These events are only recommended to those 21+ years of age.
Roughly a 15-minute drive from Campustown past the Veenker Memorial Golf Course in North Ames sits a nine-acre, family-owned local vineyard. Prairie Moon Winery opened 15 years ago and has since then expanded into a vineyard, winery and event venue where they host weddings and weekly events that 21+ customers are welcome to attend.
Almost 15 years ago, the Nissen family decided to purchase land from their neighbor who had farmed popcorn seeds on the land. Steve told his wife Holly he wanted to do something different than farm corn or beans or traditional Iowa crops, so Prairie Moons Winery was born.
Holly and Steve Nissen are both Ames natives and Iowa State alumni, with strong roots tied to the community. Holly studied elementary education and taught at the Crawford school in Ames before working full time at Prairie Moon Winery.
“I went to Iowa State and lived in Pammel Court in University Village,” Holly Nissen said. “My husband went to school here, too.”
Steve was a doctor of veterinary medicine and has a doctorate in animal science, and he previously taught at Iowa State. Although Holly and Steve have no formal education in horticulture or hospitality management, their son, Matt Nissen, studied hospitality management at Iowa State. Today, he manages wine operations with everything from making the wine to distribution.
In addition to the family members working there, Prairie Moons Winery employs Iowa State students and alumni. Their current public relations intern, Katie Ingle, will be a senior at Iowa State this fall and spends her days doing a little bit of everything at the vineyard. Their Prairie Moon Winery Instagram account is also managed by an Iowa State graduate. This winery is a great spot for Iowa State students who are enrolled in the wine tasting class to learn more about wine outside the classroom.
Although Ames might not come to mind when you think of “wine country,” Iowa soil can be conducive to growing certain types of grapes that make for sweeter or semi-sweet wines.
“Our sweet red and our Honeymoon red has always been our number-one-selling wine since we opened almost 15 years ago,” Matt Nissen said. “So it’s just a sweet concord wine, it’s got that typical flavor that you see from like a concord grape juice.”
The concord grapes used are grown on the vineyard property, but they also buy some concord grapes from other vineyards in order to to keep up with the demand for their sweet red wine.
Despite summer being their peak season, last year, Prairie Moon Winery was closed for a few prime months during the pandemic.
“We were closed basically April and May, and then we reopened for limited stuff in June, music at the end of June, we had it in July and August for some dates,” Matt Nissen said. “And then we got shut down in September again.”
Prairie Moon Winery is open Thursday to Sunday every week, but Monday through Wednesday, there is still work to be done that goes into keeping up the vineyard. Maintenance and groundskeeping for weddings and events is an important part of their work. Ideal conditions for growing grapes is to be hot and dry during the summer months but particularly August. Their harvest season is in late August, but for weddings and other outdoor events, it’s important to keep the lawn watered and green.
The Nissens work hard toward this goal by welcoming the community to different events they host throughout the year. During the summer months, every Sunday, they have live music and free wood-fire oven pizza where families often come to picnic and relax outside. From 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, there is a yoga and wine class outside.
“Usually, every December, we have a huge craft market,” Holly Nissen said. “They’re doing one down in Fairway on the 27, a pop-up one. Of course, last year, with COVID, we couldn’t have it, but that is always a big event, food trucks, handmade stuff, all local.”
During their off-season, Prairie Moon Winery still aims to engage with the community by hosting events like craft nights, bingo and trivia at their venue.
“We want to make the best wine possible and keep expanding and changing, meeting customers' needs,” Holly Nissen said.