Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

Opened in 2005, Wide River Winery is located a bit out of the way, along some winding roads, and is well worth a visit, both for the wines as well as its outstanding location. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Mississippi River, this facility includes the winery, a tasting room, the owners' home, the vineyards, and a chicken coop, if we saw all of it. If not, more to explore next time.

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

The first building you get to is both the winery and the wine tasting room. While partially hidden, it's kind of cool to know that the wines you are quaffing have been made just behind the wall (grapes are grown onsite, and sourced from grapes from Iowa, Illinois, southern Michigan and Missouri). The wines have unique names, influenced by the owners' law background. When I visited, there was a cost to taste that included 5 tastes along with a souvenir glass to take home. Outside the winery/tasting room, extensive decks are a great place to drink more wine or enjoy a picnic. 

Wide River Winery, Clinton, Iowa

With the great views, take the opportunity to stroll around the property, taking time in the vineyards and also along the bluff trail. There are picnic tables at the end of the bluff trail, so there is even more opportunity to drink and eat in the great outdoors.

At this time the winery is open daily - additional tasting opportunities are at their tasting rooms in Le Claire and East Davenport.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire Riverfront - Davenport Hotel Review

This past weekend, to celebrate Veteran's Day, we took an overnight road trip to Eastern Iowa. We visited the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum, Buffalo Bill Cody's Homestead, the Buffalo Bill Museum, and ended our trip by visiting my first Iowa winery, Wide River Winery. It was an excellent trip and we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Le Claire Riverfront - Davenport.

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire  - Davenport Hotel Review

The Staff were uniformly friendly and helpful and we checked in and out with no issues. My six year old always has a lot of questions, and the Staff were patient and happy to help him each time.

Our room was a double queen with a balcony overlooking the parking lot and, further back the Mississippi River. The room looked and felt clean, there was a variety of pillows to choose from, and in general, felt like it was taken care of. The bathroom was a shower only, so if you're a bath person, ask if any of their rooms have a tub.

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire  - Davenport Hotel Review

The location is a bit odd, as the hotel sits next to a boat yard and nowhere near the small town of Le Claire. Being on the banks of the Mississippi, however, makes up for a lot of that. Not advertised by the hotel too much, there are several restaurants within walking distance with deals for hotel guests. One thing I'd like to see is the hotel remove the river side parking lot and replace it with landscaping - that would dramatically improve the view.

This hotel has a good variety of amenities: pool with spa, fitness room, laundry, business desk with printer and views of the Mississippi from rooms on the river side, with some having a patio or balcony for outdoor appreciation.

Holiday Inn Express Le Claire  - Davenport Hotel Review

The free breakfast had a good selection, buffet style, including an automatic pancake maker, which I'd never seen before. There was a good balance of hot and cold food, though I'd like to see more fresh fruit if possible.

Negatives: Only one. Like many newer hotels, there is a lot of sound transference into the rooms both from other floors and the hallway. I always seem to end up in a room under a vaulting practice and this time was no difference - run, run, run, jump (stomp). Nothing the hotel can do about it, but definitely ask for the top floor if it's available.

In general, this is a relatively standard chain hotel, with above standard cleanliness and Staff. The views of the Mississippi River are great, marred only by the large parking lot that sits in front of the hotel. Close to the Interstate and not too far 

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Iowa Road Trip

This past weekend, 2 of my sons and I planned a quick trip to Eastern Iowa, just to get a toe into the state - we haven't really explored much, even though we've driven through many times. With the long weekend, we knew we could go for Friday night and decided to play Saturday night by ear. The general plan was to visit the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum, spend the night on the Mississippi, then visit an Iowa winery (my first!). On the way home we planned to stop in at Raven's Grin Inn, a haunted house in Mt Carroll, IL.

Iowa Road Trip

Our first stop was the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum, next door to The World's Largest Truck Stop (also an interesting place to visit, but straight commercial, really just a giant store and gas station). The Museum is free (donations accepted) and is housed in a large, hangar-like space, along with an entry area and store. The trucks are in various stages of repair - most are in pretty good shape, but some need lots of work (donations to help refurbish these old beauties are also accepted). Even if you're not a truck buff, I would think that this would be an interesting museum to walk through - there are some crazy and crazy beautiful designs on these old vehicles. Highly recommended.

