It was last month when I sat down with Matt and Kathy Haas in the back of Java Joe’s Coffee Shop. Matt and Kathy are owners and Matt is winemaker for Dubuque Heritage Winery. You’ve likely seen them at the Farmers’ Market in the summer, and they’ve poured their wine at a number of different venues and events around town. They don’t have a winery you can visit, as the wine is made in the basement of their home. But don’t let that fool you; Matt is making quality, award-winning wine.
At the urging of his brother, Matt left the media and publishing field and started making wine. But, as soon as Matt realized he had found his calling, his brother packed up and headed to points west. Matt stayed with wine making and by 2004 was beginning to earn recognition and awards. Along the way Matt took some classes through the Viticulture & Enology Sciences & Technology Alliance (VESTA). These were online courses taught by leading wine experts in the wine industry. He also attended seminars through the Midwest Grape and Wine Institute. Most of his learning, though, was garnered through reading many winemaking books, online articles about wine making, and an excessive amount of trial and error with different types of yeast. Matt also gives credit to local and regional winemakers who offered advice and were willing to share thoughts and ideas.
During Matt’s first full year of producing wine (2004), he entered the Indiana International Competition (Indy) and took home two golds, a silver, and a bronze medal. The next year his wines earned more golds and first place finishes in competitions sponsored by Winemaker Magazine, Jones County Fair, and again at the Indy. At the Iowa State Fair in 2005, his Niagara wine not only took First Place, but a Gold Ribbon with both judges awarding a score of 100 points. As an amateur, he continued to earn top awards and gold medals at nearly every competition he entered with his fruit wines (Blackberry, Cherry Port, and Red Raspberry) and his grape wines, including Traminette, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga White, Frontenac Rose, Seyval Blanc, Chardonel, LaCrescent, Marechal Foch, and several others.
When he began making wine commercially in 2012, he continued his award-winning ways. In 2013 at the Indy International, his Shot Tower Red won Best in Class and Double Gold. In 2015, Heritage Washington Park Cherry wine won Fruit Wine of the Year, Best in Class, and Double Gold. He now enters some competitions pairing the wines with specific food and the recognition of a job well done continues. His Ham House wine was paired with a roasted turkey breast and the combination took a Gold Medal at the Mid-American Wine Competition in 2016. In the same competition, the Riverwalk Rose paired with strawberries and crème anglaise took a silver medal.
Are those enough award credentials? Know this, you really should try some of this wine and see why he is reaping all these medals. On one hand, it’s simple, Matt knows his winemaking! Early on he recognized he had a nose for winemaking. He is able to sense when the wine is right, and when it is just off. Matt is able to detect a variety of aromas that makes winemaking a challenge, and an adventure.
On the other hand, Matt starts with premium juice. He will tell you one of the keys to his success is beginning with the right juice. Since Heritage doesn’t own any vineyards, Matt needs to purchase juice to make his wines. Some of the juice is locally or regionally sourced, and a majority is purchased from a commercial vineyard in New York State. Sometimes the juice comes filtered and often he orders it with stems and skins included. The only steps he doesn’t do are grow and harvest the grapes. Matt is every bit the winemaker as those who grow and harvest their own grapes, he simply begins the process after the pressing. It is under his guidance and expertise that the grapes go through fermentation, racking, fining (if needed), and blending to produce the twelve different Dubuque Heritage Wines. And, he does it all in his basement, though he is about to move to a larger facility.
Matt and Kathy were sitting in Galena Cellars one afternoon enjoying some wine when they came up with Dubuque Heritage as a name. Initially they thought about Prairie Stone, but the more they talked they realized that the rich legacy in Dubuque might be nice and make for a unique marketing strategy. Hence, all of their wines are named in honor of one of the many landmarks or points of interest in Dubuque. The wines available from Dubuque Heritage Winery are: Shot Tower Red, a dry red (Chambourcin grape-Illinois); Town Clock Seyval, a semi-dry white (Seyval grape); Ham House Traminette, semi-sweet white (Traminette grape); Cable Car White, semi-sweet white (Cayuga grape); Riverwalk Rosé, semi-sweet rose (Iowa grown Frontenac grape); Eagle Point White, semi-sweet white (Iowa grown LaCrescent grape); Union Park Niagara, sweet white (Niagara grape); Washington Park Cherry, sweet (100% Montmorency cherries-Door County, WI); Rivertown Raspberry, sweet (NY State fruit); William M. Blackberry, sweet (NY State fruit); Port of Dubuque (Port wine infused with dark chocolate and raspberry); and Ice Harbor, a sweet white ice wine.
This should be an exciting year for Matt and Kathy as they move into a new home and are able to create a dedicated winemaking facility behind their house. The greater space will give them capability to purchase more juice to ferment, blend, and produce more bottles of wine. The other real plus of the new location is that the winery will all be on one level, saving going up and down stairs as happens now. Matt currently makes about 800 gallons of wine each year (about 4,000 bottles or 350 cases). He expects that to grow to about 2,000 gallons within a few years with the new facility.
Matt prides himself with the cleanliness of his facility, and his wines. When you drink a Heritage Wine, you immediately notice its freshness and clean mouthfeel. A review of winemaking course curriculums indicates a high priority throughout the entire winemaking process on cleaning and sanitizing. Any contamination can result in off-flavors and odors and Matt’s sensitive nose can pick them out right away. He credits his finicky habits of cleanliness as one of the keys to his success.
One of Matt’s aspirations is to bring greater attention to Iowa and regional wines. He really wants more people to become familiar with his and other local wines so they don’t feel like that have to turn to California or Oregon wines to enjoy a nice glass of wine. So here’s my suggestion: next time you host a party for out-of-towners, pick up a bottle of Heritage wine to serve. Or when you visit the Arboretum next summer for Sunday night music, select a bottle of Heritage wine to enjoy while you listen. I think you will be very pleasantly surprised – I know I was!
Wines I’ve Recently Tasted
2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem
France – Cotes du Roussillon Villages Latour
This wine was pleasantly structured with soft tannins with an overall earthiness. I found it to have chalky fruit on the nose with a hint of coffee and licorice on the palate. This was a gift from Jason Norton and is available at Van’s Liquor. 14% ABV
2014 Bogdanusa PZ Svirce Hvar
Dalmation Coast, Croatia
This wine is 100% Bogdanusa grape grown on the island of Hvar, a prime grape region of Croatia.
This was a very pleasant white table wine that had melon and green fruit aromas and a wonderfully smooth mouthfeel. This wine is a perfect summer evening wine. I purchased this at Gateway Market in Des Moines. 11% ABV
2014 Migration Russian River Pinot Noir
This was a delightful wine, but a bit big for a Pinot Noir. I like them down around 13% so I can enjoy a second glass without worrying about driving home. But, that aside, the cherry and plum on the nose and mossiness on the palate made for a sensational glass. I enjoyed this wine at the Dubuque Golf & Country Club. 14% ABV
2013 Ravenna Uva Longanesi
Ravenna, Italy in the Romagna Region of Italy
This wine from a little known grape (Longanesi) was dark in color with pronounced tannins. It has flavors of red fruit and licorice with hints of vanilla. The wine also sells by the name Burson with a blue and a black label. I bought this at Gateway Market in Des Moines. 11.2% ABV