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A young couple from Bettendorf wants to rezone 13.3 acres of the former Olathea Golf Course in rural LeClaire to plant a vineyard and build a winery with tasting room and an events center.

Julia Rubino and her fiance, Bryce Flaherty, are proposing the project, which will be considered Oct. 2 by the Scott County Planning Commission.

A rezoning is needed because, in what Tim Huey, the county's planning and development director, describes as a rather ironic turn of events, the 98-acre former nine-hole course recently was rezoned from agriculture-general to single-family residential.

That is because after more than three decades of operating the course, owner Susan Leander decided to close and put the land up for sale for future housing development. In preparation, she had the land zoned residential.

But for the winery with a vineyard, an agriculture-general classification with a special use variance for the events center and tasting room makes the most sense, Huey said.

If the request is approved, it will go to the county board, he said.

Rubino, a 2007 Bettendorf High School graduate who holds a master's degree in business administration from the University of Iowa, works for an area manufacturing firm. Flaherty is a Rock Island firefighter-paramedic.

But in addition to their jobs, Rubino has for the past couple of years developed an interest in wine and has started making her own.

"I got my first wine-making kit in 2016 as a Christmas present from my parents, and I went from there," she said.

As she visited wineries and learned more about wine-making through vinticulture classes, she began thinking about opening her own place and started scouting locations.

When Oleatha became available, it seemed like "the perfect opportunity," she said.

The land is close to a population center and the tourist attractions of LeClaire, yet out in the country, overlooking the Mississippi River. "We've been looking for land for quite a while and we think this is a prime location," she said.

She envisions "a beautiful white barn" for the events center. 

If the re-zoning goes through, Rubio hopes to begin hand-planting cold-hardy grape vines in the spring on one to two acres. The next phase would be construction of a building for wine production and tasting, with the first wines available as early as 2020, she said.

The couple also expects to build their home on the property.

As for the rest of the former golf course, 27.5 acres are being purchased by Tom and Brock Faulhaber of Faulhaber Builders and Leander is retaining about 21 which includes her home, the clubhouse and farm buildings, leaving about 39 acres still for sale.

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