Well, it’s about time, right? Time for me to stop procrastinating and write the first update in over three months! I know I’ve said this before, but time really goes too fast. Last time I checked in we were getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July and now that and Labor Day have both passed without a chance to look back on how far we’ve come! I hope you’ve been watching our Facebook Page for our occasional posts and photo updates.
Whew… Yes, we have been busy. BUT that doesn’t mean we don’t take some time every once in a while to enjoy ourselves and take on new adventures outside of the winery. In September, we hit the road for a week out west for some extreme hiking and canyoneering in Utah and Wyoming. I really do believe we saw some of the most beautiful places on earth!
We hooked up with Rick and Amie from Excursions of Escalante to take a two-day Canyoneering course and learn the basics – and they were beyond awesome. Really – they went out of their way and made our trip even that much more memorable. Check out the photos. Even though we ran into a little rain (other parts of Utah had some very serious flash flooding the week we were there), it wasn’t enough to stop us from having a great time and learning a ton about how to explore and stay safe in the canyons. Thanks Rick and Amie – you guys are the best!
Before and after our canyoneering adventures, we were also able to spend some time in Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks.
After spending a night in Salt Lake City and checking out some of the sites there, we made our way north to Jackson, WY to take on our hike in the Tetons that defeated us when we were there in 2013. Our ~20 mile round trip hike up Paintbrush canyon, over Paintbrush Divide (elevation 10,700 feet!) and down Cascade Canyon was… challenging, to say the least. And the photos absolutely do not do it justice. We left the hotel on a brisk Friday morning before sunrise to take the short drive to the trailhead and begin our ascent. We stopped a couple times (ok, maybe more than a couple!) to catch our breath and capture the views. It took us until about 3p.m. to follow a single set of footsteps up the last mile or two through knee-high snow and make it to the divide, so we were very thankful to be camping just down a bit on the other side and not making the trek back that same day.
We set up camp, cooked a well-earned supper, and were in our sleeping bags by 7:30 to warm up and rest up for another long hike in the morning. Our jeans and shoes were wet from the snow, so we set them outside hoping they may dry a bit before we needed them in the morning. But, with the below freezing temperatures, we woke up to find them still saturated and now frozen almost completely solid. We made a quick breakfast around 8:30 (yes, we slept for 13 hours!) and decided we might as well begin our down to Jenny Lake, where we would take the ferry back to the car.
Both canyons were absolutely beautiful - with the changing falls color in contrast with pine and spruce trees, and the snow at the divide fit in just like a cherry on top. But to me, nothing tops the view we caught of a mother black bear with her two cubs by the mountain stream, eating roots to get ready for winter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bear in the ‘wild’, and I wasn’t sure if I should be scared or excited, but they were so content, even graceful as they wandered and ate. You could just tell they truly felt at home and were paying no attention to the small crowd of hikers that had gathered to observe.
I’ll admit - all throughout the trip my heart ached to live in a place where all those parks and beautiful views were right there at your fingertips, but something hit me on that hike down (maybe it was the cold weather, wet feet, blisters, and hunger for good Iowa beef), but I realized that Iowa was where I belonged and I was ready to get back home. The ‘Backcountry’ (however you define it, and wherever it is that you are) is what inspired us to follow our dream and build the winery. When you’re there, feeling like you can accomplish anything if you just take one step at a time, you feel so motivated and inspired - it’s a feeling you want to capture and never let go!
So now we’re back in Iowa, and I’m already reading up and planning our next trip to the Backcountry, but it feels good to be home and continuing to chip away at projects in the process of making our dream a reality!
This summer has been too good to us so far. Really. We've been enjoying it so much that it's hard to believe the 4th of July is already less than a week away.
The vines have been growing like crazy! It's amazing to see progress every single day. The frequent rains have been great for the young plants. We've removed nearly all the grow tubes at this point (32 of 144 remaining to be exact). We put the grow tubes on after planting to give the vines a head start and protect them from any potential frost or spray damage. The manufacturer of these products suggests leaving them on for the entire first season, but we decided from the beginning to remove them as soon as the vine reached the top of the 36" tube (approximately 6-8 weeks after planting). And I feel it's a good thing we removed them when we did because we were starting to see symptoms of anthracnose, which is actually pretty harmless and apparently pretty common in grow tubes because of the moisture build up. The uncovered plants are now growing literally inches every day and it's so exciting to see them doing so well! Check out some of these photos from earlier this month (yes, I got up in the boom truck myself to get these!)
