Stone Cliff Winery, Dubuque, Iowa

The atmosphere of Stone Cliff Winery, located in the Port of Dubuque, is more reminiscent of a bar than a wine tasting room.  They offer multiple beers on tap as well as bottled beer and their selection of wine.  I initially opted for a pint of local craft beer for my first drink, as I have already tried their wine and have established my opinion.  I decided later to do a tasting for research purposes and record my impressions.

Stone Cliff offers five wine samples for $5 and for an additional $2 you may purchase the tasting glass.  I prefer dry wines, so I sampled the one dry white and one dry red that they offered.  Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do not grow in the climate we have in Iowa, so I am curious if they use these actual grape varietals or simply call their dry white a Chardonnay and their dry red a Cabernet Sauvignon because they are recognizable to the general population.

One of my friends that I was drinking with warned me that he and his wife had tried the Chardonnay a few weeks earlier and it was not dry, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the semi-sweet nature of this wine even with the heads up. There was a strong alcohol taste in the finish.

The Cabernet was certainly not what I would describe as full-bodied, as it was labeled on the tasting list. The wine had such a low concentration that I could read the tasting menu through while assessing the appearance of the wine.  It had a jammy, dark berry quality.

The Riesling was more on the sweet side with a hint of cooking spice flavors.  I tried to pinpoint it, but I am still not knowledgeable enough about spice scents to be proficient.  No one else at the table was able to nail down the spice flavor, either.

The Moscato was cloyingly sweet for my tastebuds.  There was a hint of cotton candy flavor to it.

The Red Fox was a semi-sweet that was a bright apple red in color.  It tasted of concord grapes and current berries.

The Strawberry Rhubarb was a sweet fruit wine that reminded my of a Jolly Rancher.  Although I don’t like rhubarb, I was told that the flavor of it wasn’t overpowering and it added a nice touch of tartness to the wine.  I surprisingly enjoyed it, although it was too sweet for me to drink much more than a few sips.

They also offer many other fruit wines, including appleberry, sweet cherry, sweet cranberry, spiced apple and a sweet concord wine.  The tasting menu is heavy on the sweet wines, very light on dry or semi-sweet offerings.

The location of Stone Cliff Winery is ideal, as it is situated right along the Mississippi River with an amphitheater area outdoors.  It is a good live music venue and offers nice outdoor seating for patrons.

Galena Cellars Winery, Galena, Illinois

If a vast selection of wine is a top priority for during your tasting experience, Galena Cellars downtown Galena location will not disappoint.  The memory can be a fickle thing, as I recall visiting this particular winery years ago and I don’t seem to remember a list quite this expansive.  I must admit that I was overwhelmed and impressed when whittling down my options during the tasting.  Galena Cellars offers five dry white wines, six dry red wines, five semi-dry wines, three roses, sixteen semi-sweet and fruit wines, and nine dessert and specialty wines.  A total of forty-four wines and descriptions await you for your final decision of six choices.

The wine tasting includes six samples for five dollars, which is very reasonably priced in my opinion.  They also offered an additional free sample of my choice of a white or red sangria.  Although I typically tend to gravitate toward dry wines, with such a selection I didn’t know where to begin so I dabbled in a little bit of everything.  I may have to study the wine list more intently and make a second trip to taste more options!

I started with a dry white wine, their 2011 Illinois Chardonel/Britt White.  According to their tasting menu, “This grape, grown in Southern Illinois, produces a big, round, heavier buttery Chardonnay style wine that is aged in French/American oak for six months.  This wine can be compared to the “big” Chardonnays.”  I found this wine to be more off-dry with peach and green apple notes and a hint of spice.  I did not get the butter aspect, which I was looking forward to tasting.  I love a smooth, buttery white wine!

Next I tasted their Vintage Red/Vineyard Red (St. Croix) because I am familiar with the St. Croix grape and typically enjoy wines produced from this hearty variety.  The tasting menu described this wine with the following description: “Spicy clove highlights this jammy, full bodied estate grown red French Hybrid grape, St. Croix.  One of our signature varietals grown at Galena Cellars Vineyard and featured on our Vineyard Tour.  Showcases the influence of 3 year old air-dried American Oak barrels.”  I certainly tasted the jammy dark fruits in this medium concentrated wine.

