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Cedar Ridge growing again

Winery and distillery continues to expand in many ways
Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, located at 1441 Marak Road near Swisher along Hwy. 965, has expanded several times since opening in 2010. A new warehouse is under construction (bottom right) as is an expansion of the tasting room, to provide additional seating as well as a private space for small gatherings. (photo courtesy Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery)

SWISHER– The doors to Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery opened to the public on Black Friday in 2010, and owner Jeff Quint said, “We’ve been busy ever since.”
What started out as a small winery has grown to include the state’s oldest distillery and the first to make bourbon in Iowa since the days of Prohibition, an events center and separate production facility, and– soon– a private room for small gatherings and a storage and distribution warehouse.
Quint’s crew strives to make four barrels of whiskey per day, in addition to wines and other spirits, and those barrels need a place to sit so their contents may properly age for the best flavor and drinking experience.
“What the challenge becomes is, as the whiskey gets older and gets more age on it, you need more and more storage,” he explained.
A new warehouse is currently under construction and Quint sees the potential for more simple storage in the next few years while leaving the production as-is.
“We’re making the amount we want to make,” he said. “It’s just the longer you want to age it, the more storage you’ve got to have.”

Special events
“With our location kind of in the middle of the Corridor, anytime somebody is having a meeting that incorporates people from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas, this is certainly on the list of potential places to meet,” Quint said.
It’s also become popular for wedding receptions, he added. The 2017 wedding season is 80-90 percent booked at Cedar Ridge.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a 2018 wedding on the books already,” Quint added.

New room
“We get requests for small groups, 20-30, and we’ve never had a good option for them,” said Quint.
The tasting room has ended up packed, while the event center– built in 2012– has at times been almost too big (200 capacity), he said. Enclosing the current patio space gives smaller groups another option while also expanding the tasting room. Construction on the new room should begin shortly and Quint expects it to be completed yet this fall.
Prior to constructing the freestanding building, large events were held in a tent, which proved problematic on a windy ridge.
“We get so much breeze up here, the tent was never a good idea,” Quint admitted.
After a storm tore down the tent, plans were drawn up and, two months later, there was a new building on site.

Supply and demand: a balancing act
Approximately eight years ago Cedar Ridge saw a booming surge in demand for distilled products, which led to something of a unique problem.
“When you start selling a lot of product, your inventory shrinks and now your product is getting younger,” said Quint, referring to the shorter aging period. “And when it gets younger, it doesn’t taste quite as good.”
It’s a dilemma Quint said he feels many new craft distillers haven’t been through yet.
“When you have success, you have to be careful because it can end in somewhat of a failed attempt to get distribution,” he noted. “When your product gets younger, people aren’t going to enjoy it as much.”
The answer, which seems counter-intuitive for a small business, is to stop distribution.
“But then you’ve screwed up your whole distribution network, because if you can’t keep feeding product to them, then you lose it,” he said.
Cedar Ridge did halt its distribution and for several years has been building up inventory.
“So now, just within the last year, we’ve started expanding our distribution network again,” said. “This time, we believe we’re better geared to keep up with that demand.”
The new warehouse is an initiative to help Cedar Ridge stay ahead of the space they’ll need as they keep filling barrels for the future.
“If you think about it, what we’re doing right now is filling barrels for 2019 to 2021,” Quint explained. “We already have everything that’s going to be available for sale in 2017 and 2018 in the barrels. So these guys are busy 16 hours a day making for 2019 and on.”
Work on 2020’s stock will begin within a few months, Quint added. “It’s a model where you really have to think several years ahead and hope your predictions play out.”

The start
Cedar Ridge began in 2002 as a lifestyle business, Quint said, when he and his wife were in a “fortunate position” to buy the land.
They both kept their careers for several years, he recalled, adding that he just left his day job as CPA and CFO with several companies a year ago.
Quint said he enjoys growing a business and has made a career out of developing small, but fast-growing enterprises.
“This is the first business I’ve worked at that, it doesn’t feel like work to me,” he shared.
Learning how to make wine and spirits came about pretty much from diving in.
“Necessity is the mother of invention here,” he said. “You just have to pull the trigger and get started. There’s only one way out, and that’s to succeed, so you do whatever you have to, to succeed.”
Quint said he frantically learned all he could from everybody he could, and built a network of people to talk with, work with and learn from.
“Pretty soon, you’re part of someone else’s network,” he said.
There’s also some wine-making in his DNA.
“I still have my dad’s apple press and old copper pot stills,” he said, referring to the antiques he got from his dad, who moved to the United States from Wintrich, Germany.
“The most notable winery is Weingut Quint,” he said. “My great, great, great, great, great grandfather established the Quint family in that business in 1750.”
He added he’s the first generation to move from a fruit, brandy and wine environment to more of a whiskey environment. And that, too, is a family affair with the corn coming from his in-laws’ nearby farm.

Where is Cedar Ridge sold?
Cedar Ridge wines are only sold in Iowa, but the distilled spirits can be found across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles.
“But it’s spotty,” Quint said of the distribution.
Cedar Ridge products are starting to roll into Florida, Texas and Michigan. Even aficionados north of the border can savor Iowa-distilled whiskey in Quebec and Ontario, Canada. Cedar Ridge even has a foothold in the Caribbean, he noted.
Locally, 32 businesses, including Cedar Ridge, offer Quint’s products in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City-Coralville area. A full list can be found at www.crwine.com/locator/.
“As a winery, our goal is to keep growing at a slower or more moderate pace, and really support the Corridor,” said Quint. “Sometimes you’ll see us in Des Moines, but we’re not actively seeking business outside of the Corridor.”
As for the spirits, Cedar Ridge has rum, vodka and gin, but whiskey made from Iowa corn is what Quint wants to peddle to the world.
“We’re in corn country,” he said, “so we’re trying to sell that to the world.”