Iowa Restaurants Supporting Iowa Wine
Across the Midwest, many restaurants are enthusiastic about locally sourced food. But many are reluctant to embrace local wines. In Iowa, a gaggle of restaurants are bucking the trend by serving and spreading the word about quality Iowa wine.
Country Junction Restaurant in Dyersville has been a supporter of local wines for many years. ‘We started doing the Iowa wines probably about ten years ago,” says Tom King, co-owner of the restaurant and its adjoining shop. ‘I must admit, for the first couple of years there was a little bit of a learning curve. We really had to educate not only our customers but our staff.”
In their retail shop, where tourists and travelers can taste samples, local wines have made quite an impact on their business. ‘Customers love to find a bottle of wine like ‘Barn Dance Red,’ (produced by Tabor Home Vineyards in Baldwin) that kind of screams Iowa” says Tom. ‘We sell a ton of it retail. On a holiday week like this we can sell, 8, 10, 15 bottles a day.”
‘We really had to educate not only our customers but our staff.”
Tom King, Country Junction Restaurant, Dyersville
Tom, his wife Carol and more than 70 staff, serve family oriented comfort food including homemade pies, hand cut meats and soups made from scratch. They serve four Iowa beers on tap (and plan to add more) and wines by the glass and bottle from two Iowa based wineries: Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery and Park Farm Winery in Bankston.
See related story: Iowa Wine: On The Farm and Now In The City
Country Junction carries Tabor Home’s Catawba Rose, the 2010 Barn Dance Red (a soft, slightly sweet, Merlot style made from Marechal Foch) and several fruit wines including a cherry wine called Cheery Cherry. ‘Corny as it sounds, that’s a very good seller for us!” says Tom.
The Park Farm wines on the list are Mississippi Red (slightly sweet in a Merlot style) and Picket Fence (a crisp Riesling style wine made with Vidal Blanc grapes). They’ve also hosted wine dinners with both wineries including appearances by viticulture expert and Tabor Winery owner, Dr. Paul Tabor.
Beer sales represent about 75% of adult beverages sold in the restaurant, says Tom, but local wines now represent 10 to 15% of sales. A decade after first featuring local wines, he says Country Junction is still the only restaurant he knows in the area that focuses on serving local food, beer and wine.
Skip’s, a bar and grill in Des Moines, opened more than three decades ago and is also helping encourage interest in local wines. It’s a father and son operation run by Skip and his son John Bachman.
John is a firm believer in the shop local ethos. This spring, they plan to take part in the “Buy Fresh Buy Local” program run by their local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. ‘Since we are a local business, we try to support everything local possible.” That includes supporting local wine.
‘Most of the wine drinkers that we get are pretty set in their ways”
John Bachman, Skip’s, Des Moines
On an upscale menu that includes entrées like seared Ahi tuna and beef tenderloin with sautéed garlic and mushrooms, up to 5 local wines have appeared on Skip’s wine list from time-to-time. Currently, there are two bottles from Two Saints Winery in Saint Charles: Revelations Red (a fruity table wine) and the Frontenac Blush (a semi-dry white).
However, despite their presence on the wine list, John describes sales of local wines in his restaurant as small. He says if customers choose a local wine, it tends to be on holidays or with dessert.
Changing the wine-mindset of consumers is tough, says Skip’s co-owner. ‘Most of the wine drinkers that we get are pretty set in their ways,” he says. ‘People are really partial about what they drink and when they drink.”
When they drink wine, customers often stick to what they know, like big name Californian wines, says John.
When Midwest Wine Press contacted Bata’s – a newly opened restaurant in Cedar Rapids, run by another father and son team, Tony Bata and his son Nick — Nick was busy cooking.
Bata’s cuisine includes Thai meat balls and vegetarian pizza and is described on their website as ‘Comfort food from around the Midwest and around the world.” Nick says they like to serve ‘a little bit of everything” and Iowa wines are a part of that philosophy.
Their wine list includes two bottles from Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery in Swisher: Five Seasons (a red blend with St. Croix, Marechal Foch, Frontenac, Geneva Red and 20% Californian Merlot from Lodi), and a Cabernet Sauvignon (made with California grapes). The popularity of these local wines with clientele remains to be seen – the restaurant has only been open a few months.
If you’re at a restaurant that does not serve local wine, let the owner know that you would buy some if they carried it. Consumer demand is the key to convincing restaurants to carry Midwest regional wines.