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Iowa’s grape, wine industries are thriving

Cold-climate hybrids fuels growth

February 24, 2013

AMES - Some things shouldn't be kept bottled up, like the impact of Iowa's vineyards and wineries on agriculture and the state's economy.

"The industry is maturing," said Michael White, Iowa State University's viticulture specialist, who has watched Iowa's wine industry grow from humble beginnings to a significant sector of the state's agriculture industry.

In the last few years, 15 new wineries have opened for business in Iowa. Many are located in north central and northwest Iowa, including the Garden Winery in Fort Dodge, 99 Bottles Winery in Garner, Train Wreck Winery in Algona and Old Town Winery in Ida Grove.

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-Messenger by Darcy Dougherty Maulsby
Iowa had approximately 30 acres of grapes in production in 2000. As of June 2012, Iowa had 99 wineries with approximately 300-plus vineyards covering 1,200 acres, including Old Town Vineyard and Winery in Ida Grove.

As the industry evolves, other vineyards and wineries have gone out of business.

"Many of the people who got into the business 10 years ago when they were 55 or 60 are now 65 or 70, and their priorities have changed," White said. "Others decided that working Friday, Saturday and Sunday the rest of their lives was not for them."

Cold-climate hybrids

Fact Box

Did you know?

Here are some facts about Iowa's wine and grape industry from Iowa State University Extension and the "The Economic Impact of Iowa Wine and Vineyards:"

Wine has been made in Iowa for more than 150 years. The book "History of Western Iowa" noted, "In 1867, over 500 barrels of wine were made from native grapes and shipped to Chicago, besides large quantities which were used at home."

The first commercial vineyard in Iowa was planted in 1857, 11 years after Iowa became a state.

In 1893, the Council Bluffs Grape Growers Association was formed with 21 member growers and 100 acres of grapes.

Iowa had approximately 30 acres of grapes in production in 2000. As of June 2012, Iowa had 99 wineries with approximately 300-plus vineyards covering 1,200 acres.

There are approximately 40 different grape cultivars being grown in Iowa to produce Iowa wines, according to Iowa State University.

Grape yields can run from 3 to 8 tons per acre in Iowa, with the average yield typically in the 3 to 4 tons per acre range.

It typically takes 75 to 100 hours of labor per acre to hand harvest a full crop of Iowa wine grapes.

One ton of Iowa grapes will produce approximately 150 gallons of wine, which equal 750 bottles of wine.

Throughout these changes, the industry continues to chart a course of growth, White said.

In 1999, there were 13 wineries in Iowa. Today, there are nearly 100 licensed wineries and there are roughly 320 commercial vineyards producing grapes for the industry, according to

It's no secret that Iowa's climate presents grape growers with many challenges, including harsh winters; late-spring frosts that can damage vine buds; and hot, humid summers that can contribute to the development of molds and mildews, which can be difficult and expensive to control.

While Iowa's grape growing season is relatively short, growers are finding practical solutions.

"The development of cold-climate grape hybrids has helped fuel Iowa's wine industry growth," said White, who noted that most of the cold-climate grape varieties come out of breeding programs from the University of Minnesota and Cornell University.

The La Crescent white grape and Marquette red grape are getting most of the attention in Iowa right now, said White. Both come out of the University of Minnesota's breeding program. La Crescent's intense nose of apricot, peach, and citrus lends itself to superior quality off-dry or sweet white wines. Marquette's high sugar and moderate acidity make it very manageable in the winery.

"Wines made with Marquette grapes are complex, with attractive ruby color, pronounced tannins, and desirable notes of cherry, berry, black pepper and spice on both the nose and the palate," according to the University of Minnesota. "As a red wine, Marquette represents a new standard in cold hardy viticulture and enology."

Word is getting out about Iowa's high-quality wines, too, as some of the state's best wines continue to earn numerous awards in national competitions, White said.

Supporting economy

Vineyards and wineries are also contributing to the state's economy. According to the latest data available, Iowa wineries produce approximately 186,700 gallons of wine per year.

Wine, wine grapes and related industries created more than $234 million of economic value for Iowa in 2008, according to MKF Research LLC. In addition, the wine and wine-grape sectors contributed at least $28.1 million in state and local taxes in 2008.

MKF Research estimated that Iowa wineries' revenues from wine sales totaled $7.1 million in 2008. During that same year, wine grapes, wineries and related industries accounted for 1,777 jobs across the state, for a payroll of $50 million.

"Tourism is a major industry in Iowa, and the growth in the number of winery tasting rooms and winery events is adding to its success," MKF Research said.

Industry leaders believe the future success of Iowa's wine and grape industry will rely on continued support from organizations like Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Wine Growers Association.

"Iowans are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes in wine," said Christine Carlton, owner and operations manager of Two Saints Winery near St. Charles. "It's rewarding to be part of an industry that continues to evolve and improve."



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