By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
“Family is our motivation. Vines are our focus. Quality wine is the result.”
This is the motto of a locally owned and operated winery outside of Monticello: Crimson Sunset Vineyards and Winery. Owned by Kevin and Lisa Miller, Crimson Sunset is unlike any other. It is nestled in the country, through the rolling hills between Jones and Dubuque counties. Looking out the windows inside the Millers’ home, it’s no wonder they came up with the name “Crimson Sunset” for their business.
The Millers started their venture in 2006 with an acre of vines. The year prior, they took cuttings from other local vineyards and rooted those on their own land. They planted an acre, with 50 different varieties of grapes to see which ones would take, which ones were most fungal resistant and which ones were the most pest-resistant.
Something that makes Crimson Sunset stand out as a vineyard and winery is the fact that they only use their own organic grown grapes to produce their homemade wine. Also, the Millers built a vertical shoot positioning trellis system for their vineyards. This allows for the best sun exposure and best quality of the grapes. They do not use synthetic chemicals when caring for their crop. They pick everything by hand. It is as healthy as you can get.
From the 50 varieties, the Millers have expanded to now over 7 acres.
“Some day we want 20 to 25 acres,” said Lisa.
When it comes to making their wine, Kevin said they never add any water or sugar cane.
“We only add what is necessary for great wine,” explained the Millers on their Facebook page. “The whites and blushes are sweetened with our pure grape juice. This means we pack many grapes into every glass of our delicious wine.”
Picking the grapes is a chore in and of itself. The task is definitely not like you’ve seen in the I Love Lucy episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” in which she stomps around in a vat of grapes. The Millers, along with family and friends, spend several hours throughout three to four weekends in a row picking. There are usually 25-39 people on hand to help.
“We’re always looking for new pickers,” offered Kevin.
A lot of research went into the Millers’ lifestyle of producing wine. Kevin said they read many books and did a lot of research online as to how to go about starting an organic vineyard.
Another concept that allows Crimson Sunset to stand out is the Millers’ way of powering their home and property. Their winery is powered by a 1-kilowatt wind turbine and a 3,800-watt solar array made up of 15 solar panels. Everything about the Millers’ lifestyle and new occupation is green.
Making the wine is a science, according to Kevin. All but three of the wines are named after the grape used to produce that bottle. They produce 12 different types/flavors of wines from white to blush and red. One of their popular whites is “Brianna,” which has flavors of pineapple, pear, green apple and a hint of banana. Their blush wine is “Crimson Rose,” made from fruity pink, red and white grapes. “Marquette” is a popular red. This is a rich, dark mixture loaded with blackberry, truffles and cinnamon. Wines range from sweet, semi-sweet to dry.
“We worked really hard at this practice,” admitted Kevin. “They have seen a lot of bumps in the road to get to where we are now.”
This past weekend, Crimson Sunset held a soft opening, selling their wines to customers. This coming weekend, Dec. 8 and 9, customers will be able to purchase wine tastings and buy wine by the glass and bottle. The costs of the bottles range from $19-$35. With so much that goes into the handcrafted product, from the labor to the bottling and more, you are paying for the best product possible.
“We have a passion for what we do and our vineyards,” said Lisa. “We’re dedicated to the making of our wine.”
Crimson Sunset Vineyards and Winery is located off Highway 151 outside of Monticello and Cascade at 24765 Highway 151 North. You can learn more about the Millers’ operation by visiting their Facebook page. You can contact Lisa and Kevin by e-mail at
PHOTOS: Top: Here, Lisa and Kevin pick the grapes by hand, which is a tedious job. They have 7 ½ acres of a variety of grapes. (Photo submitted) Middle: Crimson Sunset produces 12 types/flavors of wine from dry to semi-sweet and sweet, depending on your pleasure. They also make their own labels and bottle each wine themselves. (Photo by Kim Brooks) Bottom: Kevin and Lisa Miller, their daughter Brielle and family dog Vini, started Crimson Sunset Vineyards and Winery. The vineyards are located on their property between Monticello and Cascade off Highway 151 North. They also make their own wine from all organic grapes. (Photo submitted)