Few Iowans realize that at the turn of the 20th century Iowa was widely recognized for its grape production. In 1899 Iowa ranked 11th in the United States for production of grapes and in 1919 it ranked sixth. Today, a century later, Iowa is getting back on the map with grape production on the rise and small wineries like Eagles Landing making a big splash on the national wine scene. Established in 2000 by Roger and Connie Halvorson, Eagles Landing Winery is quickly taking the lead as a top winery. Gold, Double Gold and "Best Of" awards hang proudly on the latest vintages, with recognition at both a national and international level. At the 2011 Tasters Guild International, Eagles landing took Double Gold with their 2010 blueberry wine vintage named Blues Fest.
Jay Halvorson, winemaker, has an ardent focus on quality and is always refining techniques. His meticulous attention to detail produces wines that can hardly be kept on the shelf. In the winery, behind the tasting room, Jay and Roger work their magic on all of the Marquette Maid brand wines, overseeing production from start to finish. Grapes arrive from their local vineyard by the truckload, are crushed, de-stemmed, fermented and then aged (for port the process takes 3 years). The wine is then bottled, packaged and shipped to over a hundred retail locations. This family business works hard so they can share something really special with their customers.
Eagles Landing is within the nation's largest American Viticulture Area, the Upper Mississippi River Valley, which covers 29,914 square miles of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. This designation boundary encompasses and area known commonly as the "Driftless Area" because it was missed by the last glacier and, as a result has rolling topography, steep slopes and well-drained soils. Eagles Landing takes advantage of the premium soils at their vineyard in Fayette County. Near the Volga Lake State Park, this lovely three-acre vineyard grows several choice varieties of grapes including: Frontenac, Marachel Foch, La Crescent, Frontenac Gris, LaCrossse, Edelweiss, Concord, St. Pepin and the up and coming Marquette variety which was recently developed by the University of Minnesota.
It will only take one visit to this small winery to win you over. The staff is charming and their passion for quality wine is palatable. Sample the vintages and learn about creative ways to pair the many varieties with different foods. Be sure to try the popular seasonal wines and special dessert wines. Your most difficult decision will be which one to buy!
When asked what people should know about the Eagles Landing Winery, Jay says, "it's a fun experience." And he's right: family business, local harvests, regional gold awards and a tasting room that brings out the connoisseur in everybody - what could be more fun than that?
Free wine tasting is offered daily 10-5 p.m. Check out their website to learn more about the Great River Road Wine Trail, the Iowa Wine Trail, the Eastern Iowa Wine Festival and their many annual events.