There is a hidden winery in Cedar City, Utah. I know – that doesn’t sound right. Not only is Utah not known for wine, it is a state often considered very conservative and even has religious roots. Alcohol in general used to be a little, dare I say, taboo. Many years ago when traveling with my grandparents – natives of Salt Lake City who later moved to Los Angeles – my grandfather tried to order a beer at a restaurant in St. George. He was politely informed that their establishment did not serve any alcoholic beverages. None at all. Not that every meal needs suds or sipping, but it seemed odd that as an adult, my grandfather could not unwind with his favorite brew. This was in the early 1990’s. Trust me, much has happened since then.
Enter Doug McCombs. He is the owner, the winemaker, and the very kind man who served us his lovely blends on a perfect afternoon in September. Iron Gate Winery is located at 100 N. 200 West Street. As Doug describes it, he is “the ONLY fish in the pond “and for now in Southern Utah, that is very true.
I stumbled on the winery ad in the Shakespeare Festival program. Yes, I was seeing a play. Again, and it was great. But let’s talk about Cedar sans soliloquies for a moment. After the play, I had to check out this winery. Plus, it was only a couple of blocks away from the festival campus. How could I have missed it after being here so many times?! First off, it’s buried behind the Iron Gate Bed and Breakfast. Secondly, it’s new. The tasting room was built earlier this year and was only recently opened to the public. The official ribbon cutting took place in late October. With its simple cottage design not fully visible from the street, this winery is a true hidden gem.
When we entered the tasting room, I was surprised at its clean design and classy décor. This is not a barn where locals taste fermented grape juice. This is a well-planned space for an up and coming winemaker. Doug welcomed us and served us our tastings. Initially, we didn’t realize he was the owner and grape-master; however, our tasting experience quickly became unforgettable.
We sniffed, sipped, swirled, and swallowed. The wines were lovely. Then Doug decided that we should taste the grapes themselves. What? I have never been to a wine tasting that basically took us back to the start. We tasted Merlot. Then Cabernet. Then we tasted Merlot mixed with Cabernet. Not only did Doug share anecdotes about his work, but he let us taste his beloved fruit. Fresh, cool, and almost ready for blending. It was a surprising twist on a tasting, one that I may never experience again. I was so impressed. No, I was inspired. Doug is a nice guy with a regular day job in Nevada. Then he fell in love with wine. Then winemaking. Then his vision grew into Iron Gate Winery.
Iron Gate Winery makes Utah wine, but the grapes are not grown here in Utah. Doug travels to wine-infused regions such as Napa, Sonoma, and even portions of Washington to find his grapes. The blending takes place in Utah, making the wine – per regulations – Utah wine. Utah does have the potential for growing vineyards. Those aforementioned religious roots also included making wine for – you guessed it – religious purposes. That said, there are no current vineyards but Doug and his team at Iron Gate are hoping to change that.
I liked the Sauvignon Blanc (89 points), enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points), and thoroughly loved the Mourvedre (points not listed). The Cabernet recently beat out a $450 bottle of Italian wine at a very tough wine competition. To educate your tastebuds, the winery periodically offers wine tasting classes, which are free (!) with the purchase of a tasting. They also have Wednesday “Wine by the Fire” and Friday night “Date Night”. Enjoy a slowpour – that amounts to about two full glasses – and a cheese plate including cheeses made locally. For those who don’t drink wine, but love great flavor, Iron Gate offers a line of olive oils and vinegars. Keep in mind that during the winter months, mid-week tastings are by appointment only. This secluded location is so nice, I can easily see it as a romantic night out, as a tasting party with your closest pals, or even as a sweet bridal shower.
Now, I originally noted that Utah used to think of alcohol as taboo. Thanks to some unusual laws about the proximity of a church, wine can only be tasted at the tasting room. In order to purchase your own bottles, you must walk to their refrigerated shed a few houses down. Ironically enough, the church next door to the tasting room uses their wine during services. Those attendees are more blessed than they know. Also, Utah residents cannot have wine shipped to them. Thus, local wine club members must make the trip to the storage shed. Although, a periodic tasting doesn’t sound so bad. Speaking of the wine club, you have three options. There is the traditional wine club membership in which Doug picks out 4 great bottles and sends them to you. Then there is the olive oil and vinegar club membership for those focused on cooking. Then there is the membership that combines the two. A future goal is to include locally made cheeses in their oil and vinegar package.
Great wines – check. Great location – check. Great guy making the wines – check. I’ve told you the Shakespeare Festival is worth the drive to Southern Utah and thanks to Doug, you now have two solid reasons to come to town. Besides, there really is so much to experience here in Cedar City. You can make a whole weekend of it. But something tells me that is a whole other article. For now, check out Iron Gate Winery and enjoy the fruit of Doug’s labor.
Check out www.irongatewinery.com. Sign up for updates, order wine, and join their club. Be sure to also check out their Facebook page for even more news.