First of all, I want to extend my sincerest thanks for all who joined us for our first ever volunteer harvest event! Everything went smoothly and I was beyond thankful for the many hands that made picking the 12 rows here go oh-so quickly! It is unusual for all four grape varieties here to be so close to ripening at the same time, but because of the drought conditions we made the best of it and are looking forward to hopefully one of the best wine seasons to come!
SO… what happens after the grapes are harvested?
Our grapes are brought in and run through a crusher-destemmer machine almost immediately. This machine does just like it says – removes the grapes from the stems and crushes them. The product at this stage is called must. The must is pumped into our press so the juice can be pressed from the grapes, then pumped into the tank to begin fermentation. We add enzyme at the crush stage to help break down the grapes to release the juice and provide a better yield. After all juice is pressed, we bring samples to our in-house lab to test for Specific Gravity, Brix, pH, free sulfur content, and acid levels. Having these initial measurements is very important in the wine making process. After lab is complete, we add our yeast and yeast nutrient to begin fermentation – the conversion of the sugars to alcohol. There are seemingly a MILLION yeast strains on the market - as we develop recipes for new wines, we conduct trials to determine which yeasts produce the most desirable characteristics in the wines.
Fermentation of our wines here typically lasts from 3-18 days, depending on the wine and style. From there, we’ll begin the fining process to clarify the wine. I’ll be sure to post pictures and video as we continue this fall! Stay tuned!
In the meantime, we’re celebrating Back-To-School with a CASE SALE! This weekend only! Mix-n-match 12 bottles for $120. Stock up for yourself, but make sure to grab a few bottles for your friends, family, neighbors, and teachers too (they could use it this week #amiright!) Text your order to 515-257-6739 and pick up during regular business hours this Friday or Saturday 1-9pm!
That’s all I know for this week. Take Care & Stay Healthy Y’all. God Bless!
How can it be August already?!
Summers in the backcountry always seem to have a way of slipping away from us, and this year has been no exception. We’ve checked many things off our project list and still managed to find time for the bonfires, river floats, and camping adventures (though never as many as I’d like!)
I recently wrote an Instagram post about finding balance– something that has been on my heart often since starting our family and our business (pretty simultaneously I might add!) It’s pretty easy to get stressed out about work lists and projects and personal deadlines that have passed, but you have to stop every once in a while to remind yourself of how far you’ve come!
This week marks our 6th anniversary of purchasing our property and taking the leap of faith to Stratford, IA to plant our roots and work toward a dream. Check out this progress!
As we shift gears to prepare for another record grape harvest, we want to extend the invitation for you to join us for the experience! We’re planning to harvest our Brianna grapes at the winery on Saturday, August 15th (depending on ripening and weather conditions). We’ll get started at 7am. Breakfast will be provided by our friends Dutch Oven Bakery (individually packaged). Stay as long as you can or until we finish (we'll call it quits before noon). Restrooms are available inside. It is easy to distance in the vineyard! Masks not required. ⠀
RSVP preferred but walk-ins are welcome! Text or call 515-257-6739 to let us know if you'll make it. Bring your friends, some sunscreen and a lawn chair and we'll see you on the 15th!
This spring (yes, even prior to the virus) I found inspiration in finding what food security means for my family. What I call ‘secure’ may be different than your definition, and that is totally ok. I thought I’d share the abundance of inspiration we’ve gathered AND…. share the final products with you too!
My Most Recent Audible Selections:
"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. I can hardly believe this book was written back in 2007 [More importantly, that I just recently discovered it?!]. The focus of the book is this family’s year long journey eat (and drink!) local ONLY. I love the way her family tells their stories and shares their recipes – I finished the book feeling totally inspired to try living 100% local ourselves!
"Folks, This Just ain’t Normal" by Joel Salatin. Man, if he thought stuff wasn’t normal when he wrote this, I’d love to hear what he has to say today! Joel Salatin calls himself a ‘Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer.’ While I did not agree with all his ideas on getting back to his view of ‘normal’, I did appreciate his witty remarks and suggestions that really could enhance our everyday life.
Our Top 3 YouTube Channels:
Which brings us to – What’s up with the Chickens?
