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By Staff | Sep 14, 2012

There once was a time when my wife and I were young and ambitious and overflowing with vim and vigor. Our youth and energy were such that we believed we could run a dairy, farm a bunch of land and raise a couple of kids – and do it all with a double fistful of debt tied behind our backs.

It’s becoming more and more difficult to remember this callow version of ourselves, but we experienced a pleasing reminder recently thanks to a serendipitous discovery.

We had passed through the town of Canton, S.D., and were wending east along U.S. Highway 18 through the rolling hummocks that form the breaks of the Big Sioux River and into Iowa. High up on a knoll was a soaring structure with a roofline that echoed the slope of the surrounding hills.

We saw an arrow pointing up the hill and a sign that said “winery.” That was enough to cause us to pull off the main road for an investigational detour.

The sprawling, soaring, elegant building is home to Calico Skies Winery in Inwood. We went inside and were greeted by Ashlee and Will Kimberly, owners of the establishment. The first thing that struck me was how young they are.

“I’m 29, and Ashlee is 28,” said Will. “We’ve been married five years. We don’t have any kids yet, but we’re practice-parenting with our four dogs.”

We asked about their story, how this charming and energetic young couple and this magnificent building ended up in the middle of an Iowa cow pasture.

“I grew up on a farm near Inwood,” said Ashlee. “Dad always kept us kids busy with some sort of project. We raised sheep and goats, and one year he had us raise 50 bucket calves. After high school, I went to ISU to pursue a degree in horticulture. That’s where I met Will.”

“I grew up in the Des Moines area,” said Will. “After I got my horticulture degree from ISU, I landed a job supervising a golf course in La Quinta, Calif. Ashlee later got an internship in Santa Barbara, and our romance resumed where it left off.”

“We became interested in winemaking when we began to visit wineries on weekends,” said Ashlee. “We started working at a winery on our weekends and took online courses for viticulture and enology from the Des Moines Area Community College.”

Even with that level of preparation, it must have been a Herculean project to carve a vineyard and winery from this rocky hilltop. What was that like?

“For three years we didn’t even watch TV,” said Will. “Every spare moment was spent going over our business plan and talking to bankers and contractors. We also sought and got a lot of good advice from other Midwestern wineries.”

“My family is all here at Inwood, so that’s why we chose this area,” said Ashlee.

How did you come up with the name Calico Skies?

“We and my mom are huge Beatles fans, and Paul McCartney recorded song titled ‘Calico Skies,'” said Will. “And in 2010, when we were building the winery, we had these beautiful sunsets that made us think ‘wow, look at that calico sky.'”

What is the division of labor around here?

“I’m in charge of taking care of things in the vineyard,” said Ashlee. “I like being outdoors; it reminds me of working on Dad’s farm when I was a kid. We have five acres of grapes and are growing two red varieties and three whites. We both work at the tasting bar when needed, but Will is the main winemaker.”

“Our winemaking equipment makes it possible for one person to handle the entire process,” said Will. “This allows me to control the quality at each step. We aren’t in this to make the most wine possible. We want to make the best wine possible.”

I see that you guys have hosted a lot of events. Any surprises?

“We’ve had some happy surprises, certainly not the kinds of things you could have written into any business plan,” said Will. “We’ve had a couple of website launches take place here, which was something we never would have imagined. And this weekend, we’re hosting a wedding where the bride and the groom are flying in on an ultralight airplane.”

What is the overall mission of Calico Skies Winery?

“We want our visitors to have an enjoyable time,” said Will. “We hope that they can relax and have a pleasant experience while enjoying some good wine.”

As we left Calico Skies Winery, my wife observed, “Wow. They are so young and good-looking and energetic.”

“Yeah,” I replied. “It was almost like looking into a mirror.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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