(MINDEN, IA) - During the early 20th century, Iowa was one of the top grape-producing state sin the nation. Now, the Hawkeye state is making a comeback with more than 100 vineyards.
Darrell Morse and his wife own Breezy Hills Winery and Vineyard in Minden, Iowa. They started tinkering with their own fruit to make homemade wines. Then nine years ago, they visited a winery in Minnesota. That's when they knew they had the potential to revive Iowa's once thriving fruit-on-a-vine industry.
"These are lacrosse grapes and that's probably my favorite grape out here as far as the wine making goes," Darrell Morse said as he showed the grapes.
He, his wife, son and employees oversee three acres of a vineyard. The Breezy Hills Vineyard, as he appropriately named it.
"Lot of people say that it's the romance that gets them into it, but I can tell you right now that it's a lot more work than it is romance," said Morse.
Romance or not, they continued to plant, knowing it would take three to five years until they could pick the grapes to make wine.
"You can kind of taste it, but there's almost a pineapple taste that comes through on it," Morse described.
Next to the vineyard is the wine shop: a place for visitors to stop by and taste his nearly 24 handcrafted fruit and grape wines.
"This is our sparkling rose. It's a brut sparkling wine made from a Frontenac grapes. It's made in the true French style in that we do everything by hand," said Morse, holding the wine bottle.
This year, Darrell's had challenges.
Back in April, Darrell said the temperatures got down to 27 degrees causing him to lose much of his fruit. Essentially, putting a dent in his wine business this year.
"This year, we didn't get any of our DeChaunac. So actually next year, we'll have a void in the production," said Morse.
Darrel's biggest challenge this year wasn't in the vineyard. In June, Darrell was diagnosed with stage four Liver and Gallbladder Cancer. That's stopped him from doing the work he loves most.
"Trying to get everything in order that my wife and my son and our employees can keep this business going," said Morse.
His family is the back-bone of the business.
"You're looking at the board of directors," said Morse as he pointed to a family photo.
They're the ones who will stick with him and continue his passion for wine while he fights to get back to work.
"Our son is a full-time employee and he has been for three years. And I feel like he's learned a lot and knows the wine making business about as well as I do," said Morse.
Darrell said one of the biggest problems for Iowa wineries is Nebraska state law. Wine-makers can't ship their own product into Nebraska. They have to hire a distributor. That requires a high-volume wine operation.