I have not tasted many roses, and thus am not very proficient in describing them or assessing their quality, so I thought that I should try one of their offerings to broaden my memory bank of different types of wines.  I chose their Frontenac Gris.  It was described as “a brilliant balance of fruit and acidity highlighting hints of enticing citrus and tropical fruit.  Limited release.  This new wine was made from locally grown grapes from just outside the Galena Territory.”  I found prevalent flavors of strawberry and honeydew in this wine.

I always enjoy and appreciate the suggestions of people working the tasting bar, so when the lady working mentioned their new Wedding Cake Wine and its popularity, I was intrigued.  This particular wine was described as a semi-sweet carbonated white wine infused with natural almond flavor.  They suggested it served as an aperitif or to compliment that special occasion.  I found it more on the sweet side, but surprisingly enjoyed it a great deal.  It definitely had a festive and celebratory feel.

The gentleman working behind the bar suggested the May Wine, which was a traditional German style semi-sweet wine made from Niagara and Riesling grapes and flavored with the herb Woodruff, which is refuted to be an aphrodisiac.  He thought I might appreciate the interesting flavor from the Woodruff, which I did.  It was hard to describe, but it added another dimension of complexity to the wine.  White flowers also dominated this wine.

My last choice was the Frontenac Port.  I always love a good port-style wine and can rarely pass it up on a tasting (as my dessert sample… kind of like how I like pancakes at the end of a gluttonous meal as breakfast dessert!) Their flagship port is made from locally grown Midwestern French hybrid grapes and has a lovely cherry and chocolate overtones.

I then chose to try the red version of their free sangria sample.  The Senior Sangria was described as a summertime favorite.  It is a light red wine infused with natural fruit flavors and works well over ice or spritzed with white soda and added fruit. The flavor of oranges was most prevalent to me. The gentleman working there mentioned how he and his wife will often pack this sangria with a couple of sandwiches and go to the local outdoor theater, which sounded like a perfectly lovely summer evening to me!

Crimson Sunset Vineyard & Winery, Cascade, Iowa

Crimson Sunset Vineyard and Winery in Cascade, Iowa is clearly in the early stages of establishing their business.  The building itself has some work to be finished in the interior, including trim around the windows and countertops in the kitchen, but the wine itself is solid.  All wines are made from estate grown certified organic grapes with no water or cane sugar added.


Sample prices are high for this area, but I imagine that there is more overhead cost at the beginning of establishing a winery and with producing organic products.  It costs $1.87 for one sample, $4.68 for three samples, $6.55 for all the reds, $7.48 for all the whites and $13.09 to sample all of their wines.  Since I was visiting with my cousin, we decided that I would sample the reds and she would sample the whites so that we would be able to try all of the offerings.

They initially planted fifty varieties of grapes on their land to see which varietals would produce well in Iowa weather and their soil.  They then determined the best twelve and narrowed down the options to plant readily on their acreage.

There was not a wine we tried that we did not like.  The white wines offered were Brianna, Lacrosse, White Velvet, LaCrescent, Prairie Star, Swensen White and Frontenac Gris.  The reds offered were Sabrevois, Rhombus, Marquette and Frontenac.

The wines that stood out to me were White Velvet, which was described as a blend of experiemental cultivars from their research vineyard.  It had an attractive spicy floral aroma and flavor that finishes smooth and velvety. My affinity for dry reds was apparent because the Marquette was my favorite wine, but for the $35 price point, I wasn’t interested in purchasing a bottle to enjoy at home.

For more information about Crimson Sunset Winery, including some interesting family history, check out the recent article published in The Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Barrel Head Winery, Dubuque, Iowa

Barrel Head Winery, located in Dubuque, Iowa is a unique place.  Situated on the south end of town, a bit off the beaten path, it has a local charm that would be hard to replicate anywhere else.  Much of that has to do with the interesting gentlemen that run the show.

