Family, Wine and Cats

This weekend we were invited to perform at the Snus Hill Winery in Madrid, Iowa. Set in the rolling hills of Iowa’s farmland, the award-winning family owned winery is a welcoming property surrounded by the bright colors of the autumn leaves and red barns.

The land was originally purchased by Swedish Immigrants, Charles and Hanna Larson, in 1878 and the winery stands upon their original homestead. On the hill-top of moraine soils left from the receding glaciers, the vineyards of Snus Hill were started in 1999 when John & Diane Larson planted the first acre of Frontenac and Marechal Foch. Each year was followed with another acre planted of a different variety. In 2003 and 2004, the dream of a commercial vineyard became a reality when Snus Hill Vineyard sold grapes to Summerset Winery. In 2005 and 2006 more of the Larson family joined the venture including John’s sister, Linda Melin and Linda’s daughter Melissa, her husband Chris and their children.

Chris was our host along with employee’s Sasha and Clayton and they graciously toured us around the facility. We were inspired by the family history and especially by Chris’s story of “coming home.” Married to Melissa, educated and working in Tampa, FL. With a child on the way, the couple faced a crossroad to the future. They had to decide if they were going to further education towards a safe career or enter the mystery and live the adventure of the unknown by joining the family winery. They chose to move to Madrid, IA and from what we could tell, they made the right choice. Chris shared about the learning curve, quality of family life and a dream for the future. Community minded, the Larson’s also share their facility for training purposes, and are involved in many community events.

The Snus Hill Winery name is reflective of the family’s Swedish heritage and their love of cats. Snus is the name of John and Diane’s affectionate and beguiling tobacco brown Burmese cat. The cat got his name from an old Swedish chewing tobacco (Snus). The white cat on the labels was chosen to represent their platinum Burmese cat.

Our favorite Snus Hill wine was the Marechal Foch and was exactly as they described…

“Earthy dry red wine with aromas of anise and mocha over dark berry fruits. This is an acid-driven wine which makes it naturally food-friendly. This wine can pair well with lamb, steak, and certain spicy foods.” Although, it was quite pleasant to enjoy on its own.

We look forward to another round through Iowa come Spring and we’re happy to call these folks are our global/local neighbors. Visit them at




















Australia; Winery Weekend

After a 30 hour trip (door to door) we landed in Melbourne, Vic. AUST for our 7 week tour. Our first few days were spent trying to adjust to the extreme time change and organize our technology, transport and other logistics.

Our first weekend of gigs couldn’t have been a more relaxing and welcoming start to our tour as we found ourselves in wine country. On Saturday, March 10 we drove up to Rutherglen for the Taste of Rutherglen festival at Chambers Rosewood Winery. Chambers is a family owned and run winery with a history dating back 150 years. We performed an acoustic set of Hollands! and old timey songs to about 80 guests. Enjoying a traditional Australian meal of Lamb and potatos. The wine was lovely and the owners, Bill and Wendy were delightful hosts. They were the kind of folk that know how to make you feel right at home, like family you see every year at the cottage. They had us in their home and offered up spirited conversation about the life and times of a boutique winery and an Aussie breaky, including veggiemite, toast, tea and fresh squeezed orange juice from their garden.

The next day we travelled a few hours west to the Burke and Wills Winery, owned by Heather and Andrew Pattison. We were honored to perform at Andrews “Burke and Wills Folk Music Festival.” An intimate and romantically reminiscent festival set around a marquee in the gardens, with the winery and vineyard an eye shot away.  Andrew describes the festival this way, ‘‘It is probably the world’s smallest folk festival, and certainly the most intimate and relaxed. There is one main stage, home-cooked meals and snacks, cellar door wines, free camping, beautiful open, spacious and peaceful landscape miles from anywhere, yet only 101km from Melbourne.”

Andrew Pattison

There were about 20 musical acts playing to about 200 festival patrons, who enjoyed a relaxed weekend of concerts, sing-a-longs, camping, quizzes, wine, food, talking to the Clydesdale, and even some snoozing under trees. A highlight for us was feeding the chickens. 🙂

The performers included The Beez (Germany), Jez Lowe and Kate Bramley (UK), Mic Conway and Robbie Long, Martin Pearson, The Hollands! (USA), Naom Blat, Rory Faithfield, Roger Montgomery, John Angliss and Graham Wilson, and The Nano Stern Band (Chile).

Our favorite muso was the talented and good humored performer Mic Conway, supported by Robbie Long on guitar. Mic and Robbie entertained the audience with their Vaudeville act playing songs on some unusual musical instruments with impressive magic tricks, juggling, and a fire-eating finale. True performers.

Another lovely moment was meeting Penny Larkins and Carl Pannuzzo. We connected with Penny on Facebook prior to coming over and during our time in Australia were able to share in song with Penny and Carl. Hoping they can make it to the states to tour. We’d love to show them off.

Photo by Bronwyn Rowbotham