Growing an inner city vineyard
By JOLENE STEVENS
SIOUX CITY – A plot of small grape cuttings Appeared to be looking up in appreciation of last week’s sunshine on the inner west side of Sioux City.
The vines are the result of a Sioux City woman’s determination to have her own vineyard.
And, it has a history all its own, said Lea Knowles.
The Knowleses live on Sioux City’s north side. She recalled the mulberry bushes once found in their back yard. “The birds were eating the mulberries and making a mess,” she said. “I thought to myself there’s got to be a better use for those bushes. I went to the library and got a book and made some mulberry wine. I’ve been making wine ever since.
“I kept looking around, and over time found dandelions, rhubarb, strawberries, anything I could get my hands on and made wine,” she said. Her wine-making increased and some six years ago she was encouraged to attend a grapes field day at one of the then existing Iowa State University vineyards.
“At that time there were 11 varieties of grapes being grown and I sampled every one, picked up material on the varieties, made a second trip to the vineyard where I learned how to prune the grape vines,” Knowles said. “The specialists working there at the time sent some cuttings home with me, and I really got into learning all I could about growing grapes.”
Knowles recalled how she came home with approximately 525 cuttings that were to eventually find a home in an unused well-lit upstairs bedroom of their home where the furniture had been remove to provide room for the cuttings. “I set up racks and stuck every cutting in a Dixie cup of dirt and proceeded to go upstairs and water them every day. Eventually I had cuttings for about 15 vines.”
Next came an important question – plant them where?
“We don’t live on an acreage, and the grapes put in the back yard kept getting bigger and bigger,” Knowles said. She had been planting the cuttings about six inches apart in areas she’d dig up in the back yard. But something more permanent was needed, she knew.
She obtained a 40-by-50-foot lot, too small to build on, located on the city’s inner west side. She obtained the lot for closing cost and the necessary title insurance.
She was then to determine the lot too small for her 125 vines and began another property search fortunate to find a vacant adjacent lot 50-by-150-foot, three times the size of the one obtained earlier. She told the owner she’d be willing to plant grapes there eliminating his need to mow the lot.
He offered to deed the property to Knowles for payment of the back taxes on the lot.
After obtaining a third lot, she now about a half acre of the westside site with two-thirds of the site planted with grapes. An attractive utility building adds to the site’s overall appearance.
Chuck Knowles lends a hand to his wife’s vineyard project by taking care of the mowing and installing in the pre-treated fence posts needed for trellises. Their daughter, Tracy, assisted her mother in the installation and interior design of the vineyard building.
A vineyard neighbor, raised in the area, gives Knowles her help whenever needed and keeps watch on the property.
“The neighbors say they are pleased to have it in their neighborhood and feel it has added value to their property,” Knowles said. “They call it peaceful and serene compared to how it has been.”
Not having had what she realized the experience in growing grapes she has chosen the varieties with two considerations, those she feels make good wine, have more resistance to winter kill and disease. “I knew I had to pick my battles because I was new,” she said. “I think I chose wisely – Brianna which makes a lovely white wine; Frontenac, Marquette and St. Croix. I’m expanded as far as I’m going to for a while.”
Knowles said she has been, and will be, content to share the efforts of her wine-making with family and friends rather than to become a commercial wine vendor.
Supportive currently, however, of six of Iowa’s commercial wineries, with a steadfast believe on their impact on the state’s economic picture she features these wines at another of her business interests, She is proprietor of Wine and Other Old Things, in Sioux City’s downtown area. She stocks her business shelves with selected wine from six Iowa wineries.
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