A taste of fine wine
A winery here offers merlot and cabernet
sauvignon, chardonnay from Australian grapes, Riesling
from grapes grown near the Rhine and Mosel rivers in
Germany and a cranberry wine that is not sweet.
A semi-retired veterinarian produces the wines in
an outbuilding on his acreage he and his wife converted
into a winery and tasting room.
"I don't like sweet wines, so these are all
fairly dry," said Ken Groninga of rural Iowa Falls,
owner of Eagle City Winery. "If people don't like
dry wine, then they won't like mine."
Even the cranberry wine, typically a sweet drink,
has only a hint of sugar.
"Just enough sugar that you can taste the
sweetness," Groninga said of his wines.
Groninga opened the Eagle City Winery about the
middle of December, but he has made the wine since last
summer. The acreage is about halfway between Ackley and
Iowa Falls, at one time an old settlement called Eagle
So far Groninga has sold 600 bottles of wine, the
cranberry being the most popular.
"It's a little sweeter than the grape wines,
but none of my wines are really sweet," he said.
He meant to make dry wines, but he never meant to
become a wine seller. It just happened.
"We wanted to live in the country, and we
wanted to build a log house. We found this acreage, and
we ended up here," Groninga said.
A retired swine veterinarian, Groninga still
works as a consultant for an animal vaccine company and
is home less than half of the time. He moved in 1991 to
a house along the Iowa River near Ackley, Groninga's
While at home he noticed the wild fruits and
berries growing on his property. He turned them into
wine and entered them in amateur competitions. He won
best of show for a non-grape wine at the Iowa State Fair
Later he and his wife, Carolyn, started looking
more seriously at wine making.
"We decided we wanted something to do when
we retired from our jobs," Groninga said.
So he bought a couple of books on wine making and
got started. He took a rustic approach and converted a
portion of a large machine shed into a winery. Using
boards from area barns, he built a small tasting room,
stained glass. One window has a view of Groninga's small
vineyard. He turned the neighboring room into a winery.
"I haven't ruined a batch yet," he
The wine-making process begins in a 25-gallon
primary fermenter in the back room of the winery.
Depending on the wine, the mixture will be left for a
week to 10 days. Then the wine is poured into
five-gallon flasks. When the sediment, mostly dead
yeast, falls to the bottom, the wine is transferred to
another flask and then filtered. Finally, it's poured
into bottles, corked and left on shelves to age.
Groninga maintains a log of every batch he makes.
He said the business does not require daily attention
except through the first fermenting process.
He and his wife are not the only pioneers of
Iowa's wine industry. Many are popping up around the
Midwest. In the 1980s the University of Minnesota
crossed French grapes with wild ones and developed wine
grapes whose vines could survive Iowa's winters.
Growing grapes is a long-term project, taking
five to six years for vines to mature enough for a
harvest to become profitable.
"Grapes are a passion, vineyards are a
phenomenal thing," said Ron Mark, who owns
Summerset Winery in Indianola, Iowa's largest winery and
Mark often gets lost in the rows of his vineyards
after coming home from his job at the Federal Aviation
Administration. He stops along the road before coming
into his house.
"I start inspecting, cutting, pruning and
tying up and they have to come out and find me. ... It's
a therapeutic thing," said Mark, who was one of the
instrumental people in boosting grape production in
In 1999, Iowa had 31 acres of commercial grapes.
Today there are more than 100 acres in Warren County
"There's a huge amount of people interested
in this," said Mike White, an agronomist with the
Iowa State Extension Service for Warren County. At the
first annual meeting Thursday of the Iowa Grape Growers
Association in Cedar Rapids, more than 200 people
It may be the money involved. In their fifth or
sixth year, growers can reap two to four tons of grapes
an acre. Grapes sell for $500 to $1,000 a ton. And one
acre of grapes makes $30,000 worth of wine.
White has been to many of Iowa's vineyards and
wineries, including Groninga's.
"He converted an old barn. It's a nice setup
he's got," White said.
Today Groninga makes his wines from juice sent in
from such places as Canada, but soon his grapes will be
mixed with imported juices to create blended wines. He
produces Frontenach and Foch, used for white wines, and
St. Pepin and Seyvalbalnc used to make red wines.
Tours of the Eagle City operation are available
by appointment. Eagle City Winery beverages can also be
found at the Waldorf's Food Center and the American
Legion in Ackley, Discount Liquor in Iowa Falls and
Mulligan's Supper Club in Geneva.
For more information on the Eagle City Winery, go
to www.eaglecitywinery.com or call the Groningas at
"Support your local winery –- California
might fall off someday," Mark said.