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A History of Iowa Wine: Vines on the Prairie

A History of Iowa Wine: Vines on the Prairie

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A History of Iowa Wine: Vines on the Prairie

169 pagine
1 ora
Apr 22, 2019


Iowa has a history with grapevines that goes back more than a century. New York lawyer Hiram Barney obtained a tract of land in southeast Iowa as part of the Half-Breed program following the American Indian Wars and created the White Elk Winery. German settlers in Amana tended community vineyards for communal wines. Before Prohibition, the Council Bluffs Grape Growers Association grew grapes and shipped them eastward by the ton. In the early 1900s, the state was among the nation's top producers of grapes. Pesticides, weather and government subsidies ended the time of the vines of the prairie until their recent return. Author John N. Peragine details the rise, fall and resurgence of the industry in the Hawkeye State.
Apr 22, 2019

Informazioni sull'autore

John Peragine is a published author of thirteen books and has ghostwritten many others. He has written for the New York Times, Reuters and Bloomberg news as a journalist. John also writes for magazines such as Writer's Digest, Wine Enthusiast, Acres USA Magazine and Speaker Magazine (National Speakers Association), just to name a few. John has been writing professionally since 2007 after working thirteen years in the field of social work, and he was the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for twenty-four years. John lives with his wife and children on the bluffs in Davenport, Iowa, overlooking the Mississippi River. When he is not writing, he is working with his grapes in the L'oste Vineyard.

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Anteprima del libro

A History of Iowa Wine - John N. Peragine



In 2015, when I stepped onto a porch awaiting my real estate agent, little did I know I was looking at history and my own destiny. The house was on a high bluff in Davenport, Iowa, and overlooked the Mississippi River to the south. In the distance past the bridge and barges I could see Rock Island, Illinois.

It had just rained, and there was a rainbow in the sky that seemed to touch down at the bottom of the property. It was a sign. The backyard was overgrown with trees of heaven and weeds, but it was obvious it was tiered. I looked to the left and there were two houses that looked like the one I was considering buying, and the tiers seemed to match up to those in the yard below. To my right was a large Italianate home with Greek Revival features. The all-white structure was two stories tall with large columns.

The real estate agent arrived. The house was everything my wife and I were looking for, and I joked that maybe I could clean up the jungle below the house and fulfill my dream of building a vineyard. I had been making wine at home for fifteen years but had never grown any grapes.

Before we purchased the house, my mother-in-law, Gena Schantz, came to look at the property and was very excited because she knew of its history. She is the foremost authority on George Davenport, the founder for whom the town is named. The large home next door was once owned by his only son, George L’oste Davenport. With a little digging in her notes, Gena found the explanation for the tiered property that ran through our house and those next to us. It was once one large vineyard of six thousand vines. It was my dream almost realized. I had the property but not the vineyard.

Catawba grapevine in spring 2018, at the L’oste Winery in Davenport, Iowa. The bluff is south facing and overlooks the Mississippi River, with the state of Illinois on the other side. Author’s collection.

The L’oste Vineyard was planted on the site of the Clifton vineyard in Davenport in 2017. There were 140 vines planted, including Catawba grapes, which were originally planted by George L’oste Davenport in the later 1800s. Author’s collection.

Later that year, I met with George Walker, who owns a winery, Mountain Vista Winery, in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He wanted to write a book about the history of the area related to winemaking, and so we brokered a deal. I would help him write the book, and he would build me a vineyard.

The book, Cucamonga Valley Wine: The Lost Empire of American Winemaking (2017, The History Press), was completed, and in 2017, George’s son Clayton came and over eight days built the vineyard of 139 vines. We received some local press, so we had to come up with a name for the vineyard. We took George’s middle name and did a little play on words: the L’oste Vineyard was named because it was truly a vineyard that was lost in history and has now been found.

Katie Reinhardt, the special collections librarian at the Davenport Public Library, wrote a blog in response to the article about the vineyard, which inspired me to look further into the history of wine in Iowa. What I found was amazing; before there was corn, there were grapes, and they were plentiful. The rich history of Iowa’s viniculture has been lost for many years, but in the last decade, there has been a resurgence in the number of vineyards in Iowa. In order to predict the future, we must look to the past, and the challenges of one hundred years ago to grow grapes in the Midwest are not much different than they are today.

