It wasn’t too many years ago that the idea of raising grapes in Iowa and making good wine from them was generally considered preposterous. It was generally accepted that grapes couldn’t survive our cold winters and ripen in our short growing seasons. But, since the late 1990’s, grape growers in Iowa have been growing ever greater volumes of grapes that Iowa wineries are making into award-winning wines.
Today, there are 109 bonded and licensed wineries in Iowa. Last year, they made 329,000 gallons of wine and sold 302,000 gallons. Iowa wine represented 6.4% of the total wine consumed in Iowa.
While Iowa’s wineries have enjoyed considerable success, it has not been a cakewalk! Grape growers in Iowa cannot grow the grapes that make the wines most people are familiar with such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Our winters are too cold and our growing seasons are too short to ripen these grape varieties. So, growers grow Northern Grape Varieties that are hybrids between the native Vitis riperia and other grape varieties that produce grapes that are better for making wine. Most of these varieties have been developed in Wisconsin and at the University of Minnesota.
Today, approximately 300 grape growers grow one or more of about 25 different grape hybrids. The most common red grapes are now Marquette, St. Croix, Foch, and Petit Pearl. The most common white varieties are Edelweiss, Brianna, and La Crescent. Most of the grape growers have small operations that average about four acres but the largest covers 75 acres.
Iowa’s wineries are scattered all over Iowa. Many of Iowa’s wineries are very small but some are bigger. Most are listed in the Iowa Wine and Beer Guide which is available on-line at www.traveliowa.com.