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Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier - A taste of fine wine
Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier By JESSICA MILLER
Courier Staff Writer
02/25/2001

A taste of fine wine

IOWA FALLS

Taste this.

  A winery here offers merlot and cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay from Australian grapes, Riesling from grapes grown near the Rhine and Mosel rivers in Germany and a cranberry wine that is not sweet.
  A semi-retired veterinarian produces the wines in an outbuilding on his acreage he and his wife converted into a winery and tasting room.
  "I don't like sweet wines, so these are all fairly dry," said Ken Groninga of rural Iowa Falls, owner of Eagle City Winery. "If people don't like dry wine, then they won't like mine."
  Even the cranberry wine, typically a sweet drink, has only a hint of sugar.
  "Just enough sugar that you can taste the sweetness," Groninga said of his wines.
  Groninga opened the Eagle City Winery about the middle of December, but he has made the wine since last summer. The acreage is about halfway between Ackley and Iowa Falls, at one time an old settlement called Eagle City.
  So far Groninga has sold 600 bottles of wine, the cranberry being the most popular.
  "It's a little sweeter than the grape wines, but none of my wines are really sweet," he said.
  He meant to make dry wines, but he never meant to become a wine seller. It just happened.
  "We wanted to live in the country, and we wanted to build a log house. We found this acreage, and we ended up here," Groninga said.
  A retired swine veterinarian, Groninga still works as a consultant for an animal vaccine company and is home less than half of the time. He moved in 1991 to a house along the Iowa River near Ackley, Groninga's hometown.
  While at home he noticed the wild fruits and berries growing on his property. He turned them into wine and entered them in amateur competitions. He won best of show for a non-grape wine at the Iowa State Fair in 1998.
  Later he and his wife, Carolyn, started looking more seriously at wine making.
  "We decided we wanted something to do when we retired from our jobs," Groninga said.
  So he bought a couple of books on wine making and got started. He took a rustic approach and converted a portion of a large machine shed into a winery. Using boards from area barns, he built a small tasting room, decorated with
stained glass. One window has a view of Groninga's small vineyard. He turned the neighboring room into a winery.
  "I haven't ruined a batch yet," he said.
  The wine-making process begins in a 25-gallon primary fermenter in the back room of the winery. Depending on the wine, the mixture will be left for a week to 10 days. Then the wine is poured into five-gallon flasks. When the sediment, mostly dead yeast, falls to the bottom, the wine is transferred to another flask and then filtered. Finally, it's poured into bottles, corked and left on shelves to age.
  Groninga maintains a log of every batch he makes. He said the business does not require daily attention except through the first fermenting process.
  He and his wife are not the only pioneers of Iowa's wine industry. Many are popping up around the Midwest. In the 1980s the University of Minnesota crossed French grapes with wild ones and developed wine grapes whose vines could survive Iowa's winters.
  Growing grapes is a long-term project, taking five to six years for vines to mature enough for a harvest to become profitable.
  "Grapes are a passion, vineyards are a phenomenal thing," said Ron Mark, who owns Summerset Winery in Indianola, Iowa's largest winery and vineyard.
  Mark often gets lost in the rows of his vineyards after coming home from his job at the Federal Aviation Administration. He stops along the road before coming into his house.
  "I start inspecting, cutting, pruning and tying up and they have to come out and find me. ... It's a therapeutic thing," said Mark, who was one of the instrumental people in boosting grape production in Iowa.
  In 1999, Iowa had 31 acres of commercial grapes. Today there are more than 100 acres in Warren County alone.
  "There's a huge amount of people interested in this," said Mike White, an agronomist with the Iowa State Extension Service for Warren County. At the first annual meeting Thursday of the Iowa Grape Growers Association in Cedar Rapids, more than 200 people attended.
  It may be the money involved. In their fifth or sixth year, growers can reap two to four tons of grapes an acre. Grapes sell for $500 to $1,000 a ton. And one acre of grapes makes $30,000 worth of wine.
  White has been to many of Iowa's vineyards and wineries, including Groninga's.
  "He converted an old barn. It's a nice setup he's got," White said.
  Today Groninga makes his wines from juice sent in from such places as Canada, but soon his grapes will be mixed with imported juices to create blended wines. He produces Frontenach and Foch, used for white wines, and St. Pepin and Seyvalbalnc used to make red wines.
  Tours of the Eagle City operation are available by appointment. Eagle City Winery beverages can also be found at the Waldorf's Food Center and the American Legion in Ackley, Discount Liquor in Iowa Falls and Mulligan's Supper Club in Geneva.
  For more information on the Eagle City Winery, go to www.eaglecitywinery.com or call the Groningas at (641) 648-3669.
  "Support your local winery - California might fall off someday," Mark said.

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