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Local wine expert and winery owner speaks at final series lecture

“Let’s DU Lunch” is a series that began 12 years ago, and it is the longest-standing program in the alumni office.

Jessica Berger, the assistant director of campus and student engagement, said that the series was founded by two alumni who wanted to begin a tradition that would “provide alumni with a way to connect to Drake while also attending an enjoyable program (where) they can learn a little bit and network.”

Jean Groben, owner of Jasper Winery for the last 11 years and former president of the Iowa Winegrowers Association, delivered a lecture yesterday as the last installment of the fall semester’s “Let’s DU Lunch” series. She spoke about the history of wine-making in Iowa, what the wine industry looks like now and a little bit about her own history as a wine expert.

Groben said that she first became interested in learning more about wine in the 1990s when people once again became interested in growing and producing wine.

“We purchased a 100-acre farm in Newton, (Iowa), and raised a lot of our own food,” Groben said. “I got a big interest in cooking and pairing food and wine.”

She also said that owning a brewery was a “hobby that went astray.”

In the United States, Iowa was one of the first places to grow grapes in the 1850s when German settlers began arriving. By 1870, Iowa had grown almost a half-million pounds of grapes, and by the 1900s, it was the ninth state in the nation in terms of the amount of grown grapes.

The prohibition era brought destruction to many vineyards across the state, and in 1995 there still weren’t any in Iowa. Now, there are over 100.

“The (wine) industry has grown really fast in Iowa,” Groben said. “Most people think it’s new in Iowa, but it’s actually a resurgence that’s coming back.”

The Jasper Winery started in Newton in 2000. Groben and her husband ran it there for six years, but the production outgrew that facility. The couple decided to move to where there was a larger population base, so they brought it to Des Moines. Groben said she enjoys running a company in Des Moines.

“It’s great. We do a lot of events here,” she said. “We not only produce (wine), but we have a tasting room so people can come in and sample all wines or purchase or sit and have a glass or buy a bottle.”

Groben’s presentation is only one-sixth of the “Let’s DU Lunch” series for this academic year. Previous guest speakers from this semester have been Scott Bush, founder and president of Templeton Rye Spirits, and Susan Moritz, president of the Iowa Public Television Foundation.

“We like to get amazing speakers with very interesting views who have something relevant to say,” Berger said. “We hold the event in downtown Des Moines in order to go to our alumni rather than ask them to come to Drake. That way we can engage with alumni and provide a networking opportunity as well as some continued learning.”

Be on the lookout for next semester’s “Let’s DU Lunch” series beginning in February.

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