State Profile: Iowa Wine Country

Iowa has a long winegrowing history, with the first grapes planted in 1857, a Grape Growers Association formed in 1893, and a rank of sixth in wine production in 1919 just prior to Prohibition.

The first modern-era winery—award-winning fruit winery Ackerman—opened in 1956 featuring Rhubarb wine plus other fruit and Native American grape wines. But the industry really began growing in 2000 with the formation of the Iowa Wine Growers Association, followed in 2006 by creation of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. These organizations formed the first wine-related apprenticeship program in the nation as a way to educate and train future generations of grape growers and winemakers.

The nearly 100 wineries are scattered throughout the state, among eight wine trails, and in two AVAs: the Loess Hills District, and the multi-state Upper Mississippi River Valley Region. Some 40 different grape varieties are grown, primarily the newer “Minnesota” varieties like Brianna, Edelweis, Frontenac, LaCrescent, and Marquette which can survive the cold winters.

Great Grapes: Marquette

Having once stumped in December before the Iowa caucuses, I can tell you that it gets real cold—far more than the Finger Lakes—so cold-hardy Minnesota varieties form the bulk of the plantings on some 1,300 acres. The blue-black berried Marquette can survive temperatures to -30 while ripening with high sugar (up to 26 brix) and moderate acidity. Often compared to Zinfandel in the glass, the complex ruby-red wine often has notes of blackberry, pepper, plum, spice and tobacco.

Iowa Economic Impact

Total Impact: $2.3 Billion

Direct (production, distribution, consumption): $787.5 Million (35%)

Supplier (goods and services): $693.2 Million (31%)

Induced (local community business benefits): $778.8 Million (34%)

Wine Producers: 90

Jobs: 16,871

Wages: $660.2 Million

Tourist Visits: 80,686

Tourist Expenditures: $27.4 Million

Total Taxes: $93.8 Million

Federal Taxes: $58.7 Million

State and Local Taxes: $35.2 Million