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A little wine

31 May

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Rosie (Iverson) Wilson’s first response to her son when he suggested she and her husband, Gerry, buy “a little winery” in Temecula, Calif., was, “You’re crazy.”

Rosie and Gerry were living in the Los Angeles area at the time, and Gerry had recently retired.

“The kids thought it would be fun, and we went from there,” Rosie says. That was in 1996. They built the winery while living in a trailer on the property “and eating a lot of peanut butter sandwiches,” opened in 2000, and have been growing ever since. The original staff of eight (“all Wilsons”) became a staff of 172. Twenty acres grew to 93 acres. A restaurant was added in 2008.

Today, on a good weekend, it’s not uncommon for Wilson Creek Winery to welcome 1,000 visitors per day to its tasting room. The restaurant serves an average of 500 people at its Sunday brunch. More than 100 weddings are held each year, plus other events nearly every evening.

When the Wilsons opened in 2000, they were the 12th winery in the Temecula Valley, an up-and-coming wine region located about an hour northeast of San Diego. Now there are 42. It might be easy for Wilson Creek to get lost in the shuffle if it were not for two key things: family and almond champagne.

“Our motto is ‘family first,’” Rosie says. Wilson Creek is first and foremost a family business. On any given day, members of the Wilson family can be found throughout the winery.

As for the almond champagne, that was a little more serendipitous.

“We thought our cabernet would be our signature wine,” Gerry explains. “We developed an almond champagne for weddings, and then we took it out for tastings, fundraisers, and charitable events.”

The almond champagne made Wilson Creek stand out from the other wineries.

“We had no idea what we were doing at first,” Rosie said. “It was, ‘Have almond champagne, will travel.’”

Wilson Creek has a popular wine club and a loyal customer base. Diners rave about the winery’s old-fashioned service and personal attention.

Rosie and Gerry are clearly having a blast with their “little winery” business.

“We’ve been married 59 years,” she says, “and he’s still my best friend.”

Rosie  (’52 child development) grew up in Ames, Iowa. Her father, Prof. C.A. Iverson, was the head of Dairy Industry at Iowa State and was the VEISHEA faculty adviser for 25 years.

California girl

5 Dec

Lana Rushing (1)

At age 24, Lana Rushing had an office in Santa Monica, Calif., with a view of the ocean.

“It was fabulous,” Lana says.

The 1994 journalism/mass communication grad got her start with Engineering Animation, Inc., in Ames. When the company launched its entertainment division, Lana, a Des Moines native, jumped at the chance to move to California.

Engineering Animation closed its Los Angeles entertainment offices in 1998, but Lana stayed in California, working for public relations firms and building a client network.

Today Lana heads her own firm, Rushing Public Relations, and specializes in technology and entertainment PR. During her career, her extensive client list has included LG Electronics, Netflix, and Hewlett-Packard, and she’s branched out to provide services to clients as far away as Italy and France. She describes Rushing PR as “boutique-style service with big-agency thinking.”

“I’m very diversified,” she told me when we met for coffee at Caffe Luxxe in Santa Monica last month. “I’ve been surprised by the power of my network. I like being the boss.”

Lana’s staff consists of a “flexible, virtual team” of PR professionals whom she hires as needed to help manage accounts. She works from her home office in West Los Angeles and says she has a better work/life balance now than ever before.

Living and working in Los Angeles has its perks, too.

“I got to watch ‘Baywatch’ being filmed on the beach when I first moved here, and I see people like Jane Fonda all the time in Whole Foods,” she says. “It’s an extra level of fun.”

The American Southwest

27 Nov

Jim and I returned Nov. 19 from our tour of the American Southwest, where we met with nine alumni in the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. This trip exceeded our wildest expectations; ISU alumni never cease to wow us! Here’s a quick look at places we went and the people we met:

CALIFORNIA

We started our Southwest tour in the Los Angeles area where we met Lana Rushing (’94 journalism/mass communication), principal and owner of Rushing Public Relations, at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. We also learned just how windy it can be on the Southern California coast and what havoc that can create during a photo shoot.

The next day we traveled to Temecula to meet with Rosie (Iverson) Wilson, owner (along with her husband, Gerry) of Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. Rosie is a 1952 child development grad, and she and Gerry showed us a terrific time at the winery and restaurant they run with the help of their family. We even got to meet their pet pig, Molly Merlot, who was dressed in flowers and more adorable than I knew a pig could be.

 

NEVADA

Up next was a trip to Las Vegas to meet Alison Monaghan, a 2005 journalism/mass communication grad. Alison is a senior account executive for Kirvin Doak Communications. We met her on the Las Vegas Strip, which is not the easiest place to do a photo shoot. That’s me, Jim, and Alison standing near the Paris Las Vegas.

The following morning we met Bob Gannon (’74 ag business) at the Henderson Executive Airport. I’ve wanted to do a story on Bob for years, so it was really exciting to interview and photograph him. Bob’s been around the world 2.5 times in a single-engine airplane, and he took Jim and me on a most memorable ride.

 

ARIZONA

After leaving Bob in Henderson, Nev., we drove to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the night. I knew it would be cold during some of this trip, and I thought I was prepared, but I was still surprised that the temperature gauge read 14 degrees the next morning! We did not have an ice scraper in our rental car, so we had to blast the defrost for awhile before taking off for Sedona to meet with Elizabeth “Debbie” (Sisson) Wych. Debbie (’70 elementary education) is a retired elementary school counselor who hikes and volunteers extensively in beautiful Sedona.

From there we drove to Tucson. The next morning we met U.S. Border Patrol public affairs officer Jeremy Copeland, who drove us about an hour and a half to Sells, Ariz., to meet up with ISU alumnus Shawn Kyne (’05 political science). Shawn has been a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2008. The two of them took Jim and me on a wild ride-along through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. That’s Jim and Shawn at the U.S./Mexico border fence.

NEW MEXICO

The next day, all we did was drive: from Tucson across southeast Arizona all the way up to north-central New Mexico. It was a long day, broken up by lunch in the tiny town of Hatch, N.M., AKA The Chile Capital of the World. We sampled the famous red and green chiles and found them both delicious. We ended our drive in Santa Fe.

We drove the next morning up the mountains into Los Alamos, where we met Kory Budlong Sylvester (’92 nuclear engineering). Kory is a technical staff member of the Nonproliferation and International Security Division for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He and his wife, Susan (’86 journalism/mass communication), above, have two sons and long, loyal ties to Iowa State.

From there, we went back through Santa Fe (for dessert and a quick peek through a few art galleries) and on to our final destination: Albuquerque.

Jim and I fell in love with Albuquerque, which was a good thing because we had to kill a full day there. We were scheduled to meet with hot-air balloonists Lyndi Dittmer-Perry (’83 industrial administration) and her husband, Jim Perry (’67 electrical engineering), before dawn near the Balloon Fiesta Park, but the weather didn’t cooperate, nor did it cooperate later that day. So we moved our photo shoot to the following morning, which was also the day we were scheduled to travel back to Iowa. Luckily, everything worked out, and Jim and I had a blast with Jim and Lyndi and their “It’s a Zoo” balloon crew (above, with Jim and Lyndi at the far left). It was the perfect way to end a great trip.

As always, some of these alumni features will be published in the special spring 2014 VISIONS Across America issue and others will appear in the coming weeks on this blog. Thanks for reading!