We also celebrated a huge milestone in our journey by getting our first bottles on the retail shelves just in time for Memorial Day Weekend! Everything has been going great and we couldn't be more thrilled to be working with such great local retailers. You can find us on the shelves at Stratford Food Center, Jamboree Foods, and Fiesta Foods. And we are hoping for more coming soon!
Finally, we're celebrating our most recent accomplishment tonight by power-washing the barn walls and cleaning up our NEW FLOOR! The crew came Saturday Morning to pour concrete and we are so happy with the final result! JB Concrete did a phenominal job and again, we can't wait to share the final product with you! Here's a few photos of the progress to wrap things up - final photos to come soon!
On that note, I think we are truly ready for a long weekend celebrating our accomplishments and our pride in the Red, White, and Blue! Have a safe and enjoyable 4th!
Where did the month of April go? It's hard to believe time has gone by so fast, but we've gotten quite a bit accomplished and continue to make progress every day.
We started the month by celebrating Easter with family in Northwest Iowa and making the trek to Rochester, MN the following weekend to celebrate the wedding of Chloe & Eric - we had a blast! It was so great to catch up with everyone we hadn't seen in so long and was a truly welcome break from 'reality'.
But at that point, in just under a week, our vines would be arriving and we had to get to work! We (I) had originally planned to have the trellising installed before vines would be planted, but after the first, (and second, and third) night of attempts at drilling holes in the dark and fighting auger malfunctions, we soon realized it was a bigger task than we had originally anticipated.
Our vines arrived from Double A Vineyards Thursday evening and they were beautiful! As beautiful as dormant 'twigs' with their dirty bare roots exposed could be! We soaked them in water overnight and were up with the sun Friday to begin our big day of planting.
I also forgot to mention that 'Planting Day' was also the day our electricity to the barn would be connected, our new light pole would go in, and our hops trellising (Oh by the way, we planted hops too!) would be installed. So, I began by marking the grape vine holes and Preston followed with the auger to drill them. I came back through to distribute and plant in the 'downtime' when Preston was helping direct other events of the day.
It turned out to be a beautiful day - nearly 80 degrees and sunny. Both of us ended up sun burnt and exhausted, but it was worth it. We wrapped up our planting around 4:00 that afternoon, just in time to enjoy beers and burgers with neighbors and friends - a great way to end the day!
Maybe some of you are wondering if grapes really will survive in Iowa or if we've truly lost it at this point! We consulted with ISU Extension (Thanks Diana and Mike!) and talked with numerous other wineries and growers in the state to narrow down which cold hardy varieties would be best for our location. We chose to grow: Brianna - a white wine grape that has been one of our favorites since our beginning; Frontenac - a more full bodied, earthy red wine grape introduced by the University of Minnesota, so you know it's cold hardy; Frontenac Gris - a 'gray' fruit producer that lends itself well to a 'rose' wine; and Frontenac Blanc - the most recent discovery (released in 2012) that produces a white wine grape with a distinctly beautiful flavor that we can't wait to share with everyone!
Grapes are EXTREMELY Sensitive to 2,4-D and other herbicides, so we're asking everyone to spread the word and help sensitive crop growers everywhere protect their produce! This also means we're going to have to embrace the dandelions in the vineyard until the vines are more established. At that time we can pursue alternative methods for taking care of them!
If all goes as planned, we will spend two complete growing seasons training and pruning our new little friends before we finally harvest our first crop in 2017.
In the weeks since planting, we've purchased windows and doors, started wiring in the barn, and installed our water line (which let me tell you was a project in itself!)
We've [nearly] finished the trellising and set up irrigation, though the rains the last two weeks have really been a blessing and we haven't had to use it yet. Check out these little guys - we're pretty excited about them!
Spring has sprung! Our daffodils are up and lilacs buds are swelling - it's finally here!
