The Wines of Iowa, Dec 05 | Wallace Winery


There are two factors that limit the production of wine herein Iowa. One is the harsh winter climate that many vitisvinifera grapes (theones that make the best wine) cannot handle. The other is that our soil isjust too darn good. Vines that are stressed by rocky soil and the need to godeep for water are the ones that produce the tastier grapes.

Folks who want to make wine are persistent, though, and many havecropped up in Iowa of late, challenging nature and naysayers like mewith stubborn optimism and determination. It has often been pointedout that theoretically bumble bees can’t fly since their wingspanis too short to support their weight, but since bumble bees can’tread those theories, they go right ahead and fly anyway.  Suchis the case with Iowa winemakers.

Finally, some positive results are coming from all this steadfastness.Near West Branch, Ed Wallace and John McNutt have built a tiny wineryand the wine is quite good. I know, a number of you are tilting yourheads to one side, squinting and mumbling, “C’mon, really?” butit’s true. Taste it and you’ll see.

A hobby winemaker for more than 25 years, Wallace has been experimentingwith what sorts of grapes would grow well here, tolerate the harshwinters, and fruit in the rich soil. His five-acre vineyard, positivelymicroscopic by California standards, is now putting out some darn nicewines.

The trick is that they grow much of their own grapes, but also importgrapes from California. I used to be kind of a snob about this, sayingthat it just wasn’t right, that they should do it themselvesor not at all, that it doesn’t count if they don’t growit all themselves, but then I thought about it some more. No one blinkswhen a California winery buys its grapes from a grower on the otherend of the state. And in the beer world, just try to name a brewerythat grows its own grain and hops.

One of the grapes they do grow themselves is called Chardonnel. Createdin a collaboration between Michigan State and Cornell University, withhelp from the Tabor Hill Winery in Buchanan, Michigan, Chardonnel isa hybrid cross between Chardonnay and the lesser-known but more winter-hardyCeval Blanc. The results have been astonishing, yet promise only toimprove as winemakers hone their vinification skills with the new grape.

The Wallaces are building a tasting room on their property just westof West Branch on the Hoover Highway, but I honestly don’t knowif it will be open when this goes to press. The best thing to do isto call them at (319) 643-2373. 

Now I’ll say right here that these are not world-beaters. TheRothschilds and the Mondavis of the world are not quaking in theirboots about what Wallace and McNutt are producing, and I’d franklybe surprised if anyone in California or France knew that there is someonemaking good wine in Iowa. Having said that, I want you to go and finda bottle of their wine and give it a try. You’ll be as pleasantlysurprised as I was.

Visit the Wallace Winery website at

Chef Kurt Michael Friese is co-owner of the Iowa City restaurantDevotay. Email him at more Cook’s Garden articles and recipes, visit the FoodIndex.