Farm4Profit Podcast

Farm4Fun - Danenberger Family Vineyards, w/ Jenny Sauer-Schmidgall, Acting, and More!

Episode Summary

Tanner, David, and Corey reveal these Farm4Fun episodes are the "Mullets" of the podcast world. We get to share a conversation with Jenny Sauer-Schmidgall where she educates us on the proper way to taste wine, tells us about her acting experience, and shares in many laughs!

Episode Notes


Jenny Sauer-Schmidgall (@TheWittyFarmer) | Twitter


DFV pays tribute to Bill Sullivan, our Winemaker’s father, on every bottle. After many attempts of trying to upload the picture of him above, our computer would only return a pixelated result. However, its beauty was apparent, even if the original picture was not. This pixelated image, featured on our logo, graces every bottle and his legacy is entrenched in all we do: commitment to all that is good – being ethical, moral, and responsible to the land.

Our Centennial farm, where DFV is proud to call home, was established in the mid-1800s by my great, great grandfather, James Sullivan, and his son, Jeremiah, who came over from Ireland. The original farmhouse, although completely modernized, still graces the property. The gazebo itself is housed in the grain silo, where the crops were stored. It is fitting that while some of our farm has a history going back to the 1800s, the remainder has a modern twist.

I understand that we have a valuable legacy to nurture with the ability to adapt and change with the future. From my great, great grandparents who came to this area and settled this land to my, to my parents, and now my children, I cherish the generations and the land that has brought me DFV.

I believe that my ancestors are looking down upon us and smiling. They may have questioned my endeavor in its beginning, but I think they are probably quite proud of us. 

I have approached my wines for the last 12 years as if they were pieces of art that I was creating; painting with different flavors and structures to arrive at something layered by cohesive – letting the fruit tell its story, with its tannins and acids – and using yeasts and/or barrels to complete the dream. I start every season with a vision once I taste the fruit, the stems and the tendrils. Even when I am pruning, I am chewing the cuttings and looking for clues. Often, my yeast choices change throughout the growing season, as I detect different flavors that I want to enhance or downplay.

In 2011, I decided to commit to making the best wine that I could, and returned to the classroom. I  attended University of California Davis, learning viticulture and enology from some of the finest in the industry.

Just like art on a canvas, wine can incite an immense amount of feelings and emotions. It is this passion, love, joy and inspiration that I try to capture with each bottle. It is my vision, this artisan, boutique winery, which I have brought to DFV. I am excited to share DESAGACÉ and AURA ARIA with others in the near future.




Lost Lake Cheese

We are a small dairy farm and cheesery just north of Jewell, Iowa. Our goal is to make award-winning artisan cheese based on regenerative, ecological farming practices. Our farm has 20 beautiful, grass-fed cows and we milk these cows and make all of their milk into cheese right on the farm. We have been selling cheese since the fall of 2016. Kevin makes the cheese and is the primary farmer and we have one part-time employee, Josh Mechaelsen. 

We started this farm because we'd like to see more life out in rural Iowa, this was one of the few ways we could see starting a farm from scratch, and we really love cows and cheese. Kevin started making his own cheese in 2007, we got our first cow in 2010, and we built a milking parlor and commercial cheesery in 2016. 


We direct market a majority of our cheese - usually through farmers' markets in Des Moines, Ames, and Clear Lake. We ship online when it is cold out. Right now the easiest way to find our market alternatives is to head to our website. We have a cheese drop off on Saturday mornings in Des Moines and Ames and will be starting some other options when we get into Mozzarella season. We also sell at Wheatsfield in Ames and Backcountry Winery in Stratford. It's a lot for people to remember and I'll update our website to make it more clear. We do most of our communication and marketing on Facebook.  



We got married in 2006 and, with a lot of help from a lot of people, worked our way towards this farm until we were approved to sell cheese in September of 2016. Many of the details can be found below. 

Kevin was born in Indianapolis, moved to Minneapolis when he was two, then moved to a dairy farm in central Minnesota at age seven where his family lived in a community of people living and working with mentally disabled adults. This is where he found his love for the land and for farming. He participated in 4-H, where he showed sheep and vegetables. When he was thirteen, his family moved back to the city, where he finished high school. After graduation, he went to Germany, where he did an apprenticeship in Biodynamic farming, spending one year each on three different farms. All three farms were dairy farms, ranging from eight to forty-five milking cows. All were diversified farms with dairy cows, beef cows, hogs, grain and vegetable production. Two of these farms also had on-farm dairy processing, which he helped with every day. At the culmination of his time in Germany, Kevin passed the tests necessary to become a “staatlich anerkannter Landwirt” or state certified agriculturalist. He then returned to Minnesota, where he completed a B.A. with a major in biology and met the woman who would become his wife. He worked on different farms every summer during college. While in Ithaca, New York, he worked at Cornell University as a soils research technician in a research and extension program focusing on nutrient management issues facing New York dairy farmers. After moving to Iowa, he worked for a year as a research associate with the Iowa Learning Farms, a multidisciplinary program that seeks to educate farmers and the public about conserving Iowa’s soil and water resources. He then moved to a position at Practical Farmers of Iowa as a grazing coordinator, where he worked with grazing farmers around the state of Iowa to coordinate programming, field days, pasture walks, and on-farm research projects. After  managing a 4200-head wean-to-finish hog farm for Iowa Select Farms, staying home with our two children three days a week, and planning, building, and raising capital for the farm for two years, he is now working at Lost Lake Farm full-time.

