Iowa farmers have been growing grapes since the 1850s. Initially, grapes were grown around kitchen gardens for consumption by the farmer’s family. Gradually, farmers in both Southeast and Southwest Iowa were growing grapes for sale outside the State of Iowa. In Southwest Iowa, the grapes were delivered to co-op wineries in Council Bluffs and Omaha where they were made into wine. In Southeast Iowa, there was a fairly large winery just north of Keokuk that made wine, some of which they sold by the barrel! Most of the grapes grown in the southeastern part of Iowa by the 1890s were shipped east in non-refrigerated railcars for sale to home winemakers in Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
Iowa produced and sold so many grapes that by the agricultural census of 1910, Iowa was ranked the sixth-biggest grape growing state in the U.S.
The most commonly grown grape in Iowa at that time was Concord.
Prohibition brought wine making in Iowa to an end in 1916 and almost to an end in the U.S. in 1919. Why “almost?” Exceptions were made for sacramental wine and eventually for wine used for “medical” purposes. After 1916, vineyards in Iowa were not maintained and by 1933 when prohibition was ended, those that hadn’t been ripped out were, for the most part, no longer productive. Some vineyards in South Western Iowa did survive and they produced grapes until 2-4-d (herbicide) gradually wiped them out in the early 1960s.
There were attempts by a small number of grape growing enthusiasts to start a new grape growing and wine making industry in the 1980s however, it did not succeed.
In the mid-1990s, another attempt was made by William T. Brown, a dentist from West Des Moines on ground south of Leon. Paul Tabor created Tabor Family Winery in Jackson County near Makquota. And, Ron Mark started Summerset Winery just outside of Indianola. They were followed by others all over Iowa. Tassel Ridge Winery was started in Leighton between Pella and Oskaloosa in 2004.