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Grape expectations

By Staff | Sep 10, 2010

During their first visit to the Iowa State Fair, Kiara Ott, 8, left, and Railyn Ott, 11, both from Thornton, Colo., cranked a grape press at the "Grape Getaway" exhibit near the Wine Experience display.

Des Moines-From grape stomping contests and wine-tasting events for adults, to a “Grape Get-a-Way” tent for kids, the Iowa State Fair’s “Wine Experience” drew thousands of visitors each day of the 2010 Iowa State Fair.

“This was the second year for the Wine Experience,” said Mike White, a viticulture specialist with Iowa State University Extension, who estimated that 75,000 people visited this display last year. “The Wine Experience was very popular again this year, and people are amazed at how many wineries are in Iowa when they look at the large map of Iowa vineyards and wineries on display.”

The Wine Experience, which is located at the newly renovated Grandfather’s Barn at the fairgrounds, included three grape-stomping contests several times each day, including one specifically for kids, along with guest speakers twice a day, wine tastings, a display from the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, live music, and the “Grape Get-a-Way” tent, where kids can try their hand at pressing grapes, get their photos taken and more.

During Barbara Rasko’s presentation on Iowa wineries, this publisher of Make Mine Wine magazine noted that wineries offer a rich source of fun activities that provide entertainment and contribute to the economy.

“Each of Iowa’s wineries is unique,”?Rasko said, “and many host special events that include scrapbooking retreats, wine-and-food pairing dinners, movie screenings, business meetings, class reunions, weddings, music, dancing and more.

Kelly Schuster, of Zwingle, won first place in a wine grape stomping contest at the Wine Experience at the 2010 Iowa State Fair.

“In fact, live music is one of the biggest things going on at Iowa’s wineries, and this has contributed to a resurgence of local bands.”

A taste for Iowa wines

Iowans are developing a taste for wines made from cold-hardy grapes grown in the Midwest, Rasko said. “It’s a learning experience. If you like Zinfandels, try an Edelweiss. If you prefer dry, red wines, try an Iowa wine made from Marquette or Frontenac grapes.”

There are also plenty of good Iowa fruit wines made from berries and rhubarb, Rasko said, who explained that these wines tend to be a little sweeter.

Iowa wines aren’t just for drinking, Rasko said, who noted that La Vida Loca near Indianola makes a jalapeno raisin wine that works well for marinating meat. “Some wineries even make a cinnamon wine that’s very good in cinnamon rolls.”

The quality of Iowa’s wines has improved dramatically in recent years, thanks to the viticulture and wine specialists at Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College.

“You just need to get out there and explore Iowa’s wine country and taste what’s available,” said Rasko, who noted that the website iowawinetrail.com offers a good place to start. “Winemaking is a craft, so every winemaker’s products are unique. Start learning which Iowa wines you like, and remember that supporting Iowa’s wineries means you’re supporting local businesses.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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