man earns silver with wine
Ken Groninga is shown with his award winning cranberry
wine. The entry took silver at the prestigious Taster's
Guild International Competition in Grand Rapids, Mich.
"God makes wine, Only the ungrateful or the
purblind can fail to see that sugar in the grape and
yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human
one."-Father Robert Capon in The Supper of the
That saying is on the back of one of Dr. Ken Groninga's
business cards. Although he won't say his wines are
heavenly, he did recently win a silver medal at the
Taster's Guild International Wine Judging Contest.
The contest was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan April
24-27 and featured 1,773 wines. Almost miraculously,
Groninga's cranberry wine was chosen in his first-ever
competition as a professional winemaker.
"I think the cranberry is our best wine, but I may
consider entering others," Groninga, who opened
Eagle City Winery in mid-December, 2000. "There are
two more coming up this summer that we may send
different varieties to."
Groninga sent his wine to the Taster's Guild without
making the trek to Michigan himself. He may be heading
to Indiana this July for his second professional
competition. The other competition, in December, will be
held in California and will probably mean he won't
Competitions, like the Tasters Guild, are easily found
surfing the internet. That is how Groninga is finding
where to enter his wines. "I just get on the
internet and look," he said. "There is usually
a big long list of competitions. I pick the ones that
are popular. Some only allow for grape wines,
"Before, as an amateur, I entered several contests,
mostly county and state fairs," Groninga added.
"I did alright. I won gold almost every year, then
Best of Show in 1998 at the Iowa State Fair."
Groninga did so well in competitions as an amateur, and
has grown a strong reputation, he has been asked to
judge wines at the Iowa State Fair this year. Even
though he started out making wine for himself and his
wife, Carolyn, around 1990 using wild elderberries found
on his wooded acreage near Eagle City, he knows what
goes in to a good wine.
"Judges look for clarity, how clear the wine is,
color, aroma or bouquet and taste," Groninga said.
"It's a sight, smell and taste thing. Most of the
points go on taste, though. I want to make sure it's the
appropriate flavor for the fruit."
Groninga's cranberry wine came right off the shelf of
his winery. Although he usually grabs a bottle to set
aside to age a little bit more, he doesn't make a
special "competition" batch. "This one
came right off the shelf," he stated. "I have
a problem getting wines to age properly because people
are buying so fast. All wines are better when they age
three months at a minimum."
Currently, Groninga has six main wines, merlot, cabernet
sauvignon, chardonnay, riesling, late harvest riesling
and cranberry. He is, however, starting to add
varieties. As a rule, he will consider a wine based on
"I am looking at adding a red altar wine for
communion because I have had so many ministers
ask," Groninga noted. "I have also had a lot
of requests for a sweet dessert wine."
The third he is adding came about almost by force.
"I had a lady from Wheatland, Iowa ask me if I make
rhubarb wine because she had 500 pounds for sale,"
Groninga explained. "So now I have about 170
gallons of rhubarb wine fermenting. In about three or
four months, I'll be offering that. I've made it before,
but only for myself."
In future competitions, Groninga said he hopes to enter
some of his grape wines. He has his own vineyard with
four varieties of grapes, frontenac, foch, St. Pepin and
seyval. The vineyard is about five years old and should
be coming into maturity this year. In fact, the vineyard
is older than the winery itself.