Nebraska is well known for its agriculture, supplying an abundance of food crops from the bountiful farms dotting the landscape. As a bonus for Portuguese white wine lovers, grapes are among the crops thriving here, particularly in the eastern portion of the state. The confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers creates lush valleys and an ideal environment for a burgeoning number of Nebraska wineries just waiting for your visit.
Nebraska, much like other midwestern states, has a long tradition of grape growing and wine making. Just before Prohibition, over 5000 acres of grapes proliferated the Nebraska countryside. Since the mid 80’s, Nebraska’s wine industry has taken flight and now wineries are springing up in all regions of the state. And while most people associate Nebraska’s terrain with miles of flat cornfields, that image is misleading at best. It’s interesting to note that Nebraska actually has several different microclimates. This is especially true in the state’s eastern portion, home to Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska’s two largest cities.
Nebraska now boasts over 25 wineries, and almost all rely on Nebraska grown fruit and grapes to create wines that are rapidly becoming known and respected by wine consumers and the wine press alike. We discussed the Nebraska wine industry with Carey Potter, Executive Director of the Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association, who shared some promising news about the industry. Plans are taking shape to officially designate one or more Nebraska wine trails, with cooperation and support from the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism.
People often ask us, “How can wine from one midwestern state be much different than another?”. The answer is simple – the soil. Different climatic and geophysical conditions yield different flavors to the grape, and it’s a fascinating discovery to experience the end result.
All told, we visited five wineries in the Metro Region of Nebraska, encompassing Omaha, nestled along the Missouri River, and Lincoln, Nebraska’s capital city less than an hour away. It’s about as convenient as it gets to reach Omaha. Located directly in the middle of the country, you’ll find Omaha off Interstate 80 driving east/west, or Interstate 29 north/south.
And once you’re here, you’ll realize why so many people speak fondly of Omaha. The downtown is compact and easy to navigate, with numerous choices for dining and entertainment. History is celebrated here, even as the city evolves and goes high tech. Most of all, smiles are genuine and the midwestern hospitality is alive and well.
The focal point of downtown Omaha is the Old Market District, a revered historic area with original brick streets filled with shops and restaurants. We were planning for dinner in the Old Market, so we set off for Lauritzen Gardens, on Omaha’s south side and near the Henry Dourly Zoo and Rosenblatt Stadium, home to the College Baseball World Series.
Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha’s primary botanical gardens, is a 100 acre oasis of tranquility, ideal for a little exercise on foot. Wander amongst the rose gardens, Victorian garden, arboretum, or the floral display hall. After lunch at Johnny’s Cafe and Steakhouse, a wonderful history laden Omaha tradition since 1922, it was time to explore Omaha’s ongoing relationship with the Missouri River on the River City Star.
On this one hour Missouri River cruise, you’ll glide along Omaha’s riverfront parks, including the Lewis and Clark Landing. This 23 acre park site is one of Omaha’s gathering spots, featuring a boardwalk on top of the river wall, marina, and nightly live music in season. You’ll also pass the Heartland of America Park and Fountain, the Omaha skyline, and downtown Council Bluffs Iowa just across the river.
Driving south from Omaha, the metro area evolves into a rich river valley, with expansive farms beckoning along the way. It’s easy to see why agriculture prospers here, as the Missouri River and fertile soil combine to provide a bountiful harvest.
Just 15 minutes south of Omaha in the midst of this lush valley, you’ll find Soaring Wings Vineyards. Since 2003, the Shaw family has been operating this 11 acre winery and vineyard on land that was a former Native American settlement. Numerous artifacts have been found on site, and farming has been the primary pursuit since the 1800’s.
The tasting room and outside veranda here are an ideal way to while away a few hours on a sunny afternoon. From either inside or outdoors, you’ll take in a panoramic view of the surrounding valley. You can buy Soaring Wings wine by the glass, partnered with Nebraska made cheese, sausage, and other delicacies. Local art adorns the walls, and Soaring Wings hosts live music acts on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.