Thursday, June 28, 2007

Getting Started

BlueStem WineryA little background on how all of this got started!

I retired in mid-2003 and sat around for a few months contemplating what I was going to do with all of this time. In the early fall, I received a phone call from my cousin's husband who lives nearby asking if I wanted to help pick wild grapes and then make some homemade wine. I had made wine many years ago from wild grapes and a few other fruits and with nothing going on decided to help out.

Wild grapes do not grow on trellises but grow wherever they have a mind to and the best sun is in the treetops so the vines climb the trees to reach the sunshine. We spent three or four days picking grapes while standing in the loader bucket of a farm tractor. We spent our time talking 40 years of family history and the conversation eventually turned to the possibility of starting our own winery.

After picking was done we turned to removing stems and preparing the grapes (crushing) for making our wine. We continued to talk about the possibility of starting our own winery.

We eventually made 200 bottles of absolutely delicious wild grape wine and I continued to have an interest in starting a winery. My cousin and her husband opted out--prefering to spend their weekends sailing instead of running a retail store! Imagine that!

My wife and I started looking for a suitable building from which to operate a winery. A former dental office in downtown Parkersburg, Iowa was available and had been for several years. We looked at the building, made an offer and purchased it and BlueStem Winery was born. Bluestem is a type of prairie grass native to Iowa which grows up to ten feet tall and once blanketed all of Iowa.

The building was in fairly good condition with the exception of the floors and the roof and a contractor was hired to repair the roof while I started tearing out the old carpet and tile floors and replacing them.

Our intent in late 2003 (when we purchased the building) was to immediately begin making wine. As we worked to put the building together we decided that our business plan should also include a winemaking supply and brewing supply business and my wife decided that she would like to have things of interest to her in the store including Iowa soy candles, antiques, old books, gourmet foods and other items. We also decided almost immediately to build a website.

Are you contemplating building a website? Learn from my mistake! Do NOT use the first website vendor who comes along. Since I had been a member of several city government committees I contacted the website vendor who had done the city's website. I wound up with a website that functioned poorly with service that was randomly provided by people who really do not care about their customers. And all this from a company located in Iowa where people usually do not treat other folks like this. We have just recently completed building our second website (visit and Andy Mullinex at Impact has been a stellar provider of website services. Questions are answered promptly and marketing suggestions are freely given and with concern for their customers. Want more information on who NOT to go with, visit our new website and and contact me via e-mail from the site and I will freely share information..

Our website focuses on home brew supplies, winemaking equipment, brewing equipment and all the ingredients needed for both brewing and wine making.

We market winemaking kits of all kinds which are from WinExpert (one of the industry leaders) and hope to soon be selling other kits from Cellar Craft. The WinExpert kits include just about any kind of grape varietal including Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chianti, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Liebfraumilch, Merlot, Piesporter, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, White Merlot, White Zinfandel, Shiraz, Muller-Thurgau, Amarone, Montepulciano, Pinot Grigio, Rioja plus many kits featuring blended varietals and grapes imported from Germany, Italy, France, Chile, Australia, and New Zealand.

BlueStem specializes in home brew beer kits tailored after the Brewer's Best kits which we used to purchase from our wholesaler. Our standard kits are exact clones of the Brewer's Best kits (we purchase all of the ingredients from the same place that puts the Brewer's Best kits together). By putting the kits together ourselves we are able to ship a fresher kit than if we were purchasing them ready made. The grains are ground fresh just prior to shipment and the yeast shipped with the kits has been refrigerated to maintain its freshness.

In addition to the standard kits (we call them BlueStems Best) which include Amber Cerveza (I think this one tastes like Dos Equis Amber), American Amber, American Cream Ale, American Light, American Micro-Style Pale Ale, American Nut Brown Ale, California Style Imperial Pale Ale, Classic English Pale Ale, Continental Pilsner, English Brown Ale, German Altbier, Oktoberfest, India Pale Ale, Irish Stout, Red Ale, Robust Porter, Russian Imperial Stout, Scotch Ale, Steam-Style Beer and Weizenbier (Wheat Beer), BlueStem also has developed their own distinct homebrew kits (every kit is what you would call a partial mash kit featuring ground grains and malt extract syrup) which include Bust Your Nut Brown Ale, HMS Wizard Magic Circle Mild Ale, Morrison Hill Pale Ale, Pascal P. Parker Porter and Waterloo Creek Rainbow Red Ale. Tomorrow's post will feature the story of Morrison Hill Pale Ale and HMS Wizard Magic Circle Mild Ale.

Check out our website at for your brewing supplies, WinExpert winemaking kits, home brew equipment, homebrew supplies and just about anything else you would need for brewing, making wine, testing equipment and supplies or just some free advice. We have just started publishing a newsletter and it is available via pdf download from the website.