In true permaculture fashion (see https://www.permaculture.co.uk/sites/default/files/images/permacultureprinciples.jpg), these chickens will live in the vineyard where they can graze grass and clover, hunt for bugs, and enjoy fresh air and the great outdoors! While they are enjoying life to the fullest, they are reducing our mowing time and providing valuable fertilizer to our perennial vines. By mid-summer, they will be ready to harvest. I stand by the truth that an animal raised for meat on any farm should only have ‘one bad day’. When you know the farm and know the farmer, your relationship with your food changes. There’s no way you can’t appreciate it more. Waste less. Savor every bite.
We hope that, just as with the wine, you can have the chance to enjoy the fruits of our labors at your dining table.
Pre-orders are available at the link here: https://www.backcountrywinery.com/store.html
Our family is truly thankful for your support in this difficult time.
With Love, Amber
Been a little quite over here, but the last month has been CRAZY! #AmIRight
In mid-February we got away for vacation and came back with plenty of steam to tackle our remaining project list before season kick-off! Even though that will likely be delayed due to Covid-19, we are still moving forward in many other fronts.
Pruning has been the main task this month. The vineyard has the perfect place to social distance and take in the beautiful spring days – and a little extra sunshine can’t hurt!
Grape vines are pruned every spring while still dormant (some do it in winter, but I’m a fair-weather pruner and seem to wait ‘til the last minute) to remove as much as 90% of last year’s growth. This is all done by hand and usually takes us about 100 hours total. Grapes fruit on one-year old canes or shoots, so constant renewal is crucial to obtain maximum yields and produce high quality grapes. We consider the past year’s growing season conditions and yields and assess the health of each plant to decide how many buds to leave and ultimately determine target yield. The goal is to balance fruit loads with a proper but not excessive amount of shoot growth to match. Leaving too few buds could result in excessive shoot growth, shading the fruit and making spray applications ineffective. In contrast, leaving too many buds will stress the plant and also produce poor quality fruit.
We tend to attack pruning in two stages – what we call long pruning, then short pruning. Somewhat for our sanity, and also for plant health. It’s easier to make a pass in late winter/ early spring and remove the ‘bulk’. Then we can come back right around bud break (when the first leaves begin to emerge) to make a final assessment of winter damage and select the canes to remain and produce fruit.
An early spring is exciting, but also stressful for the vineyard manager! Frost in the vineyard after bud break can be absolutely devastating, reducing yields by as much as 50% or more. If the primary shoot (the first shoot to emerge from the bud) dies, a secondary shoot may develop, but will not produce near the amount or quality of fruit that the primary shoot would have. Our method of two-stage pruning (and my procrastination that I’ll call a ‘delayed pruning’ method) can delay bud break as well, saving them from any potential damage.
So what comes next for Backcountry? We’re doing a lot of the same things you are – working from home, washing our hands ALL THE TIME, and taking things day by day.
What can you do to support us? Let us support you – buy wine!
We’ll be open for carry out sales this weekend! Friday (March 27) 1-7pm and Saturday (March 28) 1-5pm. Shoot us a FB message or call or text your order to 515-257-6739 and we’ll bring it out! We can accept all forms of payment and look forward to seeing you (from a safe distance of 6 feet) at the winery!
Are you or a friend engaged to be married in Central Iowa? Backcountry Winery is excited to participate in Iowa’s First Digital Wedding Show - the Amazing Wedding Race! Hosted by The Riverbend Collective in partnership with Creative DSM, couples compete from the comfort of their couch to win AMAZING wedding prizes, including prizes from your favorite Midwest Winery Venue, Backcountry Winery.
How the Amazing Wedding Race Works
First of all, get registered for the online wedding show: amazingweddingrace.com/couples-registrations
Starting February 16, couples will compete in 3 rounds of competition, including setting a budget together, answering vendor trivia (from the comfort of a couch), and then asking their tribe for social votes. This wedding show is unlike any other where engaged couples compete to win AMAZING wedding prize packages, and pushy sales booths are strictly prohibited. (Entries accepted until March 14, 2020 for this race).
Backcountry Winery Amazing Wedding Race Trivia
Are you ready for a Cheat Sheet to win Amazing Wedding Prizes in Central Iowa? Let us help you:
<< Looking to book a consultation? Contact us here >>
Bonus Points to Win the Amazing Wedding Race
Don’t forget, you get an additional 40 points added to your Amazing Wedding Race trivia score by reviewing our vendors on facebook.
Here is a link to our Facebook page
Wedding Prizes from Backcountry Winery
So now you’re probably wondering what prizes we are giving away for the Amazing Wedding Race February 16-March 31? Well, let us tell you!
