For the past couple of months my postings have concentrated on my wine appreciation class as evidenced through the volumes, literally and figuratively, of wine both consumed and written about. Apologies to wine education/tasting purists but I couldn’t find it in myself to spit out the delicious, at least frequently delicious, nectar of the grapes. And as much as I enjoy writing about the tasting experience I find myself wishing to write more about other wine-related topics. So begins my personal challenge to write (at least every other day) about some aspect of the wine industry.
On or about November 7, 2007 my wife Jill and I, and two, soon to become friends, Marty and Jeff, met at a coffee shop in downtown Vinton, Iowa to discuss forming an amateur winemaking club. By the end of our first meeting we had a name, some ideas about what we wanted to accomplish, and several future meeting dates. One of our most important goals was to learn to make wine with fresh, locally-sourced, wine grapes. To this end we’ve been very successful. Last year, our Eastern Iowa Wine Club (EIWC) membership sourced, negotiated purchase price, and secured more than 9,000lbs of fresh wine grapes from local and regional growers.
We’re committed to working with winegrowers located in Iowa and surrounding states to source the highest quality grapes available. Compared to last year where our group sought 12 different cultivars (i.e., cultivated varietals) this year we are narrowing our focus down to two red and two white wine grapes in an effort to increase our buying power; while at the same time, improve our winemaking skills through a focused effort on a few cultivars. And in all honesty, as the volunteer wine grape source person, it will make my life easier!
Narrowing down the huge list of potential grapes to craft into wines is a challenge. One needs only to look to France and Italy as exemplars of what might be! The French system, at one end of the spectrum, is a highly organized and managed wine industry; name a region and I can tell you the varietals they grow and the wines they construct. Contrast the French system to the Italian wine system: Italy grows more than 1,400 wine grape varietals in a seemingly arbitrary or corrupt organization.
Iowa isn’t France nor is it Italy, but it could be either if left unattended. As our state/regional wine industry struggles through a period of adolescence, in an effort to determine a viticultural or enological sense of self, groups like EIWC can begin to nudge the system to encourage a certain Midwestern wine style. Places like Indiana have already identified desirable wine grapes and organized an effort to identify “Signature Grapes of Indiana” – Traminette is the most recent and has it's very own marketing program, titled: "Try On Traminette". Brilliant!
The Eastern Iowa Wine Club, through the efforts of their member-growers, winemakers, and wine friends, are beginning to transform both the perception of Midwestern wines and perhaps, to a small degree, the direction of this burgeoning industry. What grapes will EIWC source this year is yet to be determined, but clear favorites are emerging within this group of experimentally-minded and amazingly talented winemakers. As we narrow down our choices, maybe one or two will become the signature wine grapes of Iowa.