Hidden Gems: In Carroll, Iowa, classic cars to classy wines

The interior of the restaurant of Santa Monica Vineyard & Winery in Carroll, Iowa. The building was built in 1913 as a Ford assembly plant along the old Lincoln Highway.

CARROLL, Iowa — Whether you're sipping wine or enjoying a meal, look around. You're surrounded by history at Santa Maria Vineyard & Winery in this west-central Iowa town.

The building of this reader-suggested hidden gem started life in 1913 as a Ford assembly plant along the old Lincoln Highway and now sits along U.S. Highway 30. The 13-foot tin-covered ceilings, white oak flooring and woodwork, lights and front door date to that Ford plant.

Check out the outdoor-dining patio.

That's where drivers once pulled in to have their cars serviced at a long-gone Mobil gas station. Mechanics worked on cars where the building's Events Center now sits.

The gas station and Ford plant buildings were connected in 1930. A combined car dealership and garage operated there until 2005.

The historic building sat empty until 2008 when John and Rose Guinan bought it to house a tasting room for their wines and an Events Center.

“It was really a gift, a building like that,” he said.

When the business opened in June 2009, “All they wanted to do was eat,” Guinan said. “One man told me, 'This is Carroll County. We're beer drinkers here.' ”

“We never intended to be in the restaurant business,” he said.

Yet Santa Maria has become a full-scale restaurant.

“The underlying philosophy is everything is made fresh. Nothing is fried,” he said.

The menu includes thin-crust pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven, steaks, sandwiches, salads, soups, pastas, appetizers and heartier entrees including prime rib ($19.99), bacon-wrapped pork chop ($13.99), smothered chicken ($13.99) and seafood.

Santa Maria wines are available by the glass or bottle.

The restaurant, 218 W. Sixth St. in Carroll, is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The full menu is available all day.

Before Santa Maria, the Guinans had made wine for eight years in their Omaha basement. They bought land and established their 10-acre vineyard in nearby Willey, Iowa. Rose Guinan grew up on a farm two miles outside Willey.

Their land abuts that of St. Mary Catholic Church, where the couple were married. Calling their business Santa Maria Vineyard & Winery came naturally, John Guinan said.

“We'll harvest 60 tons this year,” he said, and buy 30 tons of grapes from California.

“I was the winemaker to begin with,” Guinan said. Now professionally trained winemakers do the work.

The wine is fermented in huge tanks at the back of the restaurant building. Aging and storing is done in the basement.

Rhuby-Dooby, inspired by a friend's homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie, is the top seller, Guinan said.

It was one of the four wines we sampled as part of a $3.50 tasting package in which we could choose from the 28 Santa Maria wines. The others we tried are Santa Maria Chardonnay, Rosie's Rose and Jeanne d'Arc.

There's a small gift shop that sells Santa Maria wines and other wine-related items. Our favorite was the birdhouses from Santa Maria corks.

Tours of the vineyard itself are available for groups who have made prior arrangement.

For more information, call 712-775-2013.

Email hidden gems to sue.truax@owh.com, or mail them to Hidden Gems, Omaha World-Herald Building, Suite 700, 1314 Douglas St., Omaha, NE 68102-1811.

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