LEIGHTON — If there’s one thing that Bob Wersen never backs away from, it’s a challenge. That was the case 19 years ago when he took the leap to start Tassel Ridge Winery.

“I am inclined to look carefully but jump,” he said. “I figure I’m going to learn as I fall towards the water.”

At the time, Wersen owned land in a corn and bean rotation on the side of being the owner of Interpower. With the crop’s unsteady prices lower than the cost of production, he knew that he wanted to go a new direction.

That’s when he found grapes.

“I’m a serial entrepreneur,” he said. “My genetics are such that I see challenges and I consider that as normal as eating breakfast in the morning.”

That’s why, in 2002, he bought the land on Highway 63 that can be seen today full of acres of vineyard.

He started out with the goal of selling to wineries without having his own, but quickly realized that his prospects in Iowa were limited.

So again, he took a leap of faith and opened the doors to Tassel Ridge winery – but it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there.

“If you’re going to sell any volume of wine in Iowa, you’ve gotta have a wholesale network. Originally, I started off --was it belief or hope, I’m not sure which, but they say hope is not a good strategy — that we could sell everything here at the winery.”

For the first three months of the winery’s business, Wersen tried to operate selling only out of the winery itself. He realized quickly that Tassel Ridge was going to need to expand into wholesale. Unsure of exactly what to expect, he leapt into the new challenge to grow the business further.

“I made the decision that by the beginning of the next year, I wanted to be sure that we were selling through wholesale channels. I didn’t have a clear idea of what that meant. At that point, if a restaurant would carry our wine, that was a win!”

Today, Tassel Ridge wines can be found at almost every HyVee, Fareway and Brothers Market in the state.

Their wide variety of flavors and styles make a Tassel Ridge wine the perfect gift for any wine-lover this holiday season.

Those who venture into the winery to make their purchase can enjoy a wine tasting and find wine racks, apparel, home décor and more.

Wersen said that Tassel Ridge’s most popular product, their Red White and Blue wine, is among the top-10 most sold in the state.

“I was pretty convinced that a sweet red wine that had a really good acid sugar balance would be a good seller — it was instinct, on my part.”

Shannon Rabotski can be reached at srabotski@oskyherald.com.

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