John, the owner, is quick to offer information about his wines and the vineyards.  He is proud of the extensive amount of awards they have won at both local and international competitions.  His buddy, who is retired, but works at Barrel Head as his ‘hobby farm’ is equally full of knowledge and stories.  There is no such thing as a quick visit to Barrel Head, but I don’t think you would want one if it was an option.  Trading stories with these guys was an adventure all its own!  My cousin and I spent the afternoon soaking up information and enjoyed every minute of it.

We didn’t realize upon entering the tasting room that the tastings were free, but it only took a short period of time to realize that these guys would give us the lay of the land regarding the wine.  They guided us down the path of their estate wines, continuously refilling our tastings and telling us information about the grape varietal and their success with it.  In the end, before we knew it (!), they had poured us eleven samples of their wines, which showcased the importance of quality over quantity.  Each grape from this vineyard is hand-picked and quality control is of utmost importance, at an everyday price point.  Most wines were $13 a bottle.

The wine offerings include six sweet wines, three semi-sweet wines, eight dry wines, a semi-sweet sparkling wine and two dry wines produced in a Methode’ Champonese.  The owner teaches wine-making classes through Iowa State University and has a video posted on YouTube about his Methode’ Champonese.

It was impossible to leave the winery without a bag full of wine and a promise to return with friends and family!

Sunset Ridge Winery, Dubuque, Iowa

Sunset Ridge Winery recently opened a tasting room located five miles north of Dubuque, Iowa along Highway 52.  It is a family owned winery that began as a vine garden project.  The winery is located in the bluffs and boasts a spectacular view of the country-side.


The tasting room was opened on June 5, 2013 and my cousin and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit them in their first week.  At this time, they offer eight wines.  For the tasting, you are allowed five wine tastings and you are given a complimentary wine glass for five dollars.

The father and son team who own the winery, John and Ian Bonet, were working the tasting room.  They were full of vigor and lively anecdotes.  My cousin and I commented later that we felt right at home, as if we were visiting with our own family members.  Conversation was not forced; it was fun and enjoyable.  They were quick with laughs and made you feel at home.


The outdoor area was stunning, surrounded by timber areas.  A large tented area included comfortable outdoor furniture surrounding a lovely fountain.  A perfect spot to sit and consume a bottle of wine.  While we were there, a couple was inquiring about a fall wedding and it was easy to see how it would be gorgeous in this setting.

The wines I tasted included Pinot Grigio, Leon Millot, Sweet Apple, Sweet Cherry, Sweet Stueben and Rosy Cheeks.  They also included a sample of a mixture of their Sweet Cherry wine mixed with Sunkist Orange soda which tasted similar to a sangria mix and concluded with a conversation comparing recipes.  It is apparent that making the customer feel comfortable and welcome is a priority of this winery.

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery, Spring Valley, Minnesota


I recently visited the Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery in Spring Valley, Minnesota.  I had looked at pictures on their website of the restaurant and tasting room and I was looking forward to seeing first-hand the gorgeous facilities.  The ambiance did not disappoint.

This winery has only been open a little over a year, but they have a lot of wonderful things happening in their business.  The food they served was fabulous.  At our table we shared sloppy joe nachos, three different soups (split pea, potato & bacon and chili), pork belly tacos and a large slice of German chocolate cake.  The presentation was flawless and the taste was incredible!  We were all satisfied.

The winery provides a tasting of five different wines of their choosing for $5.  I was a bit disappointed because I had researched the winery and already knew what wines I was interested in tasting, and none of them were on the list.  I tend to lean toward drier wines and this selection provided only semi-sweet and sweet offerings.  I did ask the server about their Marquette, which was a dry red that had recently won awards at a wine competition and she immediately offered to give me a sample of that wine as well. It turned out to be my favorite of the day, so I was pleased that she was gracious enough to let me try it.  I also sampled a dessert wine in a chocolate cup for an extra $2.


They offered to do the tasting at our table, which I thought was a great idea at first.  Then the tasting ended up taking the whole meal.  I was hoping to chose a favorite of the wines and have a glass with my meal.  I now realize that I’m not even sure if it was possible to simply purchase a glass of wine, as I didn’t see any glass prices listed on the chalkboard.

