| Special to the Register
Walker Homestead Farm and Winery in Johnson County took root nearly 2,000 miles away, when Bob and Kristy Walker, both professors at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, were on a trip to Sonoma County, Calif.
“Three wineries in, sipping on a glass of wine under an olive tree playing bocce ball, we (thought), ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had this in our backyard?,’” said Kristy, adding, “Careful what you dream for.”
What they dreamed for is now a reality — and a venue and experience unlike any in the state and one that undoubtedly rivals its muses in California wine country. Part working farm, part winery, part special events venue, part laid-back and family-friendly hangout, Walker Homestead Farm and Winery has become a destination in itself.
And when the Walkers say they have a “working farm,” they aren’t talking an acre or two with a couple chickens running around. Try 85 acres full of what seems to be a little bit of everything.
“Our herd is made up of Highland cattle, Nigerian dwarf goats, baby doll miniature and Harlequin sheep, heritage turkeys, chickens and honey bees,” Kristy said.
“We have 22 acres of crops that rotate corn/beans/wheat with cover crops and 22 acres of alfalfa, four acres of native grasses and wildflowers, over seven acres of woods and silvopasture, cherry and apple orchards, chestnut and paw paw groves and Shiitake and Golden Oyster mushroom cultivation log structures.
“We have four acres of garden vegetables, herbs and flowers, three tunnels to support extending our season, two acres of sunflowers, a new large lavender patch, elderberry, aronia berry and — of course — grapes.”
The Walkers grow all cold-hardy grapes: Marquette, Petite Pearl, Crimson Pearl, Verona, Breanna, Leon Meon, La Crescent and Frontenac Gris. Using those, winemaker Jenny Lovetinsky makes dry and semi-dry wines in a California style.
“We also make brut sparkling wines, made using an intricate process called ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’ — the same time-honored approach used to make French Champagnes,” said Kristy. “Our goal is to make the best Iowa wines with Iowa grapes.”
The winery itself is an open, modern barn building, with 22-foot ceilings and white shiplap floor through ceiling. The south and west walls open up to the outside.
“The sunsets are stunning,” said Kristy. “The winery overlooks our vineyards with sunflowers, an alfalfa field, wildflowers, prairie and 7-plus acres of woods. All areas of the farm are accessible via walking trails.”
Although most of their business consists of private events, Walker Homestead does open up for the public to experience their food and wine weekly as well as for special events.
Known for their wood-fired brick oven pizzas and vegetarian and salad plates, the menu does change weekly, “driven by what the gardens and the orchards dictate that we should be feeding you,” said Kristy. “It is our goal that 80 percent of what makes it to your fork comes from our farm or products from our local producers.”
Farm manager Ben Weber, previously seed manager at Decorah Seed Saver, works with chef and general manager Kent Foulkner, who was recently awarded Winegrower of the Year from the Iowa Winegrowers Association, to “curate the food we bring to your plate,” said Kristy.
“Walker Homestead Farm and Winery is a little bit of Napa in the middle of Iowa,” said Kristy. “Walker Homestead is a farm and table experience. We are a working farm and winery where guests can experience food prepared at the peak of freshness and see how it is grown and raised. Our mission is to build community through agriculture education and culinary celebration. It is a perfect place for a micro vacation.”
About Walker Homestead Farm and Winery
Address: 3867 James Avenue SW, Iowa City
Distance from downtown Des Moines: 109 miles
Hours: Walker Homestead is open to the public from 5-9 p.m. each Thursday.
Kids: People of all ages are invited to explore Walker Homestead. “Our farm is a playground for all generations,” Kristy Walker said. “This is a place where parents and grandparents can relax around a fire while the kids play. On rainy days, kiddos will find a large wood toy barn under the staircase with vintage farm toys and a wooden train set.”
Events: On the first Thursday of each month, come for garden tours with bites and wine pairings. The third Wednesday of the month are their farm-to-table dinners. Look for these ticketed events, as well as Nolte Ballet on the Farm and Sunday Afternoon Music on the Farm, at walker-homestead.com.
Weddings: Walker Homestead is booking weddings now for 2023 and into 2024. “We like to think that we provide a Napa-like wedding in Johnson County, Iowa,” said Kristy. Couples exchange vows either in the vineyard, under a pavilion overlooking the vineyard or inside the winery. “When you reserve your wedding here, you get the whole farm to yourself, the gardens, the farm animals that love to eat treats from the palm of your hand, horseshoes, carpet ball, bocce ball, corn hole, torches lit at sundown highlighting the roses at the end of the vines, the sunflower background and the stunning sunsets over the vineyard,” said Kristy.
While You’re There: Being Hawkeyes themselves, the Walkers recommend taking in a sporting event, cultural show or lecture at the University of Iowa. During camping season, rent a site at Kent Lake, Lake McBride or the Coralville Reservoir.