Recently, my husband, Craig, and I traveled to California for his buddy’s wedding. After we landed in San Diego, we drove on to our final destination—Temecula. As we drew closer to our lodging, I noticed a sign that simply said “Wine Country” with an arrow pointed in the direction we were headed. I’ve never seen so many wineries or grape vines in my life! Each winery seemed to have their claim to fame, whether that be their ‘famous’ Bordeaux, their organic production or their horseback tours.

While wineries in Iowa are a growing industry, providing the state in $4.4 million in economic impact, in California this number is $57.6 billion plus 325,000 full-time equivalent jobs. As the numbers contrast, so did the experience. In Iowa, winery visitors can often sample wines for free, and if you want to see how the wine is made, the grower happily ushers you to his barn to show you how it’s done. There’s often a modest number of grapes grown on location at Iowan wineries, while California has acres upon acres of vines cascading upon large hills. We’re also more accustomed to drinking sweeter wines in Iowa as our state’s soil and climate cannot support vines that grow the grapes made into Merlot or Cabernet. However, Iowa wine producers have been experimenting for many years with hybrids, crossing “dry” grape varieties with ones that are disease resistant and can handle our harsh winters—contributing to the growth of Iowa’s wine industry!

As I stood outside Faulkner Winery in Temecula, savoring my sample of their Estate Sauvignon Blanc (which was the first and probably last time I’ll ever taste a $60 bottle of wine) Craig and I looked at each other and chuckled—What are two goofballs like us doing in a classy place like this?

We began to feel more at home when we unexpectedly met fellow Iowans. One lady who worked at Faulkner was from the Cedar Rapids area, another Texas couple there said they used to live near Hancock and one old man was very proud to tell us he helped build the Saylorville Dam. What’s that they say about it being a small world?  

We also learned that Californians found us to be an interesting commodity. During introductions at the wedding, a common response I received was, “Oh! You’re one of those people from Iowa!”

One of our friends, a Kossuth County farmer, was a groomsman in the wedding. As he walked down the aisle escorting one of the bridesmaids, we heard people behind us whispering about Derek—the “real farmer” from Iowa and how “cool” that was. He chuckled and shook his head when he told him of his newfound fame. It appeared whereas wineries overlooking valleys seem so blasé to Californians because they see it so often, perhaps Iowans’ perspectives of raising corn and soybeans is the same.

I suppose each of us take it for granted, but all agriculture is fascinating in its own way and warrants a second look. Although farmers are often humble, it’s worth noting Iowa leads the nation in corn, soybeans, pork and egg production. Iowa is also home to some of the richest soil there is—11,000 different types to be exact—and farmers are innovative in protecting it along with our state’s other natural resources. In fact, we lead the nation in the number of conservation buffers which naturally reduce sediment and nutrients from entering our waterways. PLUS, Iowa produces more than 25 percent of the nation’s ethanol from its corn crop, and farmers in Iowa help generate more than 35 percent of the state’s electricity from wind power—the best in the nation. We should all be proud of that!

As Craig and I find more opportunities to travel, I hope to see more of the diverse agriculture the United States has to offer, especially if it involves grapes. However, I’ll always enjoy coming back to the land of corn and soybeans. To me, that’s home, sweet home, and there’s nothing better. 

By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist.