The Wines of Iowa: Wallace Winery

There are two factors that limit the production of wine herein Iowa. One is the harsh winter climate that many vitis vinifera grapes (the ones 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 go deep for water are the ones that produce the tastier grapes.

Folks who want to make wine are persistent, though, and many have cropped up in Iowa of late, challenging nature and naysayers like me with stubborn optimism and determination. It has often been pointed out that theoretically bumble bees can’t fly since their wingspan is too short to support their weight, but since bumble bees can’t read those theories, they go right ahead and fly anyway.  Such is 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 winery and the wine is quite good. I know, a number of you are tilting your heads 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 experimenting with what sorts of grapes would grow well here, tolerate the harsh winters, and fruit in the rich soil. His five-acre vineyard, positively microscopic by California standards, is now putting out some darn nice wines.

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

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

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

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

Visit the Wallace Winery website at