Award-Winning Wines In Northeast Iowa
By: Gerald Dlubala
Marquette, Iowa, is built for tourism, especially outdoor enthusiasts. The quaint, welcoming town of 429 offers premium hiking, fishing, hunting and camping, along with some of the best fall leaf peeping available. The natural beauty of Marquette’s landscape against a backdrop of the Mississippi River bluffs will put you into a postcard-type setting. And while there, the welcoming residents and hometown feel Iowa is known for will always make itself known. Additionally, nestled in the bluffs of this driftless area of Iowa, the scenic town of Marquette also draws in tourists for their award-winning winery, Eagles Landing Winery.
Eagles Landing Winery and Vineyard has been serving Iowa and Wisconsin since 2003, with their success driven by a mantra that includes being patient, paying meticulous attention to quality and continuing to focus on their wine’s drinkability and taste.
Roger and Connie Halvorson launched the winery in 2000 as a retirement hobby. Their son, Jay Halvorson, joined the business in 2003 as the master winemaker. By 2007, Eagles Landing Winery was not only doing well, but they were taking home awards for their wines. Cindy Halvorson joined the company in 2009, and just a few years later, Jay and Cindy Halvorson officially took over the winery from his retiring parents. Since that day, Eagles Landing Winery has received over 400 medals and awards. These coveted awards include the Governor’s Cup and Best of Show at the 2022 Iowa State Fair for their wine, Constance, a clean, crisp and subtle American white wine. In 2022, Jay and Cindy Halvorson also went the route of retirement, selling Eagles Landing winery to current owners Scott and Sharon Patten.
Love at First Sight
“It was just a wonderful experience and a place that felt familiar and welcoming,” said Sharon. “We literally fell in love with the winery when we visited. The town was so attractive and welcoming, so we knew we had to look into acquiring this place. Scott had experience in winemaking and homebrew brewing, built on a general science background and engineering experience. He was looking to make a change, and we started exploring different businesses available to purchase and came upon Eagles Landing. Scott’s previous background gave him an understanding of the winemaking process and the different production elements, and it all just kind of seemed to click.”
The Pattens hadn’t previously visited the winery, only making the trip to Marquette a couple of times after seeing that it was available for purchase. They lived in Cedar Rapids at the time, a little less than two hours away.
“When we visited, it just seemed like a wonderful business, and everyone was super friendly and helpful,” said Sharon. “Jay and Cindy Halvorson were so accommodating and helpful with the transition phase. The winery and the area just became a really good fit.”
With four children at home and multiple pets to consider, completing the Pattens’ move to Marquette will take some time. In the meantime, there are scheduled days and trips between the two places. Scott runs things at the winery several days a week and comes home on off-days.
“We are still very much a small family winery,” said Scott. “Everyone pitches in. We include the children on some weekends to help with tasks and gain experience in the different tasks needed around the winery, like different processes, restocking and the never-ending cleanup duties. We’ll produce between 6,000 and 7,000 cases of wine annually, with the main distribution going to Iowa and nearby Wisconsin.”
Wines for Every Palette
Eagles Landing currently produces 36 wines ranging from dry selections to sweet, dessert-style wines. About two dozen wines are usually available onsite to sample at any given time, including some seasonal blends produced in smaller batches.
“We source a lot of different kinds of fruit and make a lot of different types of wine,” said Scott. “We offer a little bit of everything in the hopes that our customers will find something they like. Most are what we refer to as Midwestern-type wines. We have a good selection of sweet-style wines because those are typically our best sellers and are always in demand, but when we came on, I wanted to add other types and styles of wines for those who are interested in that as well. And if you’re looking for something seasonal or a unique blend, we do produce those in smaller batches. We’re working on a pear and currant blend that seems to work well. Sometimes, it’s all about trying new things.”
“And we have to mention our Campfire Hootch,” said Sharon. “It’s a blend of four to seven different berries, grapes and other fruits. The flavor comes through as a sweet, very adult juice that even dry drinkers seem to enjoy. If someone comes in and says they’re not really a fan of wine or a wine drinker, we have them try this, and it usually changes their perception of what a wine can offer. It’s absolutely nontraditional, unlike anything that most people have ever had, so it’s something worth trying when you come in.”