It is my hope that you, the reader, will find some fascinating tidbits of wine history in this book and that they inspire you to try some of the wonderful wines available. It is also my hope that we learn to preserve our heritage, protect our lands and use technology to grow wonderful grapes while at the same time saving our environment.

Some of the sections of this book would not have been possible without the contributions of some key people. The section on the White Elk Vineyard came from Tom Gardner’s Wine in Keokuk: Now and Then. Tom provided some wonderful images and stories of Hiram Barney and Chief Keokuk. The section about wine history comes from the work of Peter Hoehle and a whitepaper he was commissioned to create for the Ackerman Winery and used with generous permission by Cassie Bott.

Gena Schantz’s thirty-plus years of research into George Davenport were pivotal in my research about him and the Clifton Vineyard.

Chapter 1


It seems only right to begin the journey of the history of wine by beginning with George L. Davenport’s vineyard.

The Clifton House was built in 1853 by J.M.D. Burrows, who had arrived at the town of Davenport in 1838 and built a wholesale company, Burrows and Prettyman. The name Clifton was given to the house because it overlooked a high bluff, and local lore says that Burrows built his home to overlook the Mississippi River and watch his profits coming up the river. He did business along the Upper Mississippi River and west to the Missouri River in Iowa and Nebraska.

The bulk of Burrows’s profits came from contracts he had with the U.S. government to supply Fort Crawford and Fort Snelling along the Mississippi River. Everything was grand until the bottom fell out of the financial markets in the Panic of 1857. Burrows was forced to mortgage his house to Antoine LeClaire, who was one of the major players in the development of the Quad Cities and surrounding areas. (There is a town named LeClaire up the river from Davenport.)

Burrows used the proceeds from the mortgage to pay off his debts, but he was never able to get ahead and was never able to gain back the title to the Clifton House. The house was sold to George L’oste Davenport, who was the son of George Davenport, one of the original settlers in the area and after whom the town is named.

Davenport’s sisters lived in the home for twenty-five years, during which time Clifton Vineyard was built. It stood vacant for another twenty-five years. The house was then sold in 1905 to John Winter, who converted it into apartments. Three houses were built beside it, one of which I now live in.

Close-up of the Clifton manor. In the early 1900s, a second floor was built where the upper terraces were, and where the group of trees is on the left is where a house was built where the author currently resides and has replanted some of the vineyard, now named the L’oste Vineyard. A.T. Andreas’ Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Iowa.

The Clifton House looks very different than it did when it was built. The house was built in the Italianate style with elements of Greek Revival and has large Renaissance Ionic columns that hold up the portico. It has a large square cupola on the center of a hipped roof. It has five narrow, round arched windows on each side of the house. The columns are on paneled pedestals, and there is a concrete balustrade that was extended during its renovation in the twentieth century. There is a one-story porch on the north side that once extended the length of the house.

The original shape of the house was of a three-tiered cake, and the upper part was a tower room with windows on four sides. Local legend is that the tower was for watching for escaped slaves making their way northward via a barge during the days of the Underground Railroad.

The house was originally one story, with two bay wings on the east and west sides as they are in the image above. When the house was renovated after 1905, the porches were eliminated, and a second floor was added on both wings and became apartments. John Winter had loved the house from his childhood, which is why he had bought it. He did not want to change it too drastically, and he left the twelve-foot ceilings, crystal chandeliers, coal-burning fireplaces and massive mahogany fireplaces.

The Clifton House was the setting for the novel The Man of the Hour by Davenport native Alice French (better known as Octave Thanet).


George Davenport was an important figure in Iowa and American history. He was born John King in 1783 in Louth, Lincolnshire, England. Historians are unsure why he changed his name. However, changing names upon coming to America was a common practice during this time. During his lifetime of adventure, he was a tailor, sailor, frontiersman, fur trader, merchant, postmaster, U.S. Army soldier, Indian agent and eventually a city planner.

Davenport was apprenticed to

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