Friday, May 29, 2015

From the Road: Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery

Nestled in the heart of Iowa, not far from Cedar Rapids is a Vineyard and Distillery that has a narrow focus -- Make the best Products and Become a Destination. After our visit it is hard not to agree that they are doing their best and are showing great success at both.

Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery pops up after a short drive once off I-80 -- or, as we did, coming in from Cedar Rapids. It is something different from the very beginning as they have not only a Vineyard and winery, not only a Distillation business, but a Bistro style restaurant, entertainment and a large, welcoming tasting room, store, seating areas etc. In short, in my opinion, they have it all.

We entered and I introduced myself and was greeted not only by the young lady at the door but by Jay Pietkiewicz (Wine Maker) and Mike DeCapria (Vineyard Manager). Jay linked me up with a very soothing taste of their Dark Rum (Tasting below) and a discussion of the business and pleasantries, introductions and all. We set off on the tour, Jay leading the way and explaining their process and in general, the distillation of spirits. Believe me if you come here - Jay is the you want to guy to lead your tour. Informative, interesting - humorous. We got into the rum workings as well and he showed us their Solera vats used to help maintain a great blend as well as impart a bit more flavor from the fine oak. I found this method interesting and got to sample some of the product that had been treated in this process (Tasting below!). 
Jay explaining the Solera Process
I have to say I was impressed with the size of the operation, the passion of the process (as imparted by Jay and others who work there). With each taste though, the quality is what caught me - Fine, exacting, quality. Even with their expansions to date and planned future ones they fact that they create wines and distilled spirits is still their #1 priority.

Let's Taste Cedar Ridge Dark Rum
This is not my first taste it is actually my third. Please feel free to read the First taste and the Second. The third introduced me to a dark rum that has gone through even more refinement. The taste at the bar revealed not just much of the same flavors I enjoyed during my previous tastes, but an intensity of them that had been heightened. The sweet aroma, still there, but now with a more pronounced backdrop of wood. Its hard to describe, as the spirit is sending out such a wonderful bouquet of smells, that you need to just close your eyes and let them appear. The first sip was as I had hoped. Mellow, smooth and flavorful. The time spent in-barrel was spent well. For me a great aged Rum get the Oaken flavors but the resins in the wood combine differently then the grain based spirits. I detect an added sweetness in flavor - not a cloying sugary mask, but a clean, natural sweetness that, when rested on the tongue evolve and stay so well between sips. Cedar Ridge has done that so well. 

Un-Aged Rum
Rum after Solera Process
During the tour Jay offered tastes of the clear, unaged rum and a taste from the Solera vat. I have to say the clear spoke well of molasses and well fermented beer used to produce the High Proof spirit. At about 120 proof, the smoothness was still there, just a hint of burn, but lots of taste. Additionally I sampled 115 proof aged rum, just out of the Solera Vat. Oh, yes, that was a flavor party. Sure it has the strength of alcohol, but the reduction and intensification of flavors was just wonderful.
All in all the tour, the tasting - the hospitality and the food and music (yeah we stayed for both) was great. If you are looking for a destination in Iowa or are planning top be near Cedar Ridge (just 20 miles north of Iowa City and 11 miles south of Cedar Rapids) then check out this place!!

For a fun place to visit or a place to catch a, delicious, fresh, locally source meal or taste wines and spirits made so well, onsite, stop by Cedar Ridge Vineyards & Distillery.
Until next tile I remain:
(More from Iowa and other great places next week!)

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