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Ocheyedan winery could open by summer

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Wine maker Duane Tracy, Ocheyedan, Iowa, shows off the results of his labor in the basement of his home. Tracy won best of show for one of his entries at the 2009 Clay County Fair in Spencer. In the background is one of Tracy's two cats, T'Pol.

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa -- Duane Tracy will need two things to turn his passion for winemaking into a business: patience and caution.

Patience because the process of becoming a wine vendor, like the process of aging his award-winning wine, takes time. It may be too late for him to exercise caution, however.

"We were at a winery down in Kansas, visiting, and we were talking with the vintner, and she said to be very careful with my wine making," he recalled, "because she said if you have a passion for it, it'll turn into a business -- which it has."

Tracy, who lives in Ocheyedan and works as a maintenance planner at JBS, has been making wines for 20 years. He began with the recipe for his mother's beet wine and has experimented with new flavors -- among his latest are pumpkinberry and spiced rhubarb -- ever since.

Four years ago, his wife, Lynette, gave him a winemaking kit.

"All the winemaking kit has done is made my methods more consistent," he explained. "Once you get it fermenting, it just sits; you check it every once in a while. It's really not a lot of labor; it's just patience."

The winemaking process, in which the fruit is fermented and the product is aged for several months in bottles, takes at least seven or eight months before the wine can be consumed.

"I have one wine that has to stay in the bottle for two years. It's a port wine; it's fortified with brandy, and it takes two years for the flavors to mix together," Tracy said.

But it's all well-worth the wait.

Tracy's wines have won several ribbons at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa; and this year his Dry Elderberry Wine beat out 88 other wines to be named Best of Show.

The basement kitchen Tracy uses as his winery -- complete with bottle cork trimming and wine-themed décor -- leaves little doubt as to where his passion lays. But soon he'll need a new, larger space to turn that passion into a business.

This week, Tracy begins renovations to the trailer house-turned-storage shed that will become Cat Tale Country Wines.

The building, located at 537 Second St., will have a showroom in the front, production space in a middle room and wine storage in the back.

"I need to sheetrock it, get it wired and plumbed," Tracy said.

He also needs to file the last of bit of paperwork for his federal license, which should be approved by February; and have the labels for his wine approved by the federal government. The labels, which feature the image of a cattail, were designed by Lynette.

"She's my business manager and my quality control," he said, adding with a laugh, "I've had lots of volunteers for quality control."

The business is named for the couple's cats, T'Pol and Xena. "That, and I'm a hunter and fisherman, so I'm in the cattails all the time," Tracy added.

The vintner, now in his early 50s, hopes to increase his involvement in the winery as he nears retirement.

"The reason we decided to start the winery is I was going to need something to do when I retired, and the supplemental income won't hurt anything," he said. "We're going to let it grow as much as it wants to grow. It would be wonderful if in five to 10 years we could build a new building and enlarge."

For now, he hopes to be selling by late May.

"The goal for opening in May is that way we'll catch all the traffic through Sioux City, Sioux Falls and Omaha headed for the (Iowa) Great Lakes," Tracy explained, "People will come off the beaten path to go to a winery."

With the filtering equipment he plans to use at the new winery, production should be speeded up.

"That time frame will be shortened up, because right now I have to let everything settle (for one or two months). When we get the winery we'll filter it so that gets a lot of the sediment out."

Production will also increase dramatically. Tracy estimates he currently produces, 120 gallons of wine, at most, each year. The winery will give him the capacity to produce 1,200 to 1,800 gallons each year.

"We won't be producing the small jugs; we'll be producing wine in 55-gallon barrels," he explained. "We'll be producing 600 gallons at a time, which figures out to 3,000 bottles."

He has also purchased ground in Ocheyedan for planting trees and fruit shrubs for winemaking: apples, plums, cherries, raspberries and more.

He expects his Black Raspberry wine to be a big seller, as will his signature cranberry wine.

"Everybody that's ever tasted my cranberry wine has fallen in love with it. I've got people already wanting a case of it when it's ready."

The Tracys plan to be open late afternoons, evenings, weekends and holidays and offer free wine-tastings on the weekends. Duane said he'll sell the majority of his products from the winery, but hopes to develop a Web site and sell through local gift shops and restaurants.

"We don't plan on having a lot of spare time once we retire," he said. "It's really neat that I've got a hobby that other people can enjoy."