When Prohibition arrived in 1920, Iowa farmers turned to other pursuits and the wine industry there lay dormant until the late 1980's. Now, the Iowa wine industry is in the midst of an exciting upswing. Wineries number around 60, and Iowa's five wine trails are introducing travelers and wine lovers to some terrific wine.
Since Interstate 80 cuts directly through central Iowa, exploring any of Iowa's wine trails is an ideal destination or scenic detour for anyone traveling cross country.
Start your exploration of the Eastern Iowa Wine Trail in the small town of West Branch, adjacent to I-80 and about 45 minutes west of the Quad Cities and the Mississippi River.
If West Branch sounds even vaguely familiar to you, congratulations, you're an historian! West Branch is the birthplace of Herbert Hoover, our 31st president, and houses the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
This was our first stop, and it's highly recommended. Far from a stuffy and dusty old museum, the Hoover Presidential Library not only chronicles Hoover's presidency, it features fascinating exhibits pertaining to all the presidents.
Our first winery stop is toward the town of Anamosa. On the way, you'll drive right through the antiquing town of Mt. Vernon. Stop, stroll around, and enjoy the small town Iowa hospitality there before heading to the wineries.
In Anamosa, you'll find Daly Creek Winery on north Ford Street. Located in a former creamery building, one of the first things you'll notice is the Iowa red cedar tasting bar. Adjacent is Daly Creek's 50 seat bistro whic has a really good menu.
So, on to Daly Creek's wines. A great first pour is the Penetentiary Red, a Cabernet Franc that's full bodied and full flavored. Also be sure to enjoy Daly Creek's white table wine, Gothic White. This wine is named after Iowa's most famous resident, painter Grant Wood, most known for his classic painting "American Gothic".
Then head east from Anamosa on Iowa Route 64. It's about 25 minutes to Baldwin, a small village that's home to your next winery, Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery.
Since 1997, Tabor Home has been adding to their wine offerings and racking up wine awards. These are true Iowa wines, with most bottles created from grapes grown in Tabor Home's vineyard.
From Tabor Home, it's a short 40 mile drive north on Iowa 51 to our overnight destination, historic Dubuque, nestled along the Mississippi River at the confluence of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Dubuque is a perfect long weekend destination that can be combined with its Illinois historic counterpart, Galena, just 20 miles away. Dubuque has been described as a river town, a history town, and a college town. Of course, it's all three!
From here, you can take a boat ride on the river, or stroll the river walk. Check out the renovated Dubuque Star Brewery building, now housing a new winery, Stone Cliff Winery.
When you visit, you'll taste wines made from grapes grown in Stone Cliff's vineyard just west of Dubuque. Favorites are the Cabernet Sauvignon, a silver medal winner at the Indiana State Fair wine competition, and the Riesling, a semi sweet fruity gem of a wine. Open in the Dubuque Star facility since May 2007, Stone Cliff is the newest attraction along the riverfront.
You'll find this area's next winery just 15 miles west of Dubuque. It's Park Farm Winery and Vineyard, surrounded by Iowa's beautiful countryside, with rolling hills, trees, and terraced fields.
Park Farm Winery and Vineyard leans heavily on Iowa grown grapes and crops, with grape varieties like LaCrosse, Niagara, Marechol Foch, and Vidal to name a few. It's a warm and welcoming site, with a stunning new outdoor deck added to the chateau which houses the tasting room and gift shop. The deck itself overlooks a lush valley, and it's a visit you won't want to rush.
Another area winery gives you the opportunity to travel north on Iowa Route 52, more or less along the river. Eagles Landing Vineyard and Winery is located in Marquette, Iowa, just across the river from Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.
Eagles Landing is not only a winery, but a bed and breakfast as well. Located directly on the banks of the Mississippi, this is a bird watchers paradise. The name stems from numerous bald eagles who winter in this area, perching high in the trees or swooping onto the river for a meal.
There's a separate tasting room in downtown Marquette offering 18 varieties of Eagles Landing wine. Try the Frog Hollow Foch, a dry red finished in oak, with grapes grown in Eagle Landing's Iowa vineyard. There's some great fruit wines here too. You can also enjoy the Iowa Pearl, a semi dry white with a nose of apricot and a nice clean, fruity finish.
After exploring downtown Marquette and neighboring Prairie Du Chien (both well worth a stop to stroll around), head back to Dubuque. There is one additional winery on this wine trail - it's Winneshick Wildberry Winery in Decorah, about 1/2 hour away from Marquette. They produce a lot of excellent fruit wines.
This part of Iowa is a scenic, relaxing place to visit, and Dubuque is perfectly located in the middle of the Iowa Wine Trail, making it an ideal overnight stop. If your plans call for I-80 travel, or if you live in the upper Midwest, be sure to carve out some time for the wineries of eastern Iowa.