The Cellar at White Oak6/1/2022
It’s 10 a.m. Sunday morning and, feeling discouraged, you realize the weekend is just about over. But wait — there’s always an excuse for a Sunday fun day when you can head outside during the summer at a patio near you. Or better yet, head to a winery with wide open spaces, a cool breeze and a bottle of vino.
The Cellar at White Oak is just the place. It’s located in Cambridge, off I-35, just a couple exits north past Ankeny. Take a leisurely drive along the rolling countryside and you’ll discover an idyllic winery.
The upper portion of the building houses an events center, ideal for weddings. In the lower part of the building, aka The Cellar, is the winery with tasting room. Stay inside and sip or head outdoors. On Sundays, The Cellar hosts Sunday Tunes by blues, rock and country musicians. On a recent evening, Blues Music Awards-nominated musician Matt Woods performed.
The vibe is quiet and peaceful, and probably a bit more relaxing as the wine bottle is emptied. With 8-13 varieties of wine, there’s something for everyone. Buy it by the glass; or buy a bottle for $17.50. Not a fan of crushed grapes? Then opt for six different beers, including local hops and cider.
For the munchies, order a charcuterie tray or a snack mix. On Sundays, grilled options or food truck offerings are available.
The Cellar was purchased by couple John Barber and Barb Hokel in 2015. Barber worked as a civil engineer for 38 years before he searched for a retirement project. The winery is his final endeavor, he said.
“It’s a passion business to take to the end,” Barber said. “Growing up in Detroit, I loved blues music, and offering live music adds to the ambience. We throw out all genres of music, not just the blues.”
Head wine chief Josh Ellenberg specializes in cold-climate grapes. With the pandemic last year, he and Barber were unsure of how much wine to make. If they need grapes, they’ll purchase from any of the 1,400 acres of grapes grown in Iowa.
Barber serves on the board of directors for the Iowa Wine Growers Association. According to him, there’s a misconception that all Iowa wines are sweet.
“These wines are completely different than California wines,” he said. “It’s a different region of grapes. We’re constantly educating people about Iowa grapes, such as Frontenac and Marquette. We celebrate the differences from California.”
While serving on the board, he’s worked to change rules regarding wineries, allowing wineries to be more competitive with breweries and traditional bars. One law Barber is excited for takes effect Jan. 1, 2023, when wineries can offer spirits.
“We’re going to have all the local spirits at The Cellar,” he said. “We want to promote local, including microbreweries as well.”
As Barber carries a glass of wine, chatting with patrons, it’s his favorite part of being a winery owner.
“It’s a dream to be sitting here in the vineyards,” he said. “People tells us it’s like a hidden gem. They come here once and always come back. The more the merrier.”
Attend the Sunday Music series on June 5 with the Avey Grouws Band and June 12 with inFuzion. $5 cover. ♦