Sunsets at Sugar Grove

When I was working on a story about Iowa wineries for the magazine a few years ago, I traveled all over Iowa to visit vineyards that had Iowa State connections. The first person I met was Collette Hill of Sugar Grove Vineyards and Gathering Place near Newton. At that time, in 2006, Iowa was just starting to see huge growth in both growing grapes and producing wine.

One of the offshoots of the grape and wine industry has been the event business that now surrounds many of the wineries. It’s a natural, when you think about it. They have all that yummy wine and those gorgeous rolling hills and picturesque grapevines – why not have weddings there? Or brunch? Or concerts?

There are three wineries close to Ames that hold regular weekend concerts during the summer and fall. White Oak Winery (near Cambridge) offers “Wine Down” every Friday night; the aforementioned Sugar Grove hosts sunset concerts each Saturday night; and Prairie Moon (just north of Ames) is open on Sunday afternoons, offering wine and music.

At the time I was working on the magazine story, I attended a “Sunsets” concert and vowed to go back as a full-fledged wine-drinking guest. That, again, was in 2006 and I hadn’t been to one until last night. Nor have I been to either of the other wineries’ music events.

This weekend I was actually planning to complete a trifecta: White Oak on Friday, Sugar Grove on Saturday, and Prairie Moon on Sunday. But bad weather kept me away Friday night and I, um, drank quite a bit of wine last night, so now I’m thinking it’s probably best to do these one at a time.

The setting at Sugar Grove was as lovely as I remembered. Situated on top of one of the rolling hills in Jasper County, Sugar Grove features a grange building built in the 1870s, flower gardens, and a wide, mowed lawn area for events. By the time we got there last night, the sun had already dropped low in the sky and the band (Loose Neutral, a local classic rock/pop cover band) was already rocking.

I bought a bottle of dry Tassel Ridge Candleglow white and we dug into the picnic supper I’d made earlier in the day: a fresh mozzarella/basil/heirloom cherry tomato salad (made entirely from ingredients I’d bought at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market yesterday morning) and a loaf of South Union ciabatta (also from the market).

If you don’t count the mosquitoes, it was a perfect evening. I got tipsy from the wine since I drank most of the bottle myself. The sunset was fabulous. The band was fun. The crowd was cheerful – mostly middle-aged couples like us, plus quite a few young couples with children. At least half of us were wearing either Iowa State or Iowa gear since yesterday was the Big Football Game. I’d venture a guess that this crowd was better behaved and more cheerful than the one at the actual game, which suits me just fine.

A note about the wine itself: Sugar Grove used to produce its own wine but recently became a vineyard-only production, in which it grows grapes but sells them to other wineries. Sugar Grove sells most of its grapes to Jasper Winery, but it also offers wines from Tassel Ridge, Summerset, and Snus Hill in the tasting room, which is open during events and by appointment. It also serves Millstream beer made in the Amana Colonies.

There’s one more concert this summer at Sugar Grove ( “Wine Downs” at White Oak go on each Friday into the fall and winter ( Prairie Moon offers live music each Sunday through the end of September (


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