Doug Bakker, Madison County Winery

A stone-lined terrace cuts into the hillside beneath a slope covered with meticulously tended vines.  It hugs the edge of a large patio which overlooks even more vines and a wide swath of farmland below which is accented by a tree-lined ridge rising in the distance.  A gentle wind trickles down the hill, carrying away with its whispers the sound from the roadway below, leaving the grounds of Madison County Winery in blissful silence.

Madison County Winery is located in St. Charles, Iowa.

Madison County Winery is located in St. Charles, Iowa, in the history Madison County.

Given the beauty of the imagery, it’s not difficult to believe that Doug Bakker, owner-winemaker of Madison County Winery, has a background in art – and it’s even easier to see the evidence of this once inside the creatively designed and artfully decorated facility where form and function work hand-in-hand to provide a flexible space for any number of uses.  During regular hours of operation, a rounded and spacious bar greets visitors as they enter the tasting room, but when large parties are expected the bar is split and swung aside.  A pair of large doors will then be opened to reveal a dual-purpose storage facility and event space.  Works of art by Bakker’s own hand line the walls of the tasting room.

“Really it all started when we were still living in Chicago,” said Bakker.  “We were looking to get back to Iowa and we would take our kids out to some of the orchards out around the outer suburbs area and thought that it would be neat to have a leisure destination type place around the Des Moines metro.”

Bakker purchased the land in 2000 and planted all 5 acres of the existing grapes in 2001.  Commercial sales of wine began in 2005 and the tasting room opened in May of 2011, along with Twisted Vine Brewery, a ‘nano’-brewery under the management of separate owners.

Half-growlers of Twisted Vine Brewery's beer can be purchased onsite, or in select locations.

Half-growlers of Twisted Vine Brewery’s beer can be purchased onsite, or in select locations.

“Now that there’s a lot more varietals of grape vines that can grow in this area, that’s what led us to do it as a winery rather than an orchard,” said Bakker.

He began learning the trade through the use of Iowa State University’s Extension program and by taking classes at the University of Minnesota.  He also participated in mini-apprenticeships in California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois wineries where he would work for free for four or five days as a cellar rat.

“You have to learn hands on, especially if you’re going to do it on a commercial level,” said Bakker.  “You can do the home winemaking and make some great wines, but if you want to do it commercially you do need that experience.”

The vineyard at Madison County Winery hosts three grape varieties, including Vignoles, Marechal Foch, and Stueben.  But while they enjoyed a fair amount of rain during the spring Bakker estimates that he’ll be ‘lucky’ to harvest 20% of the expected crop this year.

“The years have been kind of tough,” said Bakker.  “We’ve had rough years there with no moisture and coming off winter with damage.  This year we have a very small crop because of the winter damage last year.”

Another vineyard provides La Crescent to the winery, and despite his interest in the Marquette varietal Bakker is holding off on acquiring that particular variety until he is prepared for additional growth.

“The goal is to [eventually] see an expansion up the hill and to maybe add another production facility,” said Bakker.  “Hopefully I’ll find more growers and just continue to expand here.”

He also entertains the idea of producing sparkling wine on a commercial level as well.

“That’s one of the areas that we’ve already started branching into,” said Bakker.  “We’ve been doing some testing.  I’d really like to do that more.”

Madison County Winery hopes to expand its operation in the future to include sparkling wines.

Madison County Winery hopes to expand its operation in the future to include sparkling wines.

Bakker has enjoyed the incredible growth the native wine industry of Iowa has exhibited over the past decade, but he recognizes that growth in itself isn’t necessarily sustainable.

“Iowa is a small state with a small population,” said Bakker.  “We’re probably up to saturation point now and what we really need is those top wineries to really put the effort into the best quality wine, to keep stepping up and working with the Wine Institute at Iowa State and really start developing the industry.  There’s always going to be those who come in and fall off because they really haven’t done their research and their homework to know what it really takes.”

“It sounds like a good idea until you start doing all the work,” he adds.  “And I always tell everybody, seriously, go work and work for free for a while to really figure out if that’s really what you want to do.”

Bakker has high hopes for the development of the wine industry and in ten years he hopes to see Iowa recognized for its quality wines.

One of many creatively-labeled wines available at Madison County Winery.

One of many creatively-labeled wines available at Madison County Winery.

“I’d like to see those top-tier wineries really standing out and pushing to move the industry in this state forward,” said Bakker.  “Because that is what it’s going to take.”

“In my mind the most important thing is developing the Wine Institute,” he adds.  “And that is trying to get that winery built – a working winery for education, research, and actual service to the industry at Iowa State. Or if we can’t get it there, somewhere in the state.”

But while Bakker is highly supportive of the native wine industry, he expresses a desire to branch out beyond the borders of the state to break existing negative perceptions of Iowa wine.

“I’m probably different from some people in the industry who want Iowa-wine-only tastings,” said Bakker.  “I want to it to sit right between a French wine and a California wine because I want [tasters] to say ‘Oh, wow’!  I want them to compare and I don’t want them to be stuck with only Iowa wine.  I want to be put with the others.”

“People come out and they have no idea what we have here,” he adds.  “All the wines are good.  And that’s what we want, everybody saying ‘it may not fit my style, but it is a good wine’.  We really want people to be surprised when they come out here.”


For additional photos and to plan your visit, make your way to Madison County Winery’s website.


