on top of a hill in the woods of what was once the
bustling settlement of Eagle City, lies Dr. Ken
Groninga's Eagle City Winery.
recently embarked on his retirement by opening a winery
and tasting room in Eagle City.
About eight miles southwest of Ackley, and 10
miles southeast of Iowa Falls lies the vineyard grown to
fill the time of a retiree. The winery and tasting room
helps Groninga fulfill the back of his business card
which is a quote from Father Robert Capon during the
Supper of the Lamb, "God makes wine. Only the
ungrateful or purblind can fail to see that sugar in the
grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a
Wine making did not begin with such a lofty
mantra for Groninga. "In 1994 , I retired from my
veterinary practice and have been working for a
veterinary biologic company from that time until the
present," Groninga said. "Making wine was just
a hobby, something to do. The more I did it, the more I
thought I'd do."
Groninga said he tossed the idea of becoming
a professional winemaker for two years. When he
completely retired from being a vet, wine making gave
him something to do. He decided to plant a vineyard and
construct a building for the purposes of making wine.
"In 1991, my wife Carolyn and I bought an acreage
in a wooded area along side the Iowa River near my
hometown of Ackley," he said. "The year after
we moved here, I began making wine from the various wild
fruits and berries that grow here. I made a lot of wine
from elderberries, chokecherries, raspberries,
mulberries, and wild plums."
As it was merely a hobby at first, Groninga
learned much from experience and even more from books.
He said he and his wife enjoy a glass of wine every
evening, so wine making seemed a natural. In 1994, he
decided to see where he stood with other winemakers in
the state. "I began entering wine competitions in
1994," he explained. "I went to the Iowa State
Fair, Clay County Fair, and the Steele County Fair in
Minnesota. I did pretty well, even winning the Best Of
Show at the Iowa State Fair in 1998."
That showing springboarded Groninga into becoming
a professional. "I entered the competitions just to
see how my wine compared to others," he said.
"After doing well, my wife and I decided that
operating a small vineyard and winery during our
retirement years would be something that we would both
enjoy, so we began planting in 1996. Everything was
completed in June of 2000."
Groninga traveled a long road before opening
Eagle City Winery. "The labels took a long
time," he explained. "It went down to a dot
here, letter size, a comma there. Just a lot of little
Before he could open, he had to get permits
from the Iowa Tobacco and Firearms Alcoholic Beverage
Division, as well as other state and federal permits and
building. "We started the building in 1999 with
Meyer Construction," Groninga said. "The
paperwork took some time, though."
Groninga said the paperwork did not end when he
received his Class A wine permits and labels for seven
varieties. He must send in a report to the state once a
month, explaining how many gallons he has sold, and how
many gallons on hand. He said large wineries must send
in reports every two weeks to the federal government. A
winery of Groninga's size is only required to report
once a year.
Groninga currently has 250 gallons bottled, and
another 250 gallons in various stages of readiness.
"So far, I have sold as much retail as I have
wholesale," Groninga said, explaining that his wine
is currently carried at Waldorf's Food Center in Ackley,
Mulligan's Supper Club in Geneva, and the Liquor Store
in Iowa Falls. "I would like to get into more
restaurants. It is my intention to sell most of my wine
within a 50-mile radius."
To get the Eagle City Winery name out to the
public, Groninga has gone on a marketing blitz. He has
printed maps, posted signs, and placed ads to let people
learn about his wines. "The Iowa Department of
Commerce has a program where I can get listed in
pamphlets at rest stops throughout Iowa," he said.
"I will also be getting an Internet site, but I'm
not really planning on selling over the Internet,
In the short time the Eagle City Winery has been
open (selling Merlot, Cabernet, Sauvignon, Chardonnay,
Riesling, Cranberry, Apple, and Honey wines since
December), Groninga said he has hosted several small
groups of six or more people. "A lot of people
drive through the Greenbelt and are curious," he
Each tour group is given a tour of the small
facilities, and a brief explanation of the wine making
process. Visitors learn that he ordered 550 pounds of
cranberries from a farmer in Wisconsin in order to make
an initial batch of 1,000 bottles. They will learn the
fermenting process from the 55 gallon stainless steal
primary fermenters to the five-gallon carbays. They will
learn how Groninga decides when a wine is ready. They
will also learn anything else, should they ask.
At the end of the tour, they are allowed to
sample Groninga's wines, and purchase anything from
T-shirts and wine, to corkscrews and coasters.
"My Class A permit carries one
stipulation," Groninga grinned. "This is not a
bar. You can't buy a bottle and drink it here."
Eagle City Winery is located at 28536 160th
Street. The phone number for information is