History buffs, “American Picker” fans, shoppers and Great River Road wanderers can now sample locally made, award-winning wine in historic downtown LeClaire, Iowa.
Wide River Winery, located in Clinton, has recently opened an additional tasting room. Nestled in the bluffs along the Mississippi River in Clinton, the original winery and tasting room is already an area favorite of both residents and visitors. Now, Wide River fans can travel down Great River Road to experience the charm of Le Claire and receive the same great hospitality, along with fabulous Iowa wines.
Owner of Wide River Winery, Dorothy O’Brien began making wine as a hobby. She started with just three acres of grapes, but soon realized that even with her large family, there were more grapes being produced than they should consume in wine. As a result, Dorothy saw an opportunity to create Wide River Winery and share an outstanding local product, in addition to the vineyard’s historic property and unique views.
Visiting the Clinton winery is an adventure in aesthetics and taste. Beginning with a ride along the Mississippi River, patrons will enjoy beautiful scenic views of the eight-acre vineyard, surrounding forest and river waters, and expansive 110 acres of organic farmland. When the tour is complete, there is plenty to tempt the palate with a wonderful array of award-winning wine, made mostly from grapes grown in the Midwest.
Wide River Winery takes its name from the Mississippi River, as its widest part flows beneath the vineyards. The hilltops above provide an exceptional microclimate for the grapes. The winery currently produces about six varieties of Midwestern grapes that are hardy enough to withstand cold Iowa winters, along with its humid summers. And while O’Brien’s initial efforts were limited to only dry wine, since that is what she favors, she later grew to appreciate sweeter wines as well. The vineyard’s grapes are well suited to that variety, and many tasters enjoy the sweeter style of Iowa wines.
Inspiration for many of the O’Brien wine’s names is rooted in the family’s long-standing law heritage. She is an employment law attorney, her husband, Charlie Pelton, is a retired Clinton County judge, and there are other lawyers in the family too. Charlie came up with the first name, “Felony Red,” and O’Brien is credited with “Ms. D’Meanor White.” Several of the family’s wines have received awards from the Mid-American Wine Competition, Iowa State Fair and Tasters Guild, to name a few. One of the highest accolades received was for “Conviction” – a Malbec-Chambourcin blend, recently honored with a rare Double Gold Medal at the 2013 Tasters Guild International Wine Competition.
O’Brien’s vision has truly come to life, as the Wide River Winery took a leap last October with the purchase of an 1840’s building in Le Claire. This centuries-old structure had several functions over the last 173 years, including once serving as a library and also as a bakery. Like many historic buildings, renovations were in order and revealed surprising details of the building’s history. The most exciting discovery was a tunnel used as part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War.
The extensive renovations included taking the building down to the original brick and strengthening its foundation. Now completed, the structure not only maintains its historical character but has become a second dream home for the Iowa winery family.
The second phase of the rehab project focused on the courtyard wine garden, paying tribute to its previous owner, the late Trudy Rogers. Interestingly, other previous owners include the parents of James A. Ryan, who is famous for inventing the technology known as the “black box,” which is still used in aircraft flight recorders today.
Wide River Winery has created several ways to utilize the beautiful outdoor area, located along Great River Road. Among the favorite events taking place in the courtyard is the Summer Music Series. This weekly event hosts local musicians and fills the streets of Le Claire with music, creating a spectacular atmosphere. The last phase of the renovation, yet to be completed, is a kitchen which will serve small plates and appetizers, perfectly paired with the locally made wine.
Over the years, the vineyard’s goals have shifted to include job creation as a top priority. Wide River Winery’s staff has grown to 18 employees and plans are in place to expand to 25 acres in Clinton. Production this year should reach 70,000 bottles. Owner and winemaker, Dorothy O’Brien discusses the decision to expand to Le Claire stating, “The vibrant energy and great hospitality in Le Claire drew us here. We are happy to be a part of the revival of the downtown area and contribute to the economic development of Le Claire.”
As a Top 10 Finalist in Budget Travels “Best Small Towns In America,” Le Claire is quickly becoming a very popular destination. Also making its mark as a premier destination spot for “Things To Do In The Quad Cities,” Le Claire’s historic riverfront clearly has much to offer with its great food, shopping, antiquing, river cruises, the Mississippi River Distilling Company and the Buffalo Bill Museum. The small river town’s popularity has grown even more expansive with ties to the hugely popular History Channel TV show, “American Pickers” with their home base in Le Claire. Antique Archaeology is where stars of the show, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, house their best picks. Right off Interstate 80, Le Claire is easily accessible by tourists, travelers and locals alike.
Wide River Winery is located at 106 N. Cody Road and is open daily. Hours are Sunday through Wednesday: 11:00AM–7:00PM and Thursday through Saturday: 11:00AM–8:00PM. For more information on the Clinton Winery and Le Claire Tasting Room visit http://www.wideriverwinery.com