OSKALOOSA— Tassel Ridge Winery located just outside of Oskaloosa was awarded the Iowa State Fair gold award for their blackberry wine.
The competition uses an awards system based on how the wine should be shared. A gold award means the wine is one you should be “proud to take to a dinner or party.” A sliver award denotes a wine that you would be “proud to serve to friends in your home.
Bob Wersen, the owner of Tassel Ridge Winery, said they are very delighted with winning this award.
“We are delighted, we did win four other silver medals and so we are very pleased with those as well.”
When asked what it takes to make an award-winning wine, Wersen said it begins with practice.
“We have been making the blackberry wine for the last 10 or 15 years but our approach to making it has improved. We have won awards for gold medals for this wine for several years," he said, "and so we think we've got the process dialed in and you pay attention to each step that your taking and you document it and just make sure you do it again.”
What sets them apart from other winemakers is, according to Wersen, Tassel Ridge is an Iowa winery and sells only their own wine, says Wersen.
“We grow a lot of our own fruit. Now in the case of the blackberry, we don't grow that ourselves we get that from outside but we are tuned in to the taste of our customers in Iowa, we sell throughout the state of Iowa," he said. "We go out and do tastings in our retailers all over Iowa and we get feedback and we zero in our wine based on that feedback and of course we watch the sales of the wine too so were pretty opportunistic about how we track customer feedback.”
Winemaking in Iowa can be challenging.
“There are some challenges but there are challenges everywhere. In Iowa, our particular challenge is, first of all, grapes. We can't grow the temperate climate grapes that are grown in Europe, California, Washington or Oregon," Wersen said. "We have to grow what are called cold climate grapes and those are grapes that people have never heard of so we need to do a lot of educating as a result.”
Those varieties are all fairly new, Wersen said, and are hybrids.
“All of this work started right after WWII," he said. "The grape variety that will survive in our climate and produce good fruit is all new. So we're learning about those varieties both in the vineyard and then when we bring those grapes into the winery. So in this climate, we have to figure all this stuff out as we go.”
The second challenge, Wersen said, is that in California one can buy services.
“Everything from harvesting services to you can get people who will come in and do the filtration of your wine, people who will come in and bottle it, and you could even outsource all of those processes to a custom crush facility that has all sorts of service available," he said. "In Iowa, there are none of those services available so we have to make those investments ourselves.”
Tassel Ridge Winery is open seven days a week and is located in Leighton, Iowa.