The wines I tasted were:

Brianna- a semi-sweet white wine that reminded me of a riesling, with pear, apricot and green apple notes

Edelweiss- a white wine with a very light aroma that was not quite as sweet as the Brianna

Marechal Foch Rose- a rose colored wine similar to a white zinfandel.  The description of of this wine included that it had a nose of jolly ranchers and we found that to be spot on.

Frontenac Rose- a fruity wine with dark fruit notes including black cherry, plum and fig

Sparkling Moscato- an effervescent, sweet white wine with citrus fruit notes including orange, lemon and tangerine

Special Reserve Blend- a dessert wine made from a blend of their other wines initially intended just for family consumption

Marquette- a dry, medium bodied red with notes of fruit jam including plum, blackberry and currants with pepper and oak

I purchased bottles of Marquette and Brianna to take to work and share with my co-workers because we make a wine out of Marquette grapes and the retail manager’s name is Brianna.  I also purchased a bottle of the sparkling Moscato to share with my cousin this weekend when she is back home to visit as she loves Moscato and I think she will particularly enjoy the sparkling aspect of this particular bottle.

I hope to return to Four Daughters Vineyard and Winery sometime this summer.  The woman working informed us that they have a few new types of wine coming out soon and that they hope to eventually have a list of over twenty different wines.  I look forward to tasting more of what they have to offer!

Park Farm Winery, Bankston, Iowa


My fond memories of Park Farm Winery include the very first time I visited the year they opened, in 2005.  My cousin had recently turned twenty-one and we were excited to test out the new local establishment.  They were certainly generous with the pour and we sampled multiple wines, making a lovely afternoon.  If memory serves me correctly, I believe we both exited the premises with a case of wine to stock up.  She continues to be a Case Club Member.


Located in the rolling hills of northeast Iowa, Park Farm Winery can be described as off the beaten path, but in my opinion that is part of its charm. It is located about 20 miles from Dubuque, Iowa.  The chateau-style building and vast vineyards, pastures and timber lend to the old-world ambiance.  It truly feels as if you have stepped outside of Iowa (often times the country).

The winery grows three white grape varietals: LaCrosse, LaCresent and St. Pepin.  They also grow three red grape varietals: Marechal Foch, St. Croix and Marquette.  There is a small number of other varietals that are also maintained in the vineyard, including Frontenac and Leon Millot.

Featuring a lovely tasting room and event room with a cozy fireplace, hand-crafted artisan wines, fresh homemade woodfire pizza, if you can’t find something to love, you may want to check your pulse!  For $3 you are able to taste five wines, choosing to follow the sweet flight, dry flight or mixing and matching your favorites.

My personal favorite wines are the Marechal Foch, which is a medium-bodied dry red produced from estate grown Marechal Foch grapes and pairs well with a medium rare grilled steak.  I also love the Frontenac, which is a port-style wine that rivals any other port I have ever tried. Every time I take a sip of this wine, I pick up different notes (but it always makes me want to sit by a fireplace at the end of the day). I love enjoying a glass of this after dinner with a square of dark chocolate.  I tried it once with dark chocolate and blueberries and it was a simple, yet phenomenal, end to our meal.

I highly recommend visiting this quaint, charming winery if you are ever in the area.  Or make a trip to northeast Iowa with Park Farm Winery as your destination!

To find more information about the winery, visit their website at:



Welcome to my journey of alcohol enlightenment!  This website is a culmination of multiple passions that I possess: creative writing, continuing education, alcohol consumption and delicious meals.  My goal is to eventually become a certified sommelier.  This website was initially born out of the desire to have documentation of the interesting things I am learning.  It will also be a valuable resource when I have a particular vintage or brew that I vaguely remember, but can’t quite place. I will simply be able to jump online and look it up in my own personal wine, beer and spirits encyclopedia.  I never would have imagined that my life’s opus would revolve around alcohol.  But I love that it does.

Part of continuously educating myself on the wine, beer and spirits industry will involve tasting a plethora of new alcohols.  Rough job description, right?  One goal I have for myself is to travel to one local winery, brewery or distillery each month and write about my experience.  I will also try one new wine, beer or spirit each week and document my thoughts.