Pictured: Ron and Linda Mark with daughters Whitney and Shannon
About Us: Overview
Ron and Linda Mark opened Summerset Winery in the summer of 1997 and became one of the first estate wineries in Iowa. They began growing grapes on the scenic Summerset ridge above the Middle River in 1989. Ron experimented with several grape varieties in order to find what could withstand the cold Iowa winters and thrive in central Iowa. The first yield was processed in 1993 and the idea of Iowa wine was realized. In 1997 the winery opened its doors to the public via the owners' home. The basement was redesigned into a tasting room and the wine production occurred in the modified garage. As the popularity of the winery grew, so did the need for a larger production facility. Since 2001, the winery has resided in a large, upscale barn that was designed to house a cellar, wine tasting room, gift shop, meeting room, and grand banquet hall.
Today the winery is nestled on 12 acres of vineyard just 7 miles south of Des Moines and twenty minutes from the downtown area. The driveway winds through the vineyard and concludes at the winery and tasting room. Summerset Winery's estate offers an oasis of lush landscaping, expansive decks and terraces. The winery is host to many group tours, special events, wedding ceremonies and receptions, as well as live music every Sunday afternoon. The Arbor House provides the perfect backdrop for wedding ceremonies and concerts. During the summer months, the green grass is laden with lawn umbrellas that offer shade to the wine enthusiasts enjoying picnics and live outdoor concerts. From the back patio, guests can enjoy the picturesque flora as well as the downtown Des Moines skyline.
About the Wines
Over the years the winery has increased its production capacity substantially; about 150,000 bottles of wine per year are now made at Summerset Winery. With this increase in sales it has been critical to the growth and development to update the cellar. Summerset Winery was the first Iowa winery to utilize an automatic bottling line as well as the first Iowa winery to purchase a high temperature processing system for thermovinification. This system is fundamental to creating a premium red wine.
The winery currently produces nearly two dozen wines from Iowa grapes. Signature wines include Caba Moch, Harvest White and Blush, along with seasonal favorites like Ruby LaBelle, Mead and Festiva. Caba Moch is the most popular with 40% of the total wine sales from this wine alone. Additionally, Caba Moch outsells some national and international wines in the Des Moines area. The Summerset staff works very hard at assuring no Iowan will go without their favorite Summerset wine! Customers can find Summerset wines at 220 stores across the state including Target, Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee and Dahl's stores as well as specialty boutique wine shops.
The History of Summerset Winery
Ron Mark is a native Iowan from the small community of Rising Sun located just east of Des Moines, Iowa. The grape vines on his parents' acreage were the source of his very first wines. As a teenager he learned how to convert his mothers grape juice into grape wine, an experiment which became a lifelong hobby. A few years in Italy increased his knowledge of fine wines and the appreciation of the “food and wine” lifestyle. Upon returning to the United States Ron began entering wines in the Iowa State Fair and won several awards. This turned his dream of someday opening his own winery into existence.
It was in 1988 that Ron's wife Linda had the opportunity to transfer to a job in Des Moines and the idea of building a winery started to become a reality. Ron made a deal with Linda, stating that the only way he would leave his comfortable job in Garner, Iowa, was if he could buy some land, build a house, and plant a vineyard. Ron and Linda moved to Des Moines and bought Summerset Ridge shortly after the deal was made.
The Mark family moved onto the Summerset property in 1989 while the construction of their home was still ongoing. Ron planted his first acre of grapes that very first year. The basement of their home served as their living quarters for 4 years while construction and work on the upper levels was completed. It was in 1993 that the beautiful Summerset house was finished and the Mark's moved upstairs. The Summerset house served as a Bed & Breakfast from 1995-2006. It now functions as The Inn at Summerset Winery and is available for weekend rentals.
In 1997 Summerset Winery officially opened. Ron planted an acre of grapes every year until the vineyard reached its current size of 12+ acres with 9 varieties of grapes. French hybrids and American varietals make up what is now the Summerset Vineyard. The wine making and processing was originally set up in the Mark's attached garage, and the retail/tasting room was located in the walkout basement. In 2001 a spacious, upscale barn was built to house the winery.
The winery now produces 150,000 bottles of wine per year and has continued to be one of the largest producing wineries in the state. In addition, Summerset Winery is in control of over 100 acres of Iowa grapes through agreements with other farmers. Over the years Ron and Linda have taken on more staff to help run the business and now employ 9 full-time staff members and many part-time employees to help with weekends and events.
Ron and Linda's dream of owning a winery with a quality product has become a reality. Ron has become a pioneer of the Iowa wine industry and has been an integral force behind the resurgence of the industry in the state. He continues to focus on the development of the industry. He was one of the founders of the Iowa Wine Growers Association and has served as its president. He was heavily involved in the creation of the Iowa Wine Development Commission with the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Ron and Linda's main goal was only to make a really good bottle of wine. Thanks to them, people from all over Iowa, and the United States, can enjoy a great bottle of Iowa wine too.