp white featuring Chardonel, Vidal blanc and Vignoles grapes, and a more medium-bottomed red featuring Chambourcin and Chancellor grapes.

5305 Hoover Highway NE, which is 4 miles west of West Branch, or 2 miles east of Iowa City. 319-643-3000; www.wallacewine.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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