Wine-making is part
hobby, part art -- and becoming a business for some
Although California is renowned for its wine country,
Cheryl Dieter didn't consider making her own vino when
she lived there.
"It's funny. ... We moved to Iowa to start a
vineyard," she says, laughing.
The Michigan native settled between Iowa Falls and Alden
four years ago. One day, she decided she'd like to try
her hand at grape growing.
When the grapes matured, she asked herself, "Why
not make wine?"
Now, her hobby has exploded into a commercial
enterprise. In December, she plans to open the Willow
Ridge Vineyard & Winery for business.
"I'm still very much an amateur -- I'm still
learning," she says.
It was the same for Ken Groninga of rural Ackley. He and
his wife, Carolyn, moved to an acreage. After noticing
wild berries growing on his property, he bought books on
"It was a hobby that, over the last 10 years,
developed into a commercial setup," he said.
His business, the Eagle City Winery, opened in December.
He buys juice from Chile and Australia, and cranberries
from a farmer in Wisconsin.
"My wife and I decided this was something to do to
keep busy after I reached retirement age," he says.
"We decided on a small winery, as it's something
we're both interested in."
Groninga's winery offers four varieties of dry grape
wine and a cranberry wine. He's also planted his own
grapes -- four French hybrids -- and plans to harvest
them this fall.
Eagle City is one of three active wineries currently
operating in Iowa.
Dieter hopes that by opening her business nearby, it
will attract wine lovers from across Iowa. "We
welcome competition. If we can get five wineries going
in this area, maybe it would be something people would
specifically come here for."
Dieter believes growing grapes in Iowa is tougher than
it would be in California. "The season is shorter,
that's why our grapes are lower in sugar and higher in
Still, her motto is "Carpe Vinum!" or
"seize the wine."
Currently, she plans to offer seven or eight different
wines; full-bodied reds, whites and desserts.
"People in Iowa tend to prefer sweet wines, which
is tough with the acid content in our soil."
When she's able to offer wines from her vineyard, she'll
include them in the selection. Eventually, she hopes her
winery will offer Iowa wines exclusively. Her signature
wine, an orange Muscat, has a fruity flavor and goes
well with desserts.
Grape growing can be very lucrative for Iowans, she
insists. "If you have a vineyard and produce your
own wine, you can make $30,000 per acre per year. It is
hard work, because you have to prune and check for
diseases and insects, but Dave and I have fun with it.
We find we get very relaxed working in the
Taking your operation commercial is serious business,
Groninga notes. "It's a long process –- a lot of
paperwork, with the state and federal permits. And it
takes a while to get into it."
However, those who simply want to dazzle dinner party
guests or blend their own Sauvignon won't have many
problems, he says. Both he and Dieter recommend
investing in a book on wine making.
On the surface, making wine seems simple. It requires
minimal equipment, and recipes are easy, with grapes and
just a few additives.
The tough part is balancing temperature, yeast, oxygen
levels and other factors. To get started, most amateur
and professional wine makers recommend picking up one of
the many guides to making wine at home.
Once you've harvested your grapes (or bought juice),
it's time to start making wine.
"There are two processes, one for reds and one for
whites," Dieter says.
To make red wine, you place whole grapes, skins and some
stems, in a tank and close it. The respiration in the
fruit, which consumes oxygen and creates carbon dioxide,
kills the skin cells and extracts color.
Thus, the skins, seed and juice are all fermented
together. This product requires careful control, to
maintain adequate yeast levels and other factors.
You will probably have to add yeast for the fermentation
process, Dieter says. "Grapes have their own yeast
on the skins, but you have to be very skilled to ferment
a grape with its own yeast."
With reds, there is a cap, which is simply the skins and
seeds floating in red musts. This cap rises to the top
many times, and you must punch it down, says Dieter.
When it sinks, your wine is ready to press the grapes.
"The best wine is the free wine, which is the juice
at the bottom," Dieter says. "You pour this
through a filter before pressing the wine."
After it's pressed, the result is "second run"
wine, also called the "must."
The process is slightly different for making white wine.
First, the grapes are pressed and must be removed from
their skins immediately.
The must is then put into a fermentation container and
yeast is added.
In the fermentation process for both red and white
wines, contact with air must be restricted to prevent
oxidation. For at-home wine makers there are traps
available for small fermenters, which prevents air from
entering but allows carbon dioxide to escape.
Once the amount of fermentable sugar is very low, the
process ceases. The period of fermentation varies,
depending on the grapes. Often, you'll be able to tell
when the majority of the yeast cells can be found in the
sediment, or lees.
At this point, it's time to "rack" the
solution, or separate the supernatant wine from the
You will also need to clarify your wine. Bentonite is
the most widely used clarifying agent. Others, such as
gelatin, nylon or egg whites, may be used to remove
Once this is completed, the wine is filtered through
rough, cloth-covered screens.
This brings you to the aging process, which requires
great patience. For example, a good Zinfandel has to age
for at least two years to have a good aroma, Dieter
If you're impatient to try your concoction, there are
wine kits that produce a fair wine within 60 days. There
are also nouveau wines, which take three to four months
"They don't have the complexity that a nicely aged
wine will have, but they're a good start," Dieter
For more information on wine making or Iowa's wineries,
contact the Iowa Grape Growers at (641) 648-3888 or log
on at www.iowagrapegrowers.com
Learning about winemaking
Grab a glass of Merlot -- one from an area winery, of
course -- and learn about making wine yourself with one
of these selections:
"Home Winemaking Step-by-Step," by Jon
"From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing
Grapes and Making Your Own Wine," by Jeff Cox.
(This is the No. 1 pick of many grape growers.)
"Grapes to Wine" and "Wine Growers
Guide," by Philip M. Wagner.
"The American Wine Society Presents Growing Wine
Grapes," by J. Loenholdt.
"General Viticulture," by Albert Julius
"Winemaking: Recipes, Equipment, and Techniques for
Making Wine at Home," by Stanley and Dorothy
"First Steps in Winemaking : A Complete
Month-By-Month Guide to Winemaking (Including the
Production of Cider, Perry and Mead) in Your Own
Home," by Cyril J. J. Berry.
Once you've read up on making wine, you'll need some
basic equipment. Most amateur winemakers start with the
* a five gallon glass carboy or glass jug;
* siphoning equipment, including a plastic hose, rigid
"J" tubes and a sediment excluder;
* airlocks and rubber bungs;
* a hydrometer, which measures the sugar content;
* two ounces of potassium metabisulphite, a sterilizing
* filtering equipment.