Monday, January 24, 2022

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Belly Up To...

Road trip to Snus Hill for a feline wine experience


Snus Hill Winery is located less than 20 miles north of Ankeny.

Snus Hill Winery is located less than 20 miles north of Ankeny.

In the spirit of this week’s cover story, I thought I’d take a little road trip to farm country for a quiet place to belly up. I was in the neighborhood anyway, site-seeing at the oddly-placed Hindu temple and the famous High Trestle Trail Bridge near Madrid. So after a gut-busting lunch at a place called Elmo’s Bar and Grill in town, I followed Highway 210 east, en route back to the metro. That’s when a sign tempted me down a gravel road, and another sign at an intersection teased me to turn right to Snus Hill Winery less than a mile away.

The wind eerily blew an old, wooden sign at the entrance of what looks like no more than a nice farmhouse save for the the rows upon rows of budding grapes on otherwise bare vines that signified these people aren’t just your average Iowa farmers. “Welcome to Snus Hill Winery,” it said.

The tasting room was vast with polished wood from floor to ceiling, and the bar top was long, stretching from one wall to another, ending at double doors across the way that open to a classic farmhouse wraparound porch with patio seating overlooking a dreamy yard of old windmills, birdhouses and a regulation-size bocce ball court.

It was a quiet Wednesday afternoon, and the woman behind the counter admitted it had been slow that day, so my friend and I eagerly shuffled up to the bar to invite her to play hostess. Despite the peaceful ambiance, it was obvious by the size of the bar and the room, that a slow day at this place is an anomaly. The room was still abuzz from the lingering entities of energies left by enthusiastic crowds.


I might have mused over those ghosts for the rest of the afternoon if the sound of a popping cork had not plucked me from my trance like a snap of a hypnotist’s fingers.

And then she began to pour.

“I’d like to buy a bottle as a gift for a parting friend,” I explained. Connie was quick and cool, as she obliged my curious palate. Starting with the drier whites, such as the Whisker White, Cat Nip and Boule de Poils (such a beautiful French phrase that rolls off the tongue like prr… roughly translated, “Hair Ball.”)

I’m sensing a theme. Is Connie one of those weird cat ladies?

No, Connie wasn’t to blame — or to credit, rather — for the cat theme at Snus Hill. Actually the credit goes to a cat named Snus that prowled the old farm long before the grapes were grown, hence the name of the winery itself. And hence the felinity on the signs, the bottle labels and in the names of the many wine varieties on the menu.

The clever names didn’t stop with the whites either, such as the concord grape-based Kitten, which ironically is the “beer drinker’s wine,” Connie said.

“Most men end up liking Kitten,” she giggled.

Each wine had its own story — how it’s made, which grapes are used, how they are grown and where it got its name. And Connie knew them all. And I tasted them all. And I wanted to buy them all, but as she rang up my purchases to almost $50, another feline sign — Snus’ final ado — mounted to the cash register mockingly:

“You’ve CAT to be KITTEN me right MEOW.” CV


Snus Hill Winery
2183 320th St., Madrid
(515) 795-3535
Hours: Wed. – Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Entertainment: Live music every Friday and Sunday.
This weekend: One Night Stand, 6:30-9:30 p.m. on Friday, May 3; Planet Passenger, 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, May 5.


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