We celebrated the first day of spring 2015 with Mom and Dad, who came for the weekend and helped give a boost to our progress!
After a ‘power-breakfast’ at the local bakery, we got right to work (11 a.m. is still ‘first thing’ in the morning, right?) We began by cleaning out what miscellaneous things were still left in the barn and rearranging our tool staging area so we could remove the timbers that made up the floor on the east side and prepare for gravel and concrete. We took many trips of ‘save-ables’ to the corncrib for storage, and many more trips to the burn pile.
These large timbers from the floor were wet (and some still a bit frosty – due to the winter melt from what was an extremely leaky roof) and because of this were extremely heavy (Thanks dad for being there when we needed you!) He even went on to remove the last bit of hay loft floor before cleaning up and calling it a day!
Mom and I cleaned up the last bit of scraps from the roofing contractors. I ran a magnet over the area and found more rusty nails than I ever thought possible – but it was good to pick them up in hopes they won’t make it into one of our tires as we continue work on the exterior!
The roofers worked all weekend and are done with all but a few small pieces of trim – check out this beauty! Holder Construction did a phenomenal job on the roof and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out – Thanks guys!!!
Preston worked in the backhoe this afternoon to dig in our underground wire to get electricity to the barn while I finished cleaning up around the barn and taking care of some spring maintenance in the yard. The driveway extension is almost completely prepped and ready for gravel as well. We had a great weekend and can’t wait to continue making our plan reality!
Next on our list: Order windows, pour post foundations and get gravel in the barn and packed for concrete floor, get our Label approvals (yes, we’re still waiting!), find a source for wood for the hay loft floor, and promote our Kickstarter!
There are only 9 days remaining in our Kickstarter Campaign and we’re currently just over 20% funded – if you haven’t gone to check out our awesome reward packages, please follow the link (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/376508458/backcountry-winery?ref=email) and consider supporting our efforts – we truly appreciate and can’t wait to share the space with you upon completion!
Wish us luck this week and stay tuned!
We’ve been blessed again this weekend with beautiful weather and signs that spring might FINALLY be on its way! We’ve been moving pretty slow outside the last few weeks due to the cold, and were anxious to get back into the barn and keep moving. The roofers have been busy this week and we’ve been told we might actually see the steel go on very soon. Here is what it looked like as of yesterday – we’ll take more pictures as they continue work this week and keep you posted!
Last Saturday we drove to Cedar Rapids to attend the Iowa Wine Grower’s Association’s Annual Conference. The Iowa Wine Growers Association supports the Iowa Wine Industry through education, promotion, and legislative support. Their annual conference provides members the opportunity to attend great presentations given by experts from around the world. As new comers to the industry and to the association, we weren’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a great day full of educational opportunities and excited discussion about how we can apply our new knowledge to our own winery plans. Meeting new people in the industry and listening to all the great advice they were so willing to share with us was also amazing – it truly feels like big family and we had a blast getting to know everyone. We’re already looking forward to next year.
After attending the confe rence and doing a bit more research when we got home, we’re getting ready to order our grape vines for planting this spring. We’ll plant 150 plants in approximately ½ acre near the barn so we can have easy access to water and equipment and be able to keep a close eye on them as they mature. We’ve selected a wide range of cultivars – both whites and reds – and though it will take some serious time and hard work before we’ll be harvesting from these vines, we’re looking forward to it!
Another milestone for us since attending the conference was launching our Kickstarter Campaign. Kickstarter is a company, founded in 2009, that allows creative spirits [that’s us] to share our ideas and goals on their website to seek out and earn financial support. Since their launch, 8.1 million people have pledged over $1.6 Billion to successfully fund nearly 80,000 projects like ours – that’s impressive!
So now here’s the part where we ask you to please check out our page - here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/376508458/backcountry-winery?ref=email
We’re offering some great rewards so please check them out and back our project if you like what you see! We have 23 days remaining and we’ve reached 10% of our goal. We truly can’t do it without you and we can’t wait to share our winery with all of our supporters!
Wow, what a week! It’s been one of those ‘super-exhausting, yet thought provoking, feels-like-I’m-working-so-hard-right-now-and-yet-i-have-little-to-show-for-it-weeks. You know what I’m saying?