Grand Prize: Complimentary Friday Setup & Rehearsal Dinner
That’s right, the winners of the Amazing Wedding Race will walk away with a complimentary setup and rehearsal dinner with the purchase of a Saturday venue rental!
Runner Up Prize: $200 Off Wedding Bar Package
For the runner up of the Amazing Wedding Race digital wedding show, Backcountry Winery will be giving $200 towards your wedding bar package with the purchase of a Saturday venue rental!
Swag Bag Coupon: $5 off any Tasting Room Purchase
This prize will be awarded to all participants of the Amazing Wedding Race! So really, you’re all winners here!
*Based on availability, if the your date is already booked, you may work with the vendors to pick a new, available date or you may forgo this portion of the Amazing Wedding Package . All prizes are non-transferable and not redeemable for cash value*
Since becoming a Mom, it’s become more priority to be educated about what I’m feeding my family and the things we put in our bodies. As a consumer, I do my research, but also don’t let fear take over our lives. A concept recently introduced to me is ‘Customer Certification’ and I find it applies to SO MANY aspects of our everyday interactions. To me, Customer Certification directly correlates with Honesty in Marketing - building trust with your consumers by sharing the details of your process and products. At our winery, we’re offering that open door / open record book policy to empower you to make your own educated decision about our wines. Wine is our passion - have a question? we're happy to answer!
If you don’t know, my husband Preston is an engineer and is therefore ALWAYS re-inventing, changing, and improving our production methods and practices. It annoys me to no end – I’m the ‘be happy with what you have’ kind of mentality. But his heart is in the right place and his knowledge and resources have been INVALUABLE (and just in case he reads this – yes, it’s me publicly admitting you’re right).
So, did you know that in recent years we’ve been working toward using organic chemicals and ingredients whenever possible, both in the vineyard and in wine making? We make every effort to look at all facets of sustainability – people, profits, and planet.
Keeping the vineyard healthy is TOUGH in the Midwest. Humidity can be incredibly detrimental for our vines because of all the fungal diseases that thrive in this kind of environment. The kids and I spend many hours and put many miles on the stroller every season scouting for pests and disease. Just the act of putting boots on the ground and eyes on the plants can help reduce the number of spray applications. Why spray when you don’t need to? Fertilizers are important too – our strategy is to target (based on soil samples of our vineyard) only what is needed and timing application only when the plant needs the nutrient most. We spend HOURS reading about each product we use, carefully considering all pro’s and con’s, and are making the effort to choose organic whenever feasible. However, I think it's important to say when it comes to the quality of finished wine at the end of the day, we won't sacrifice.
Crop Scouting is hard work! More vineyard details to come in future blog.
Once the grapes are harvested and arrive at the winery to be processed, we have another huge wave of decisions to be made. We’re proud to share that ALL our wines currently in production are Vegan and Gluten-Free (contain no vegans – for you dad joke lovers out there). The majority of ingredients in the wine making process are also certified organic, with the exception of our yeast. Very few certified organic yeasts are commercially available, so much so that organic certification actually allows this exception. The yeast added represents only 0.01% of the total, and virtually no yeast remain in the final product. We'll dive deeper into what's in your wine in a future blog.
While I don’t see us pursuing actual organic certification in the immediate future, we’re challenging YOU to keep us ‘Customer Certified.’ Ask questions. Let us get out the records and show you. Our family works and plays in these vineyards, so we want them to be as safe as possible both for our family and yours. We strive to be a resource for you and build consumer trust. Be educated about where your food [and beverages] are coming from and vote with your wallet to be a direct influencer of what’s important to you.
Thanks for following along in our journey. Your presence here means so much to us and we hope you find the content interesting, educational, and entertaining!
Last week I attended the Iowa Specialty Producer’s Conference and spent two whole days condensing ALL THE IDEAS and inspiration into what I could capture on a few notebook pages. I love my notebook, and anyone who knows me knows that my entire LIFE happens in that notebook (because otherwise I’m likely to forget). But my favorite part is that now those thoughts, memories, and ideas travel with me and I can look back at them when I need some fresh thoughts.
The highlight of the conference for me was the keynote speaker John Stanley. He and his wife own a Chestnut Farm in Western Australia. They take their knowledge to the streets worldwide and consult with other retail businesses to provide insights all the way from global trends down to simple, effective changes to make in your own storefront to increase sales and customer satisfaction.
