Jennings Winery serves "Wee Lil Sipper"

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Jennings Winery, located east of Garber, is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine in a laid-back atmosphere surrounded by lush countryside on the proprietors' fourth generation farm. From left are Tina and Ed Jennings. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Jennings Winery – home of the "Wee Lil Sipper" —  is located on the outskirts of Garber in the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa at 33794 Jupiter Road. The laid-back location, on the family's fourth generation farm, provides the perfect backdrop to enjoy nature and sip fine wine. 

Proprietors Ed and Tina Jennings have been in the winemaking business since 2014. "Our business originated in our home in Strawberry Point," Ed told The Press. "I enjoyed making and sharing my homemade wine with friends and family members. They enjoyed the taste and encouraged me to consider producing wine commercially. We eventually got a license and became a bonded Iowa winery."

"We were both working full-time," commented Tina. "I was employed in factory and warehouse work and Ed worked in the agriculture industry. Winemaking was just for fun — not a full-time commitment."

The Jennings moved to their current location, established in 1883, following retirement with a vision to create a destination winery. "We have always enjoyed visiting with people at craft shows across the Midwest, which is our main source of revenue," said Ed. When we moved to our current location we both felt it was time to open a small-scale winery for wholesale distribution and to sell by the glass." 

"We are living in God's country! Who wouldn't want to sit here and enjoy a glass of wine," Tina added. 

Ed's agriculture background has been very beneficial in creating his signature wines. "My background in agriculture included assisting farmers with fermentation," explained Ed. "I sold farm grade Lallemand yeast for 20 years and never had a complaint. The product is manufactured in France. I still use Lallemand yeast in my wine formula." 

The vintners produce under a thousand gallons of wine in 14 different signature varieties. "Wine is an individual preference. You need to sample a variety of wines to figure out what suits your palate," Ed recommends. "I come off of what is traditional, old-world varietals – Chardonnay, Shiraz, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gregio and Malbac, and turn them into a semi-sweet wine with a fruit infused puree."

"Our 'Wee Lil Sipper' is very popular – it's our niche," noted Tina. "It is bottled in an eight-ounce plastic bottle with a screw top, the equivalence of what you would be served in a restaurant. They are handy and can fit in a cooler next to your husband's beer."

The Jennings, both of Irish decent, asks wine drinkers to "Pleisiur a haintas" – take pleasure in their unique wine varieties crafted by "leprechauns," which include Anann Pear, Just Peachy, Lil' Boy Blue, Strawberry Delight and Top O' the Day, naming only a few. "We do have some seasonal wines available such as O' Ruby made with garden fresh rhubarb, and Mad Madra – a true Iowa wine made with native grapes," they added. 

The Jennings began construction on their new winery and tasting room in the spring of 2021. "The expanded space will allow our customers to enjoy our new tasting room and outdoor patio where they can watch the surrounding wildlife, spectacular views and woodland area," they shared. 

The two-person operation puts a damper on widespread distribution. "Our wine is available in a limited supply in some stores," Ed commented. "In wholesale marketing you almost need to run a route like a bread truck. Some of the larger wineries have four delivery employees. We spent six years at farmers markets and started to develop some pretty nice shows. This new winery will add to those sales."

Jennings Winery is open for business Friday - Sunday from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. and by appointment. "We have a popcorn popper, bean bag toss game, and invite customers to enjoy a 1/2 mile walking tour of the land," noted Tina. "In four or five minutes I can have fresh popcorn ready to go! The first day we were open a group of UTV enthusiasts notice our sign and came flying in. I was totally unprepared! I didn’t have any pop, water or candy out for the kids. I really had to scramble!" 

A wine menu is available online at jenningswinery.com. "Check out our wine selection online. We will ship your purchase right to your front door," said Ed. 

Jennings' wine has been very competitive in 1500-3000 bottle contests. "We enter these larger contests not to win a medal, but to have professional sommeliers rate our wines," Ed shared. "It gives us an understanding of how our wines are perceived. Out of our 14 wines, nine of them have medaled. Twenty to 40 percent of wines competing never make it to the next level. Earning a medal of any kind is a good indication your wine is good." 

Wind your way to Jennings Winery at the “end of the bo’thar” east of Garber and visit their tasting room, or find them on Facebook, jenningswinery.com or call 563-419-0630.

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