How the industry has fared over the past year

by Lucas McIntire, winemaker at The Winery at Kirkwood

This last year, or the growing season for 2013, I personally felt was the best yet.  Mother Nature was in cooperation with me and my vineyard operations (for the most part).  Yields may have been down (slightly), but quality was through the roof.  I feel that the wines in the tanks now may be our best production to date. The red wines are darker, and the white wines are softer with wonderful aromatics.

To review the industry, I have analyzed the data from Craig Tordsen at Iowa State University.  He has data from the Iowa Winery Production and Sales Reports going back to 2004.  Between 2009 and 2010, winery sales increased nearly 17,000 gallons.  Between 2010 and 2011, they increased by 34,000 gallons. By the end of 2012 there was only an increase of 1,500 gallons and by the end of 2013 annual sales decreased by 3,000 gallons from 2012.  I believe that we may have hit the plateau as for wine sales by Iowa consumers.  There is the notion that more and more people every day are buying and drinking Iowa wine, in turn usually supporting their nearest/local producer.  Yet, these consumers are faced with a plethora of wines to choose from at the local wine shop.  Sales of Iowa Wine are only 5.9% of all the wine sold in state this year.

I was told by one shop manager that, “If my customer has $7.99, I’ll direct them to some Spanish tempranillo, before suggesting some Iowa wine.” So Iowa Wines still have to fight it out on the sales floor with the classic European and New World varietals being sold at cheaper price points.

Gallons of wine sold in Iowa Winery tasting rooms decreased by 2,500 gallons this year.  I would translate this to mean possibly fewer visitors and less spending/volume of sales.  Perhaps this is in refection to trends in the economy with fewer dollars to spend on luxury items such as wine.

The industry outlook over the next year

All the wineries want to sell more wine, and I notice allot of collaboration within the industry as a whole.  Specifically with the organization of “Wine trails” to promote events together as well as community events where towns like Centerville might bring together 10 to 15 wineries to sell and taste wine together in the town square.  Additionally we are winning people over one customer at a time, year after year.  We are educating people one taste at a time on the different varietals which we produce.  The Wine Institute in Ames is now issuing “Iowa Quality” stickers/seals of approval for wines which score over 13 points on the U.C. Davis 20 point scale by a blind panel of 5 judges.  Hopefully this can lend a hand in proving that the wines we make here are equally as delicious as those crafted anywhere else in the world.  Personally I feel we are helping each other as winemakers by sharing tidbits of information concerning yeasts to ferment with, cold soak practices, enzyme and tannin dose rates used in the winery, along with other operational concerns addressed in the vineyard or winery.  We help each other, and like to pass along secrets rather than keep them to ourselves.

Otherwise, 2014 is a new year and hopefully we will sell a lot more wine!

What you’d like to see from industry professionals over the next year

The best event that I attended was a workshop at Ames, (ISU) concerning specific varietals.  I was there to talk about growing and winemaking practices with La Crescent, a fairly new varietal that has very bright aromatics.  It was great to have a forum to discuss variations in the wines presented based on harvest parameters brought forth from the winemakers themselves.  We could evaluate the wines and speak freely together. Of course we (the winemakers) could do this internally on the side, but none of us really make time!  Additionally there were growers and winemakers there from out of state that lent other interesting perspectives.  I missed the workshop on Marquette, but look forward to what the future (this year) might hold.

Lucas McIntire, Winemaker

The Winery At Kirkwood