The State of the Wine Industry

by Michael Vincent, winemaker at Wooden Wheel Vineyards

The wine industry in Iowa has experienced extremely fast growth these last 10 years. In 2004 there were 27 wineries, in 2010 there were 94. At the end of 2013 there are 100. The era of rapid growth in the number of wineries is over.

In 2004 Iowa wineries produced 98,903 gallons of wine and in 2005 we sold 82,785. In 2012 we produced 296,909 gallons and in 2013 we sold 263,682. 2013 saw, for the first time, a decrease in the number of gallons sold from the prior year. Although that decrease is small, around 3,000 gallons, we are clearly entering a new phase in our industry.

No longer can we experience growth based on the novelty of an `Iowa produced wine’. Today you can go into your local convenience store, liquor store or Hy-Vee and find Iowa produced wines. Today we must compete with the Merlots and Chardonnays of the world that are on those same shelves to increase our wine sales.

The Iowa wine industry has 3 challenges as we move forward.

  1. Educating the public on Iowa wines.

  2. Improving our winemaking skills through education & research.

  3. Improving the perception of Iowa produced wines.

No doubt these are substantial challenges that will go unmet without a combined and focused effort.

Fortunately, these challenges have not gone unrecognized. We have as an important resource the Midwest Wine and Grape Industry Institute located at Iowa State University. They provide the training, testing and research to help us make better wines. On February 4th the Iowa Wine Growers Association (IWGA) will be testifying before the Ag appropriations subcommittee for additional funding for the MWGII to increase their services and to lay the ground work for a potential research winery at ISU.

To help us improve the marketing of our wines, the IWGA has recently hired Emily Saveraid as the associations’ Marketing Director. This is an important step for the association as we work hard to help our members meet the challenges of the future. Please take advantage of the opportunity to meet her at the upcoming IWGA Conference in March.

The state of the wine industry, from my perspective, appears very to be good and with a continued effort from everyone, can be even better.

Michael Vincent

Wooden Wheel Vineyards

IWGA Board Member


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

Maturing of the Iowa Wine Industry

 by Michael L. White, ISU Extension Viticulture Specialist

I still remember that cold day on Saturday, February 19, 2000.  We had a heavy snow the night before.  Around 125 people from all around the state of Iowa showed up to a winegrape growing workshop held at the Odd Fellows Hall in Indianola, Iowa.   The enthusiasm was sky high and everyone left at the end of the day with their marching orders.  Grow grapes, make wine and have fun.

It was not a hard sell.   Many of the people who came to this first winegrape workshop were the pioneers who established the winegrape industry we have today.  Many have vineyards and/or wineries operating today. Many have fallen to the wayside.  What sounded good ended up being too management, labor and capital intensive for their lifestyle.

In February of 2000 Iowa had 13 wineries of which only two had vineyards and making grape wine. There were only hand full of commercial winegrape vineyards in the state covering less than 30 acres.  We ended 2013 with 97 operating wineries and 316+ vineyards covering 1,200+ acres.  The Iowa Alcohol Beverages Division reported 263,682 gallons of Iowa produced wine was sold during 2013.   Iowa wineries now have 5.92% of the retail wine market share in Iowa compared to less than 1% market share we had in 2000.    A 5.92% market share may seem low until you consider that California (58%) and foreign imports (32%) take approximately 90% of the remaining market share in the U.S.


As you can see from the chart above, the Iowa wine industry is starting to mature.  Some of the people who were in their 50’s and 60’s when they jumped into this business are no longer in the business. New vineyards and wineries still appear each year, just not as many as in the early years.  Many of the older enterprises are expanding.  New entrepreneurs entering this industry have more access to knowledge, resources and services than the early pioneers had available.  The early days of the blind leading the blind are now over. The wineries and vineyards of today are moving from a lifestyle model to more of a business model. They are looking at new products, services and amenities that they can market to make money, spread their risk and hire employees.

More Iowa wineries will be offering a larger variety of wines.  We will see more fortified and sparkling wines.  We will also see more fruit and honey wines and hard ciders popping up on the counter.  More unique blends and new varietal wines will  appear.   Quality will increase as our overall wine making experience increases.   Everyone knows that wine is the seed to many more economic activities.  We will see more wineries expand into more or larger event facilities, bed-n-breakfasts, gift shops,  restaurants and offer greater range of entertainment activities.

The future of the Iowa native wine industry still looks good. Our culture is changing.  Beer is no longer king. There is a place for native wine in Iowa’s future. I predict a slow and steady growth that will strengthen our industry over time.  Slow and steady is more sustainable than the fast and wild days of the recent past.


Michael L. White CCA, CPAg, CSW

Viticulture Specialist

ISU University Extension & Outreach

909 East 2nd Ave, Suite E

Indianola, IA 50125-2892

Office: 515-961-6237, Fax: 6017

Cell: 515-681-7286


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