Iowa Road Trip

The Quad City area museums have banded together to create a geocaching trail featuring some of the museums in the area (the Iowa-80 Trucking Museum is one of them). At each stop you can collect a wooden geocoin to commemorate your visit. After the museum, we headed towards the hotel, with a stop at the Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead along the way. While the house was closed for the season, we were interested in seeing the property and picking up our second museum geocoin as well. It's a beautiful property set in some amazing agricultural land of rolling hills. It would be nice to return to get a tour of the property one day.

Iowa Road Trip

For dinner, we opted for the Blue Iguana in Le Claire, where our hotel was, though there are actually quite a few selections in the area, surprisingly. The restaurant is housed in an old brick building, formerly the town hall, with indoor and outdoor seating (covered at the time we visited). Even though it might not be, the Blue Iguana has the feel of a chain restaurant, very slick and somewhat formal feeling. That being said, however, the food was really good and I liked how they distinguished between an "American" and "Mexican" style of presentation (my tacos had cilantro and onions rather than lettuce and tomatoes for example). Overall I thought it was pretty good for a smallish town.
Blue Iguana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iowa Road Trip

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Le Claire Riverfront-Davenport, which sits right on the Mississippi River, offering up prime views both in the morning and evening. It's a full service hotel, with a pool, workout room, free breakfast and more - full review forthcoming.

Iowa Road Trip

The next morning, we headed over to the Buffalo Bill Museum, for a third museum trail geocoin and a major surprise in how good the museum was. Housing a full-size paddle-wheeler that you can actually climb in and around on, there are also rooms and rooms of historical memorabilia. My only complaint was that there was simply too much to take in during one visit, but it just means we'll need to come back. My 6 year old had fun with a treasure hunt, which had him looking high and low for objects - the only disappointment there was his prize was chosen from a drawer of junky toys; it would have been neat if they gave him a little trinket with the museum's name on it or something instead). There is also a small children's playroom if the kids get antsy, though I can't imagine that would happen here.

Iowa Road Trip

Up next was Antique Archaeology, one of the stores for the American Pickers folks from TV. What a disappointment - while there were a few interesting pieces for sale, the vast majority was souvenirs for the show or the shop. If you're in town and a fan it's worth a stop, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

At this point, my younger son was flagging, complaining of a head and ear ache. We decided to pack it in and head home, stopping at a pharmacy for some pain reliever and possibly snacks for the trip. After this stop, however, the 6 year old decided he wanted lunch, so we checked on Zomato (probably my fave food app) and found an interesting option.

Iowa Road Trip

Hillbilly Jack's BBQ sits across from the Archer Daniels Midland coal processing plant, which stretches for miles seemingly, so the views are not that enchanting, though the gold storage dome isn't so bad. The restaurant itself is all bright colors and country charm, though not cloyingly so. One glaring oversight (in my opinion) on their menu is a lack of rib tips, though there are plenty of other options as well. I opted for their BBQ burger, while my older son got the Brisket Sandwich, both of which we shared half and half. My mac 'n' cheese was okay, but nothing special in a Kraft kind of way, though the boys' fries were really good. The meat was pretty good, maybe a bit dry, but available sauces took care of that. One other thing I'd like to see is the restaurant adding some veggies to the menu. 
Hillbilly Jack's BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iowa Road Trip

With my son feeling better after lunch and medicine, our last stop was Wide River Winery, my first winery visit in Iowa! Beautifully sited on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, this family winery was well worth a visit - full write up forthcoming.

At this point, we were getting tired, so home was the option. Next time we come back this way we'll visit the haunted house and also make time for a cruise on the Mississippi.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Breakfast was a bit more subdued that morning, as two solid days of driving Lodi Wine country started to take their toll. Not that any of us were complaining - the quality of the wine and, more importantly, the quality of the stories, was simply amazing. It's the history that we heard during our visit that will make Lodi a true wine destination, if they can figure out a way to express it to visitors.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

It's a bit incongruous to find oneself at the intersection of two small roads, drinking wine, immediately after breakfast. Yet that's where we found ourselves as we learned about the Victor Triangle vineyards on the east side of Mokelumne River AVA that morning. Yet, hearing Randy Caparoso (our indefatigable tour guide), explain the grapes, the soil the families behind even this small plot of land really brought it together, just as it had on every one of our stops. Drinking wine while standing in the vineyard it originated from was an experience we had several times a day, and it never got old.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