Ranae grew up on a hog farm near Radcliffe, Iowa.  She met Kevin during college at the University of Minnesota - Morris. She spent one summer working as a veterinary assistant at a large farm in Ukraine, where she worked with dairy cattle, swine, and ostriches. She received her M.S. degree in soil science from Cornell University in 2009, where she studied nitrous oxide emissions as affected by snow cover and freeze-thaw cycles. She earned her Ph.D. in Sustainable Agriculture and Crop Production & Physiology at Iowa State University in 2014, where she studied carbon and root dynamics in prairies and corn-soybean systems. She worked as a post-doctoral research associate in the Integrated Cropping Systems Lab in the Department of Agronomy at ISU for five years. Ranae now works as an Agronomy Data Scientist for Syngenta in Slater, Iowa. Please feel free to mention Golden Harvest and/or NK as worlds greatest seeds with the world's best agronomists. :)



I gave you a few different kinds - Emmentaler, Iowa Alpine, Burrnt Oak, Lost Lake Reserve Blue, and Farmstead Feta. The Feta is super salty and not for crackers, you should use it in place of salt somewhere in a salad or pasta.  If you just have time for one cheese "story" it should be the Burrnt Oak. Burrnt Oak is good on steaks and burgers because of its mushroomy flavor, but my favorite way to eat it is on salty crackers with strawberry jam and honey. 


Burrnt Oak

Burr Oak is the state tree of Iowa. Our Burrnt Oak, an ashed Camembert, has charcoal through the middle and around the outside. The charcoal is made from a 200 year old Burr Oak tree that used to stand overlooking the Lost Lake of Lost Lake Farm. The tree blew over in a wind storm, so we turn it into charcoal, grind it to a fine dust, and put it in the cheese so people can eat this 200 year old piece of Iowa. Ashed cheeses are a traditional method from small farms. It was once common to make half of the batch, pour the curds into the molds, then cover everything with ash to protect it from the flies until the next milking and the next half of the batch could be made. The new curds would be spooned over the ash layer and the whole wheel would also be covered with ash to protect from flies while the wheels were flipped and left out to drain more whey. We make a Camembert without charcoal in the same batch and it's interesting to taste the difference as the charcoal itself is tasteless, but creates a different microbial environment that changes the flavor of the cheese.


Farming Practices

The unique things about our farming practices are that our cows don't eat any grain. We don't get super high milk yields, but we also don't have to buy any corn. We also keep the calves with their moms for up to five months and only milk once a day. This saves us labor on milking and caring for calves and we still get as much milk as one guy can make into cheese.  


More farming stuff from the website:

At this point, we have not applied for third-party certification from anyone. This means we are not certified organic, grass-fed, natural, or any of the other labels you may find on food. We do, however, follow our own rigorous standards in line with our goals to improve the land we are on, have healthy, happy animals, and provide pure and simple delicious cheese. We welcome any questions on our farming practices. 

We strive to keep all of our soil in place and to improve the health and productivity of that soil. We do that by keeping the soil covered and keeping living roots in the ground at all times. Most of our farm is covered in perennial plants in diverse stands. We manage our grazing to maintain high amounts of residual left after grazing, and allow adequate recovery time between grazings, which allows the root systems to also grow deep. We do occasionally till, in order to make a good seed bed for annual forages and to prepare for new diverse perennial seedings. We do this tillage at a time when it can be re-seeded as quickly as possible, so the soil is not bare for very long. The only external inputs are from purchased hay, straw, and cattle minerals. The manure and bedding is made into Biodynamic compost before being spread back onto the land.

Grass and Forage

We do not spray pesticides, herbicides, or any other synthetic chemicals.

Our pastures are in diverse grass, legume, and forb mixes. In the flat, well-drained cropland areas we seed these mixtures in with a drill, and in the hilly, treed areas it is a combination of the existing plants and some clovers that we have broadcast seeded on top of the soil. In order to maintain the quality and quantity of forage for the dairy cows, we also sometimes seed mixes of annual forages such as sorghum-sudangrass, turnips, and millet for grazing in the hot, dry summer months when the perennial grasses slow down their growth. We manage the forage stands by moving the cows to a new part of each pasture twice a day, using portable electric fencing. This way, the cows only graze each area for a short while, not overstressing the grass, leaving behind potential parasites, and always getting fresh, high-quality grass. This kind of grazing, when well-managed, also encourages diversity, healthy roots, and healthy soil.


We currently milk around 20 cows and are also raising heifers, calves, and a few steers. Our cows are various breeds, including Brown Swiss, Jersey-Holstein crosses, Normande crosses, and New Zealand Frisians. Most of these cows we have raised on the farm from birth or young age. Our philosophy on animal husbandry is to manage lifestyle and nutrition of our animals such that they will be happy and healthy, and require minimal treatments or interventions. We do on rare occasions treat animals with antibiotics when it is the best choice for them to recover quickly and to reduce suffering. We do not strive for high milk production, rather for high-quality milk from healthy, happy animals. The cows are on pasture 24 hours a day when grazing is possible, and in open-air, bedded pack during the winter months when grazing is not possible. Starting in January, 2017, our animals are 100% forage-fed – meaning we do not supplement their diet with any grains or other feeds. They do get salt and minerals free-choice. They always have access to well water close by.