CLEAR LAKE | Saturday was an ideal fall day to squish grapes and sip Iowa wines during Clear Lake's annual Harvest Festival.
Although hundreds of area residents were browsing Main Avenue booths offering fresh produce, jewelry, decor and more, a sizable crowd gathered in front of Unique Boutique to watch the first heat of grape stompers. Onlookers cheered and clapped for participants, who had one minute to generate as much liquid as possible.
Top stompers and strainers took home $100 in Chamber Bucks.
"It was slipperier than heck," said Karna Jackson, Spencer, as she wiped grape juice off her feet.
Former high school classmate Peggy Sievert, Manson, helped strain. The two were in town to celebrate a 50th class reunion for a northwest Iowa school, Alta High School, at a Clear Lake home.
Afterwards, Jackson and Sievert planned to take part in the sold-out wine tasting. The Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce sold 1,000 tasting passes for the event.
At the Van Wijk Winery tent near the Red Geranium, owners Rebecca and Roger Van Wyk were busy serving a signature harvest wine, Shining Arbor. With a light golden color, the sweet white table wine is likened to "caramel apple in a glass."
Established in 2009, their family-owned winery is located in a renovated church building in Sully. By mid-afternoon, Rebecca Van Wyk said their crew had served six cases of their south central Iowa creations, available for purchase at Lake Coffee and Hy-Vee.
"We're trying to expand more in the Mason City area," she explained.
The Van Wyks took second place for their wines during last year's festivals, but were thirsty for a first-place win this year.
Janine Ries was a third-year wine taster who traveled from Rockwell to join friends for the festival.
"This is already on the calendar for next year," she said. "Rain or shine, we will be here."
Events were available for all ages, including live jazz music, a homemade salsa cook-off, pumpkin roll relay race, trolley fall colors tour, scarecrow contest and pick-your-own pumpkin patch.