We didn't tarry long, but hopped in the van and headed for Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills AVA, to meet Bokisch Vineyards’ owner/grower Markus Bokisch and winemaker Elyse Perry. Markus is a polished speaker and, while a "newcomer" to Lodi, is clearly passionate about the region and has been instrumental in getting the recognition it deserves through the sub-AVA process. He and Elyse walked us through a tasting not only of what was in bottle, but also in barrel. I still marvel at the roughness of the wine and the optimism of the winemakers that, once in bottles, it will become a transcendent experience to drink.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Our next stop was Vista Luna Vineyard in Borden Ranch AVA, driving through environmental preserves that protected vernal pools, home of fairy shrimp. While little is known about the effect these shrimp have on our environment, it was a pleasure to drive through this beautiful area, knowing that it would be preserved for the foreseeable future. It's a also a great reflection on Lodi and its commitment to sustainability - many agriculturally rich areas are protected from any use, ensuring that the area's beauty will be enjoyed for many years to come. During our  Vista Luna Vineyard tasting with Markus Bokisch, he continued our education in Lodi wine and, more specifically, in the Iberian grapes of which he is a champion in the region. Lodi has such a wide range of microclimates that growing a specific type of grapes is often just a matter of finding a suitable location. This has resulted in wines being made from over 100 varietals, a true boon to wine drinkers everywhere.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Lunch was at the Mettler Family Vineyards after a tasting of their entire lineup of wines, alongside some that are no longer available commercially. The generosity of the winemakers and growers (at this stop and at every stop we made) with their time, products, and stories was unexpected, yet much appreciated.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

Our visit at Harney Lane Winery became work for some, as people took turns punching down grapes that were fermenting - it appears to be quite difficult work, yet must be done several times a day or more, depending on the plans of the winemaker. Harney Lane Winery, like Mettler before them, is a professional, well-developed tasting room, and it's great that a lot of these long-time resident families are starting to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

While palates and bodies were beginning to flag, all of us were excited to get to the 2016 Zinfandel barrel tasting with Macchia owner/winemaker Tim Holdener. Again, wines from the barrel are pretty rough, but Tim walked us through several options and it was interesting to see how different each vineyard was from the next. Since several of these were possibilities for the Lodi Native project, native yeasts and hands-off winemaking clearly revealed each wine's terroir, as good an argument for that concept as I've ever tasted. Once done in the barrel room, we headed back out to what is basically an upscale man-cave/tasting room for a multi-winery Lodi Barbera tasting (you can read Randy's write-up of this on the Lodi Wine blog). It was interesting to hear from the winemakers and taste their wines, especially when Tim brought out (from his personal cellar) an older bottling that, while past its prime, clearly held an allure for those in attendance who fancied older wines.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

We then had a little time to relax before it was time for a Virtual Tasting at Lodi Wine & Visitor Center (there is a write-up by Claudia Angelillo on Snooth). I really enjoy these tastings, but have always found them a bit static. After meeting some of the characters in the Lodi Wine world, I think maybe putting together a group of the winemakers and winegrowers on a couple of couches with plenty of wine might be the best way to go.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

As hard as it was to believe, after the virtual tasting it was time to head out for our farewell dinner. This was held at the Ledbetter family’s residence
, who opened their home to us and lavished us with an amazing dinner and plenty of outstanding wines to go with it. As evidenced time and time again, these winegrowers (and so many others) were the partners, friends, and often families of the winemakers - the fact that, in Lodi wine, there is this communal effort for all to succeed is something I hope they always hang on to.

Snooth - Lodi Wine Media Trip Day 3

And that was it. The next morning we got up, breakfasted together, bought wine at the Lodi Wine shop, and then headed our separate ways at the airport. Our immersion in Lodi wine was complete. The stories we heard, the wines we tasted, the vineyards we visited - all are now part of each sip of Lodi wine we'll drink in the future. 

If you haven't tasted Lodi wines, you must. If you haven't visited the region, make plans to do so. Lodi has become so much more than a region that produces great grapes to be made into spectacular wines in other areas. Its infrastructure is growing and the locals will welcome you with open arms.

(*This media trip was provided courtesy of Snooth and Lodi Wine - all opinions expressed are my own.)

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