Everyone mentions California when it comes to wines of the United States. In fact, California accounts for almost 90 percent of American wine production. But my home state of Nebraska, while not in the same league as California, actually grows far more grapes and produces more wine than I realized. According to the Nebraska department of agriculture, Nebraska grape growers grow many French-American hybrids and American varieties of grapes. All have to be winter hardy grape varieties to withstand our tough winters here. These include Frontenac, Marechal Foch and de Chaunac for reds and Brianna, Edelweiss, LaCrosse and Traminette for whites. All in all, more than 80,000 gallons of Nebraska wine are produced each year.
All that wine can be tasted and bought at more than 30 different wineries and tasting rooms across the state. I don’t know a lot about wine, except that I like reds, so I decided to check out some of the wineries in my home state.
Nebraska makes it easy to explore wineries here with the statewide wine passport program. The program was formed with the thought of encouraging people to get out and explore the wineries and tasting rooms throughout the state. So that’s exactly what I did!
1. Soaring Wings Vineyard, Springfield
Soaring Wings Vineyard is a fun place to spend an afternoon or evening. Located in Springfield, just outside of Omaha, Soaring Wings is a beautiful spot that’s been in existence since 2004. It’s easy to find off Highway 50. We’ve enjoyed going to Soaring Wings through the years. It’s a place where you can relax and escape the pressures of life for a while.
The winery has over 20 wine selections and you’ll find white, reds, and rosés. If you have a beer lover in your group, you’re in luck because they also brew beer here. You can get your beer by the pint, pitcher, or growler and you’ll find lagers, pilsners, and more.
There’s a wine tasting room inside, but all the action really happens outside. They have bands playing on the stage most weekends, so bring your chair and set it up in the grassy area in front of the stage. Soaring Wings is awesome in that you can bring your own food. It’s great! So if you want to have a picnic you can bring your own picnic fare and enjoy the day.
It does host some really cool events at Soaring Wings. One event I really like is the Blues & Balloon Festival each year in June. If you’ve never seen hot air balloons floating overhead, it’s magical and I highly recommend you check it out. Also memorable is the Harvest Festival every September where the winery celebrates the end of the season. And you can compete in its grape stomping contest. I plan to try my luck this year!
2. Slattery Estates & Winery, Nehawka
Slattery Estates & Winery is a very unique destination located between Omaha and Lincoln a couple of miles outside of the town of Nehawka. I first heard about Slattery Estates when I was researching where to go glamping near the Omaha area. Slattery is very popular for glamping and even more popular for couples looking for a perfect wedding venue.
Of course, the vineyard does make its own wine here as well. In addition, it serves a lot of other Nebraska wines and you can try them all in the tasting room. On weekends, the winery usually has live music as part of its summer concert series. Take a stroll around the gorgeous grounds, it’s super quaint.
3. Cellar 426 Winery, Ashland
One of the most fun times I’ve had on a Saturday morning was picking grapes at Cellar 426 Winery. The Winery is located in Ashland, a very convenient town between Omaha and Lincoln.
My friend and I got to the winery around 8 a.m. to start our grape picking adventure. There were quite a few volunteers there — from young kids to retirees, so there’s a spot for any age. Many were repeat pickers. Some told me that they had so much fun they decided to come back another year. One of the winery staff got us set up on our row of vines and we got to work picking.
Picking grapes was pretty straightforward and truth be told it was more fun than hard work. It was one of those bucket list items for me and I’m glad I got to do it. Although, I really wanted to stomp on some grapes as well — maybe next time. I think the thing I liked the most about it was just the peacefulness of the vineyard on a Saturday morning. It was a great way to de-stress from the prior week.
We picked the vines until around 11:30 a.m. or so, then headed to the lodge for lunch and wine. The main lodge at Cellar 426 Winery is a beautiful building with the wine tasting room inside and a big wrap-around deck along with a covered porch on the outside. We had our choice of a glass of wine, grabbed our lunch, and headed outside to eat. While we were treated to a special lunch for volunteering, they do offer a variety of cheeses, meats, and my favorite, charcuterie plates, to go along with your wine.
The winery has won lots of awards for its wine through the years and has a good selection to sample. If you want to try a variety of wines, they offer two options — either a wine tasting or a wine flight. The wine tasting option allows you to select 5 one-ounce samples of wine, tasting one after the other. The wine flight is where you sample 4 two-ounce samples, all at the same time. I liked all the reds and I love its creative wine labels!
On weekends, the place is hopping with bands playing live music most Saturday nights. You do need a ticket to watch the bands and space is limited, so keep this in mind.
4. James Arthur Vineyards, Raymond
Located outside the town of Raymond, James Arthur Vineyards is the biggest winery in the state. The vineyard opened in 1997 and has over 20 acres of grapes.
In addition to the wine, this vineyard has a lot of other things going on as well. Some of the activities it offers include ghost tours, live plays, stargazing, yoga, comedy, 5K runs, and haunted hikes.
We drove out to Raymond on a recent Saturday night and had a great time. The drive from Omaha to Raymond was easy and quick — it seemed like it was less than an hour.
Once we got to the winery, we parked and walked into the main building to check it out. On the front lawn, there were lots of people already there relaxing at picnic tables enjoying their wine. Once inside the tasting room, you can order your wine and food. We chatted a while inside with the people behind the counter, and they were helpful with our wine selections. I like drier reds while my wine partner likes white. We each had plenty to choose from at the vineyard. Both of us ended up ordering wine tastings of 4-5 different wines. It was fun to sample the different wines, all made right here! My favorite is the Nebraska Red.
The winery is big, with lots of space inside and out. The tasting room has quite a bit of seating with comfy chairs by the fireplace and also tables for larger groups. And around the corner by the bathrooms, there’s also a little gift shop that had cute wine-themed items for sale.
The front outside space includes the picnic tables on the front lawn and the seating on the front porch. The area out back is really spectacular. We sat on the covered porch that overlooks the stage and were perfectly comfortable. The band sounded good and we enjoyed the folksy, bluegrass music.
Of course, we got hungry as we sipped our wines and we debated about what to eat. There were grilled options from the food truck on site and also the regular food offerings in the tasting room to choose from. I thought about getting a burger from the food truck because they looked amazing, but in the end, we wanted to try the more traditional option of bread and cheese with our wine.
We ordered the food basket that came with a loaf of bread, our choice of cheese, tasty sausage, and chocolates. It was the perfect accompaniment to our wine. I can’t wait to drive out to James Arthur Vineyards again — maybe this time for yoga in the vines!
All the wineries I explored are great day-trip options and would even be really cool for an event like a small wedding or shower. The settings are all just gorgeous and offer something unique, especially if you want your event outside. Check with the individual winery to see if it currently offers options for private events.
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