About the Trail

Welcome to the Loess Hills District Wine Trail.
Enjoy your tour of the beautiful Loess Hills and the experience of these unique wineries and vineyards.

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Grape Vines in the Loess Hill Western Iowa

Loess Hills District American Viticultural Area

Welcome to the Loess Hills District Wine Trail! The trail is within the Loess Hills District American Viticultural Area (AVA). What’s an AVA? It's a specific geographic area where grapes are grown for wine, and an area where growing conditions such as soil type, climate and elevation is clearly distinguishable from its surroundings.

AVA designation under federal law states that any wine with an AVA name on the label must be made from at least 85% local grapes. Any wine with an AVA name on the label is therefore truly “local.”

Driving across Iowa today, it’s hard to imagine that the state was once a major grape producer. At the peak of grape production in the late 1920s, Iowa produced almost 16 million pounds of grapes a year.

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The Iowa Loess Hills

One of the centers of Iowa grape production is the Loess Hills, an area east of the Missouri River extending from the northwest tip of Missouri north past Sioux City, Iowa. Grapes have been grown here since 1857.

Loess soil is one of the main reasons Western Iowa is good for growing grapes. Loess (pronounced “luss”) is a type of soil that is taken from the German word for “loose and crumbly.” This soil type is common in the United States, but the Iowa Loess Hills are unique in that the Loess layer is 200-300 feet thick in places.

And what’s so great about Loess soils for growing wine grapes? First, Loess soils have no hard layers to restrict the growth of grape roots. In addition, erosion has sculpted the Loess Hills into unusual shapes with names like peaks, saddles and cat steps. Vineyards in the Loess Hills are laid out to follow the curve of the hills rather than the traditional north/south rows. The hills also provide drainage and air flow which is conducive to healthy vineyards.

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