Eagle City turns
into wine country
EAGLE CITY - "God makes wine..."
"Only the ungrateful or the purblind can
fail to see that sugar in the grape and yeast in the
skins is a divine idea, not a human one."
This quote, by Father Robert Capon from the
"Supper of the Lamb,' is printed in fancy letters
on the back of the business cards for Eagle City Winery,
the newest (and currently the only) business for the
once bustling town in the heart of the Iowa River
Eagle City Winery, which opened in mid-December
of last year, is owned and operated by Dr. Ken Groninga,
a retired veterinarian who still consults occasionally
for a veterinary biologic company. While he practiced
mainly in northwest Iowa after receiving his degree from
Iowa State University in 1962, Groninga is originally
"When I retired in 1994, making wine was
just a hobby - something to do," said Groninga, who
moved back to the Ackley area in 1991. "The more I
played around with it the more I liked it."
The unique winery and "tasting room,"
at Eagle City are located right across the road from
Upper Eagle City Park. Groninga and his wife Carolyn not
only run the business, but live near it in scenic a log
When the couple moved to the area in the early
90s, Groninga started making wine from the various wild
fruits and berries that he grew on and around their
acreage, such as elderberries, raspberries, mulberries,
choke cherries and wild plums.
"I hadn't even thought about entering the
wine business or even making it until I moved here and
saw all the wild fruits and berries," recalled
Groninga. "It just kind of snowballed after
He began entering wine competitions in 1995 at
the Iowa State Fair, the Clay County Fair and the Steele
County Fair in Minnesota. Groninga did well in these
competitions, even receiving the "Best of
Show" for a non-grape wine at the Iowa State Fair
The Groninga's enjoyed making wine and competing
at various events so much that they decided that
operating a small vineyard and winery during their
retirement years was something they should pursue.
Since Eagle City Winery officially opened
December 18, Groninga has sold over 500 bottles of wine.
To get this far, however, was a long and winding road
for the wine master. He had to obtain all the proper
permits, including one from the Iowa Division of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal
Since businesses have to have a separate permit
to sell wine (versus beer and liquor) he has only a few
other outlets in the area where the wine in sold,
including Waldorf Foods in Ackley, the liquor store in
Iowa Falls and Mulligan's Supper Club in Geneva. In
Eldora, the wine may be sold in the near future through
Backwoods Gallery, owned by Rosanne Primus, but a deal
has not been made yet.
The business sells five basis wines: the Merlot,
a soft, warm full bodied red wine; Cabernet Sauvignon, a
rich medium-bodied wine; Chardonnay, a highly aromatic,
light-bodied, lightly oaked white wine; Riesling, a
light-bodied, highly aromatic and lightly oaked white
wine; and Cranberry, a dark, full-bodied
moderately-oaked wine made from ripe cranberries.
All the wines are made, bottled and labeled by
hand, which is an extremely time-consuming operation.
"We are a small operation and will probably
and will probably produce about 800 to 1,000 gallons
wine per year," said Groninga. "What we also
hope is that we can work with local tourism groups to
get tours here."
he tourism aspect is what the Groninga's hope to appeal
to customers with as well. Right where the winery sits
was an old sawmill and gristmill (flouring mill). The
picture of the old gristmill appears on the label of all
Eagle City wines.
"In 1850, Jacob Kidwiler started the first
settlement in Hardin County on the banks of the Iowa
River," Groninga states in a brochure of his
business. "Early settlers followed the high ridges
across the prairie to get to his mill at Eagle City for
supplies, as well as to get grain ground at his mill.
The dam, however, washed out, and the early mill became
In 1865, Samuel Fossier purchased the mill site
and at that time there was also a sawmill on it, built
by Kidwiler, but was not in running order, the dam
having been washed out.
In 1869, Fossier erected the mill which is
pictured on our wine bottles. It was a three-story
structure with a large turbine wheel that propelled the
mill, which had three run of burrs powered by a
nine-foot fall of water. It still had a saw mill running
in connection with it. Mr. Fossier paid $2,250 for the
property in 1865, which was valued at over $10,000 in
In 1883, Eagle City consisted of one store, one
blacksmith shop, one gristmill, six houses and a post
office with Joseph Kidwiler as the postmaster. Mail was
received twice a week from the county seat of Eldora.
The Eagle City Winery is located at 28538 160th
Street, right up the road from Eagle City Park. For more
information or to set up a tour, call Groninga at