Grape varieties grown at the nearby vineyard include Edelweiss, Marquette, Marechal Foch, Petite Pearl, Brianna and Frontenac Gris. Patten tells The Grapevine Magazine that the vineyard was not included in the original sale but is contracted to supply grapes to the Eagles Landing. They didn’t want to be overwhelmed with trying to learn the winery plus the farming and agriculture business simultaneously. However, they still use those grapes in their wine production, as well as some coastal grapes for their dry reds and quality Midwest sources for their fruit needs. Patten is hoping to increase the Midwest sources in the future. In addition to its wide-ranging lineup of wines, Eagles Landing Winery offers a large selection of fruit and berry wines and a gold medal-winning honey and blackberry mead.
Come for the Wine, Stay for the Atmosphere, Hospitality and Craft Pizza
Eagles Landing Winery is a perfect reflection of Marquette, Iowa. The quaint, welcoming surroundings draw you into the small-town hospitality feel of the winery, where samples are always on the menu. Located in downtown Marquette, patrons of Eagles Landing Winery are welcome to sit inside or enjoy themselves outdoors. Visitors can enjoy the outdoor wine garden, complete with an arbor and trellis that supports a network of natural grapevines over the top to make the experience authentic, memorable and relaxing.
“We wanted a place where people felt relaxed, appreciated and comfortable,” said Patten. “And that attitude includes our drink offerings. We want to offer wines that people like, regardless of their preference. Additionally, we feature live music on the weekends and offer different cheeses and snacks to nibble on while enjoying your time with us. But that’s about to change as well. We’re in the process of installing a pizza kitchen for craft pizzas to enjoy with your wine while hanging out with us. It’ll be a game-changer for us and the total experience we can offer our guests.”
Patten said that the oven will likely be ready to go when you read this. He projects a November 2023 start date to fire up the pizza oven and make delicious craft pizzas for their patrons to enjoy while drinking Eagles Landing wines.
Eagles Landing Winery Looks to the Future
“In the short term, we’d like to increase our vendor market,” said Scott. “We currently distribute to Iowa and Wisconsin and have about 200 vendors. We think we can double that in the future. In maybe three to five years, we’d love to have a second location somewhere, but that adds a lot of logistics.”
Coming from a science, engineering and homebrewing background, you may wonder if another craft beverage endeavor is on the Pattens’ radar as I was.
“Now that you mention it, we’ve been debating that perhaps we would do something in the future,” said Scott. “We’ll have to see what the market looks like. The future trends and demographics of wine are okay but not entirely sunshine right now, and the numbers for beer aren’t really great right now, but spirits are picking up, so I may be leaning towards adding that.”
Advice to Potential Winery Owners
Asked for any advice they could provide future winery owners, the Pattens laughed and replied that the experience would be different than they initially expected and planned.
“Well, Scott and I had a whole strategic plan in place for the first six months,” said Sharon. “But we’ve had to reevaluate that plan simply because knowing things now is much different than going in as first-timers. There are a lot of new things we can bring to the table. It’s important to have a plan, but it’s just as important to be willing to be flexible with that plan. For example, we decided to add the pizza oven, meaning we had to add a previously unplanned physical structure to our site. With this new addition, people will be staying here for longer periods of time, so that has us reevaluating our building’s infrastructure to accommodate those longer stays.”
“Additionally, everything takes a little longer than we had planned, so I guess if I could go back and change something, I would try to get a jump on some things earlier,” said Scott. “We undertook a rebranding of sorts and wanted to update the look of our product and packaging. It’s the same award-winning wine, but we wanted to freshen up the logos and labeling. That process is taking much longer than a couple of months that we planned for it to take. It’s starting to present some challenges. We could’ve planned that better.”
“And just knowing how much wine to make for the season will be easier,” said Sharon. “We had to go through the high season of fall, so knowing how much wine to make and when to get it out will be much smoother next season. We had to improvise a bit and update plans on the fly.”
The Eagles Landing Winery’s offices are located in the historical home of Emma Big Bear. She was the last full-blooded American Indian to live in Clayton County, Iowa. Originally from Wisconsin, Emma Big Bear spent most of her life living by the traditional Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) customs and traditions, known for the handmade woven baskets she made and sold within the McGregor and Marquette regions. She passed away in 1968 at the age of 99, and there is a memorial statue in her honor at the Mississippi River Sculpture Park on St. Feriole Island, Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.
For more information on Eagles Landing winery and to plan a trip to Marquette, Iowa, visit:
Eagles Landing Winery
127 North Street
PO Box 472
Marquette, Iowa 52158