Back in 2002, I was the lone Midwest college kid among my Southern friends in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Despite being a former athlete, my “crew” consisted mostly of theater and music majors during my stint at USC Upstate. Amidst the last weeks of my senior semester, my boyfriend and his roommates randomly went out and purchased a large amount of wine one Saturday evening from the local grocery store. Instead of our usual cheap beer parties, they wanted a different approach to the night’s theme. Winerday, they called it. I honestly couldn't have cared less.
The idea didn’t excite me one bit. The only experience I had with wine prior to that night was taking small sips from a four month old bottle of Boone’s Farm my roommate had forgotten about in the back of our frig. But as everyone else poured themselves small samples of fancy wine into their cheap plastic cups, I eventually followed along, sure to have my beer nearby to wash the bad taste of wine away.
I had no idea how to pronounce what I was drinking. Cabernet (I pronounced it Cabe r`nett) which tasted like I was licking an ashtray with a trace of old cranberry juice left in it. A Merlot (Mer`lot). No thank you, easily confused with beets and gasoline. A Sauv...Sauving..oh who cares. It was gross. Then a Riesling (Rise`ling.) “Oh hey, I can choke this one down,” I remember thinking. It was cold and fruity. That would be mine. The blue bottle. Mental note: “Remember the blue bottle.” I kept that one close to me that night.
Did anyone else enjoy those wines made from the majestical California vineyards they bought for $10 at Ingles? I really don’t think so. All I remember was there less dancing than usual that night and everyone seemed to have gone home early. But for some reason, when the next weekend came around, they were up for more wine once again.
That Saturday, I mean, Winerday, I requested the same bottle (it’s gotta be that blue one, dammit) and something similar in taste but a different color. Oh I don’t know, maybe red. I hoped to finish both bottles before heading out to the bar for the night. But surprise! One and ¾ bottles in, I was done. Sick and sleeping before 8:30. Turns out there’s a lot more alcohol in wine than beer.
My friends were up for more wine nights to round out the school year. Each time I asked for the same bottle of Riesling (I learned to say it correctly.) I wasn’t sure how long this whole deal would last, both this new found wine interest, since the habit was expensive and my boyfriend could barely afford paying his rent and our relationship, in general, as I was fearing having to tell him that I'd made plans to move back to Iowa after graduation.
Fast forward to 2007. I’m living back in Iowa and married to a swell guy I met at the gym (he needed a spotter during his bench press). We got a house, a dog, and tried to do all things grown up and mature-like waking up before ten on weekends, eating healthy, and sometimes drinking wine instead of beer. Yet, my husband disliked wine more than me.
Give the man a beer or a mixed drink and he was the life of the party. But make him try a sip of that red wine you brought and it almost killed him. I, on the other hand, searched the blue bottles at the wine store. By the age of 28, I narrowed my selection down. It needed to be a blue bottle with a sun on it. The Schmitt Sohne Riesling. Look at me, I started to know wine.
I enjoyed a glass of wine here and there, while my husband drank “the stuff” if there was no other form of alcohol in the vicinity. But the man needed it SWEET. Nothing wrong with sweet wine, but can you visualize my husband, a former football and rugby player standing at 6’3”, sipping on the sweetest fruit wine he could find-with ice cubes in his glass-nonetheless (thank you Ackerman Winery).
Now, twelve years later, I find myself writing this blog from the bar of our own wine shop.
How, you ask? Well, if you ask my husband he’d tell you that I started liking wine so much that he bought me a whole wine store. That’s a wee-bit far fetched.
We opened The Wijn House in the Fall of 2016. That seems so long ago, especially since, just the other night, I watched a video of my daughter, at age 7, giving me a tour of the building amidst our renovations. She told us how she'd turn the place into a pet store should our wine store idea fail. She’s just the cutest. Now at 10, she’s still on board with those plans.
Wijn, is a Dutch word for wine. Our wine bar sits in the heart of Pella, Iowa. We wanted to pay homage to our Dutch community in the heart of the Midwest. Can you say Tulip Time-first weekend in May? You should come. Bring cash.
Our business’ focus is solely on Iowa Wine. With the huge push to shop local, especially here in the Midwest, our community sees thousands of tourists each year. And while Iowa has close to 100 wineries throughout the state, we felt the idea to focus on our in-state wineries was there and needed a voice.
But would it be easy?
Actually, it wasn't too bad.
After pulling up old carpet, a fair share of painting mishaps, and a few anxiety attacks here and there, we found ourselves blessed that it all came together the way it did.
Is it aged in oak barrels or with oak staves? Should they add RS (residual sugar)? If so, how much? What did last year’s winter do to this years crop? Hello Polar Vortex. We’ll soon find out, for better or worse. Winemaking is like a marriage. Some years are good. Others, not so much. But each year, winemakers here in the Midwest are learning more and more about what they can do with the forty-yes forty-different varietals of grapes that can be grown in this region. At The Wijn House, we get to showcase the finish products.
So here we are running an All-Iowa Wine shop, showing people that the Midwest makes good wine and different wines compared to the rest of the world. We've received the Retailer of the Year Award both in 2018 and 2019 through the Iowa Wine Growers Association and continue to seek out good quality wines in the state. When we first opened our shop, we had seven Iowa Wineries on our shelves. Today we have thirty eight.
My husband and I are proof that your palates may change over time. It’s correct to say, I’ve tried 99.9% of all the wines on our shelves. I enjoy wines across the board, but can always go for a Frontenac or LaCrescent. I am not a sommelier by any means. BY ANY MEANS. I drink what I like and want our customers to do the same.
Sometimes, I chuckle to myself when I hear Jeremy talk to customers. He's in his glory now, talking about the dry red wines on our weekly wine list. At times, he has to refrain himself from giving a customer a high five when he feels they’ve made a great purchase. Pretty good for a guy who couldn’t stand the taste of it and a girl who just looked for a blue bottle.