During the past three Iowa State Fairs, my brother and I and a few other friends and entered the grape stomping competition. One year, we actually got a blue ribbon for our stomping and mucking! Beyond that old fashioned fun, I'm not sure I have the expertise to either make wine or to tell you what to look for when you are enjoying it.
However, there is one winery in Mahaska County, nestled almost right in the middle of Pella and Oskaloosa, that has not only racked up a stellar reputation...but has put in the time, talent, and resources to make the entire Iowa wine industry bigger and better.
Tassel Ridge was started by Bob Wersen, one of Iowa's top businessmen and entrepreneurs. He is the founder of Interpower, a terrific employer that has facilities in multiple Iowa cities including Oskaloosa, Lamoni, and Ames. In fact, if you get the chance, I'd watch this great 15 minute segment about Bob that was done by IPTV's Iowa Entrepreneur program.
Bob grew up in California, which is obviously has a far larger wine industry than Iowa. However, he has used his business acumen, resources, and connections to invest in Iowa's wine industry as well as fund research into oenology and viticulture. Through all of this, Tassel Ridge is not only the largest winery in the state but is a leader in ensuring that there is a promising future for wineries as well.
Tassel Ridge Winery has become a popular stop on Highway 163. On a recent Sunday, a few friends and I stopped in Prairie City at Goldie's for tenderloins and then at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge to visit the bison herd. We then made our way to Tassel Ridge before hitting up several stops in Wapello County.
They have a beautiful tasting room and production facility and very well manicured grounds, which includes 66! acres of grapes.
My friends and I needed to meet a friend in Ottumwa so we were on a bit of a schedule. However, we did manage to enjoy a few tastes and to explore the tasting room for a few minutes.
I popped my head into the significantly sized area where the production of wine occurs. They offer tours but it was pretty slow on this particular Sunday and I doubt we would have had time for the tour anyway. I guess I have another reason to stop back!
There is an area attached to the north side of the building that has a big pizza oven and more seating space. It's almost like a sun room. From there, you can enjoy beautiful views of the rolling hills of Mahaska County.
I know that they have regular events (the calendar on the website looks packed!) at the winery and I am sure it's a popular social hangout for folks locally.
Of course, there is a wide selection of wines for purchase and other gifts and merchandise, too.
I'm certainly not an expert on wines but I did try a few. My friends purchased a glass to enjoy. They have a wide selection of options - both red and white and both dry and sweet.
Before heading on down the road, we stopped to check out the grape vines growing near the building. They winery has put up some signs to teach the visitors a little more about the different varieties.
However, during my next visit, I'll plan ahead better to ensure I can get a tour of the vineyard on this great looking trolley.
According to the Iowa Wine Growers Association website, "The Iowa wine industry has seen rapid growth and currently boasts around 100 wineries and nearly 300 vineyards covering 1,250+ acres. The most recent economic impact study commissioned by the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute found that Iowa’s wine industry contributed more than $420 million dollars to Iowa’s economy. This finding nearly doubles the previous study from 2008. In addition, more than 2,600 people are employed within the industry and the industry attracts over 350,000 visitors annually." I think it is fair to say that Tassel Ridge has played a bit part in ensuring that the momentum within the Iowa wine industry continues.
Next time you find yourself near Pella and Oskaloosa, make a stop out at Tassel Ridge. Better yet, plan ahead and enjoy one of their events or schedule a tour. In the meantime, check out their Facebook Page and give them a "like".
As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile whether in Mahaska County or any of the other 98 counties in Iowa. If you have a good idea or would like to host the Iowa Adventurer, please drop me a note through my website.