Mr. Stanley absolutely drove home one of my biggest passions that I discovered way back in college, but have struggled articulating. Selling the EXPERIENCE is crucial in so many farm or value-added business. I don’t want to sell wine. (wait, what??). I don’t want to sell corkscrews, or t-shirts, or any THING. I want our consumers to know our values and see our passion. Then I want to invite them as a guest to our FARM to see and sample the high quality products we’re producing for them. THEN, if I’ve done my job correctly, I want you to WANT to bring our wine home to your table.
I think for many years the wine industry tried to ‘commercialize’ and disconnect themselves from their farm roots. In today’s world though, so many consumers are paying more attention to where their food comes from and that means the trend is bringing them back to the farm. Last summer I gave this presentation about Agri-Tourism at the Iowa State Fair. And like I said in my last post, I am a realist. In that presentation, I recognized that Iowa doesn’t have scenic mountain views, or white sand beaches. What we CAN offer our visitors is the chance to get in touch with where their food comes from. And meet some pretty cool people along the way. I mean, we are known for being ‘Iowa Nice’, right?
So, what makes Backcountry Wine different than Barefoot? The EXPERIENCE. Stop in the tasting room to sample (always free of charge). Meet the Owners (we’re usually the ones pouring the samples). Ask for a tour (fill your glass before we start, sometimes it’s a long story!). We’ll see YOU at the winery!
Happy New Year!
I’m not a resolution kind of person. I’m a realist. That diet will end by next Tuesday, and life happens in our home so it will always be a mess. BUT, one of my serious goals for 2020 is to connect with you all and share a little more. You’re part of the Backcountry Family now – are you ready to come along for the road trip?!
For those of you that are new to our story, I’ll give you the spark notes version. Preston and I are high school sweethearts who grew up in Northwest Iowa, graduated from ISU, and decided to stay to build our dreams here in Central Iowa. We bought our land in August of 2014 and began an 18 month journey renovating a beautiful century-old brick barn that now hosts our winery production, tasting room, and event space. Two babies and lots of life lessons later, we’re still doin’ this crazy entrepreneur thing and still dreaming about all the new awesome things to bring to the business.
Small business is messy. And you all know balance in life is nearly impossible, but we all work at it every day. Finding the best open hours, best events, and making the best WINE for our people has always been our goal. Sometimes we nail it, and sometimes we need do-overs. But we feel so blessed to have put wine on your table for nearly FOUR years! And man, do we have some exciting things coming in 2020!
My goal is to write a little once or twice per month and share more about why we do what we do and the details of how we’re doing it. I’ll cover topics like vineyard management, bottling and labeling, Weddings at the winery, Wine Tasting 101, and more. Have questions or topics you’re curious about? Shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to answer!
That’s all for now. Cheers!
Photo cred to Wilder Edge Photography. Thanks for capturing our smash cake birthday madness!
It's hard to believe Summer has nearly come and gone. Soon it will be time for State Fair, then back to school, and HARVEST!
We've had a fantastic summer and cannot thank YOU enough for all the support. With the 'firsts' now out of the way - Grand Opening, First Event Hosted, and First Live Music Played, we are busy preparing for the start of harvest and wine making.
But before the hard work begins, we have a few more fun events planned for you:
As we approach opening day, I reflect back on the progress of the last year and really cannot say thank you enough to all the friends, family, and supporters we’ve had cheering us on along the way. Who knew in such little time we’d have built such a great support system of neighbors, community organizations, retailers, and even over 400 Facebook followers! At every event we attend, we love meeting new people and sharing the story of how our dream is slowly becoming reality, but we couldn’t do it without you!
Most nights after working in the barn, we come in feeling dirty, sweaty, exhausted, and overwhelmed wondering how we are ever going to complete this project, but then we remember how blessed we are – as I said in our very first post – to see the face of that old brick barn glowing in the yard light – know that every day is a step closer to opening day! But enough with the sappy stuff.
We would like to officially announce and welcome you to our Grand Opening celebration Saturday, May 21st from 11am to 6pm. You’ll be able to try our wine selection, have a glass of your favorite wine with your friends or family, hang out in the tasting room, and even take a bottle or two with you to enjoy at home! We’d also love to talk to you about hosting your own event at Backcountry Winery this summer! Hope to see you there!
Preston and Amber both grew up on farms in Northwest Iowa. They share a passion for the outdoors and enjoy taking on new projects to see what adventures will be discovered. As high school sweethearts, they attended Iowa State University together, and now are continuing to pursue their dreams at Backcountry Winery.