But there were a few accomplishments to share. We reached 100 likes on our Facebook page this week! Thanks everybody for showing your support – you mean the world to us! We posted our new logo to Facebook and our website to celebrate, and this alone was a huge accomplishment for me. Spending weeks, no really months, looking at this one thing, tweaking and molding it to truly speak what we’re all about (in style, more so than even just text) is in itself exhausting (and also why I love being a designer). We’re going for a laid-back, shabby-chic, cozy sort of message, and I really feel like we’ve nailed it!
We also purchased our first chandelier for the hay loft space that will become our reception venue. Every time Preston has asked me what I had in mind for these fixtures, I could never quite put my finger on what it was I was looking for, but I knew it had to be special and it had to have a story. While searching online over the weekend, I finally found that perfect piece that you could just tell by the photos that it had a story, and I knew I had to find out more. We drove all the way to Johnston to pick up this beauty from a woman who shared with us that this fixture had come from her parents’ home and that their family had shared many great memories under this special light. We shared with her our story and plans for the fixture – and we’re very excited that it will light many more special memories for years to come! So with each and every piece we collect, we bring their stories with us to create our own. It really is exciting to see our dreams form into physical reality.
So…now that the logo is posted, next on my list of things is to get our business cards ordered. I’m really hoping this is a quick process. Because after that my goal is to get our bottle labels finalized and approved, which based on previous experiences, won’t be such a quick process.
Looking ahead to the weekend, here’s what I’d LOVE to accomplish:
· Finish cleaning out the barn so we’re prepared to start install the hay loft floor as soon as the roof is on.
· Further research what grape varieties we’d like to start growing so we can start wrapping up preparations for spring planting.
· Continue shopping for lighting and furniture accent pieces (this really is just for fun – it helps me to stay motivated!)
· Aaaaand….Finalize the floor plan so you all can begin to see what we’re planning for the space!
The weather has again brought us back inside and given me time to write an update. The last few weeks have been filled with busy work schedules, time in the barn when we can find a few daylight hours, and many great, yet still stressful planning conversations. We’ve been blessed with warm weather that has given us spring fever and has really lit a fire under our planning process.
It took three weekends of hard work, but we’ve finally completed the removal of the hayloft floor. Preston worked upstairs to remove the rotten wood as I hauled load after load of the rotten piles of wood and old hay to the burn pile. We celebrated this accomplishment with a bonfire and a day of relaxation to gather our thoughts on where to go next. Preston has started removal of some of the concrete floor to prep for new concrete as soon as the roof is completed.
After talking with several contractors, we finally found someone willing (crazy enough) to help us with the new roof. We decided to go with steel because of the ease of installation and 50 year warranty. We chose a ‘bronze’ color with white trim that I think will nicely complement the brick. We’re now just waiting for our materials to come in and for the weather to cooperate to begin work.
Next steps are to finalize our floorplan, start planning electrical and water systems, and find someone to help us with the concrete floor. Last weekend we had a chance to start marking out the floorplan in the barn – walls, furniture, restrooms, and storage. It’s becoming more and more real every day. I think as soon as roof and floor are in, we can begin looking more closely at a schedule and completion date, but a lot of our planning right now is riding on the weather. I have to keep reminding myself it’s only February.
Soon the real fun in planning (for me) can begin. We have already started shopping for light fixtures, bar and bar stool materials, paint colors, and décor. Yesterday I began my hunt for the three antique chandeliers for our hayloft space, and instead came home with coat hangers and a wall art piece. Necessary? No. But it’s the little things that help to feed the dream.
We're absolutely blessed beyond measure to wake up every morning to the sun shimmering on the face of that old brick barn, knowing that hopefully in the near future it can be home to so much more than the piles of old straw and a couple farm cats (but don't worry - if you know me, the cats will be moving into a better home!). We couldn't have been where we are today without the help of family and friends - thanks guys! But I suppose THIS is the beginning. We're moving forward with plans for new roof, floor, and walls within that old brick barn to bring in new life and what will hopefully be the fulfillment of an exciting dream - but for sure an adventure either way! Stay tuned for more...
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.