Thursday, August 19, 2010

Iowa State Fair -- Wine

Who would have thought that I would be blogging about the Iowa State Fair, or even more weird... wine at the Iowa State Fair? I recently had the privilege to visit  the Fair and take a look at the happenings in relation to the growing wine industries across the nation. As I am the State Field Editor for Winedustry - News for the "Other" grapes, I felt it my duty to go up and experience what Iowa has to offer! I am also looking forward to upcoming blog posts, as I will actually be blogging about WINES!!!

At the Iowa State Fair there are several ways to find the Iowa wine industry. One option is to head to the Wine and Cheese Garden, the second option is to head up to Grandfather's Barn (a State Fair mainstay) and participate in one of three daily grape-stomps!! Yep, you heard it three times a day, they hold competitions to see who can get the most juice. Also you may sample the "State Fair Wine" Also at Grandfather’s Barn the awards for the Iowa State Fair Commercial Wine Competition & the State Fair Oenology Contest featuring Amateur Wine-makers are on display proudly showing Iowa’s award-winning wines.

At the Wine and Cheese Garden, nine Iowa wineries are featured, as well as frozen wine-a-ritas, and wine gelato all available to purchase samples. I spent most of the afternoon at the Wine and Cheese Garden, sampling fourteen different wines over the period of the eight hours I spent at the fair. Fifty wines in all are available for sampling, with a wide range from dry to sweet. I am continually surprised as the quality of the wines from Iowa improves! Most of the wines I sampled ranged from good to excellent. Highlights of the samplings were; St. Croix from Tabor Home Winery, Harvest White from Summerset Winery, and Chardonel from Snus Hill Winery though many quality Iowa wineries were missing from the samplings. Several of the winery owners were available to answer questions about their wines. My only complaint is they were not educated AT ALL about the other wines they were pouring, nor appeared willing to learn or share anything about them, which would benefit guests to the Wine & Cheese Tent.

At Grandfather’s Barn, there are several things to see. While I did not participate in a grape stomp, I did get a chance to listen to a presentation from Jean Groben, owner of Jasper Winery in downtown Des Moines. She was presented “Steps to Starting a Winery” and described to the attendees the steps her and her husband took when starting out their winery. I found this presentation very enjoyable, open, and engaging. Lots of questions were asked from the people attending, some were from Tennessee, others from North Carolina, and of course Iowa. Every day at Grandfather’s Barn there are presentations such as this, available for people willing to learn about the wine industry, ranging from the business standpoint, to agriculture, and wine-making. Lots of education is available, which I feel is VERY important. I also did get the opportunity to watch a Kids Grape Stomp, it very fun, and lots of kids were interested in participating. Ribbons were awarded to winners, and the kids left with sticky hands and feet, and smiles on their faces! Every evening there is also an adult grape stomp. I had the privilege of meeting one of the winners, as they stopped into the winery I work at on the way home from the Fair the following day. Beaming with excitement she told me all about it, and was very proud to be a winner (I guess everyone is a kid at heart when it comes to a Grape Stomp)

Also at Grandfather’s Barn the awards from the Wine Competitions are on display. The biggest winners for this year!!

Double Gold Medals:
Whispering Pines Winery – Back Roads Red
Ackerman Winery – Raspberry Wine
Summerset Winery – Harvest White

I would say the big winner for 2010 Commercial Wine Competition would be Eagles Landing Winery, who took home 4 Gold Medals this year for the following wines. Summer Crush, Sweet Ruby, Campfire Hootch, and Serenity. Eagles Landing is on a hot streak this summer, they also did exceptionally well at the Mid-American Wine Competition, and I look forward to trying a few of their wines (I may have called in a substantial order a few days ago) Link below to the results page.

The final experience that is available at Grandfather’s Barn is sampling of the “State Fair Wine”. This year there were three wines available, all produced by Jasper Winery of Downtown Des Moines. Two wines were there from last year, a semi-sweet Edelweiss (one of Iowa’s most popular white grapes), a 2008 Chancellor, and a new addition this year, a semi-sweet Chancellor / Frontenac Blend. Samples of the wine are available for $1 per sample only at Grandfather’s Barn, or you can purchase a bottle for $15. I decided to splurge and sample all three. The new Chancellor / Frontenac blend was by far the best of the three. I would ask a few questions regarding the State Fair Wines. How do they get selected? Why is only one winery selected? Why are those grape varieties chosen? I would like to see a greater variety of grapes, and also of wineries. I have had many Edelweiss wines that were (in my opinion) better than that State Fair Edelweiss. How did that one get selected? Also, you would think popularity would be taken into account. Why are the most popular wines in Iowa not selected/considered as the state fair wines? (the two that come to mind are Caba Moch from Summerset Winery, and Red, White, & Blue from Tassel Ridge Winery) It is a great benefit and tourist ploy to purchase the wine with the State Fair label. I am sure sales of these wines are great at the fair, even though I did not purchase a bottle, I am sure many did.

The Iowa State Fair was a very enjoyable experience and I applaud Barb Rasko (Make Mine Wine Magazine), Mike White (Iowa State University Extension), and all the winery owners/employees that are out there on the front line sampling Iowa wines for the Fair attendees.

I look forward to the upcoming weeks, 

Derek Whittington

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