Wooden Wheel Vineyards

The hatchwork of wooden beams which stretch across the expansive ceiling of the event center is illuminated by the ethereal glow from a dozen hanging chandeliers.  Ranks of aged columns rise from the polished floor to support the mass.  They are strung with countless sparkling Christmas lights which seem to instill the room with an air of enchantment and wonder.  But while this image might bring to mind the luxurious great hall of some medieval lord, this room resides in the Midwest.  In fact, it resides in Iowa and was painstakingly crafted around the structure of an 1860s barn.  Located adjacent to the tasting room of Wooden Wheel Vineyards, it serves as a gathering place for innumerable people around the region.

The event center located at Wooden Wheel Vineyards was built around the structure of an 1860s barn.

The event center located at Wooden Wheel Vineyards was built around the structure of an 1860s barn.

“It’s fun to be a part of people’s lives when they come out here,” says Michael Vincent, winemaker and co-owner of Wooden Wheel Vineyards.  “We want them not to think of this as a Marriott, we want them to think of this as just a very relaxing place where they can be just as relaxed as they are at home.”

“That’s been fun, too, the social aspect of it,” he adds.  “We think we provide a valuable community service.”

Wooden Wheel Vineyards was originally the farmstead of the Vincent family whose ancestors fought in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 before settling in Iowa.  Pictures and original documents detailing the family history decorate the walls of the farm-turned-winery.

“I’ve always considered myself a displaced farmer,” says Vincent.  “I was part of the fifth generation here on the farm, and so we always had it in the back of our minds to come back.”

Unlike the winemakers whose involvement in the industry stem from a passion for wine and winemaking, Vincent contributes the origins of Wooden Wheel Vineyards to market research and business savvy.

Michael Vincent of Wooden Wheel Vineyards.

Michael Vincent of Wooden Wheel Vineyards.

“I’m a business guy, and to me that’s an art,” says Vincent.  “My experience has been in managing my own business or managing one for somebody else.”

Prior to Wooden Wheel, Michael Vincent and his wife owned and operated an insurance agency, which they started from scratch in 1993.  It grew to include 9 offices and 18 agents in the region.  When they were approached with an offer for buyout, the Vincents faced an impending decision as to what to do next.  While they desired to return to the family farmstead, the realities of modern farming were readily apparent to them.

“The first thing was, we have 125 acres, obviously that’s not a farm anymore,” says Vincent.  “To be a farmer anywhere it takes at least a thousand acres and really around here I’m guessing the average farm size is around three thousand acres.”

Instead, inspired by an experience they had insuring a winery, the Vincents began doing research on the possibility of starting a vineyard as an alternative for their family farm.

“We looked at the soil suitability rating from Iowa State, looked at the topography of our farm, and decided this was something we could do,” says Vincent.  “You don’t need a lot of acres, especially if you’re thinking of this as something to do while you retire.”

The Vincents also decided to make their own wine, instead of limiting themselves to the sale of grapes.

“Then it becomes a value added product,” says Vincent.  “We can control what we sell based on what we manufacture because we’ll produce the raw product, the grapes, and not worry about selling them or not having a market for them.  Rather, we’ll be creating the market ourselves through the wine.  It was a business decision.”

This family document, which hangs on the wall of the tasting room, shows the signature of Ulysses S. Grant.

This family document, which hangs on the wall of the tasting room, shows the signature of Ulysses S. Grant.

After taking classes at Des Moines Area Community College under the tutelage of Randall Vos and Paul Gospodarczyk the Vincents began their own operation in 2010.

“We learned a lot that first year,” says Vincent.  “Establishing the winery and going through all the hoops that takes was a lot more difficult than I anticipated.”

Zoning requirements and DNR concerns about runoff created initial hurdles to Wooden Wheel Vineyards, but eventually the doors of the winery were opened – one year later than the Vincents had planned.

Currently the estate hosts a number of varietals, including Marquette, Petite Pearl, Briana, and LaCrescent.  This list is rounded out with a number of other varietals purchased from other growers.

The open sky above Wooden Wheel Vineyards' event center.

The open sky above Wooden Wheel Vineyards’ event center.

“I’ve approached this business like I’ve approached any business and that’s from the standpoint that I don’t know everything,” says Vincent.  “And I figure if I can always maintain that attitude, and I’m always asking questions, always trying to learn… then I’m still on the right direction.”

“The fun part has been learning how to make wine,” he adds.  “Coming from insurance where we make paper products, [it’s fun] to actually have a tangible product which we can create and be artistic.”

That same sense of creativity is evident in the unique titles given to Wooden Wheel wines.  Each is named after an ancestor.  ‘Private G.W.’ refers to Michael Vincent’s great-great-grandfather George Washington Husted, who experienced the battlefield of Shiloh and the deadly Andersonville Prison during the Civil War.

'The Judge' is named in honor of a Vincent ancestor.

‘The Judge’ is named in honor of a Vincent ancestor.

While their names may exhibit a sense of playfulness, Wooden Wheel wines are serious business.  After experiencing some initial challenges with the Marquette grape, Vincent employed similar processes used to produce the varietal’s ancestor, Pinot Noir, resulting in a wine which displays very similar characteristics to the classic grape and a refinement not often found in Midwestern reds.

“We don’t have any super, super sweet wines,” says Vincent.  “What we try to do is accent the flavor in all those categories: the semi-sweet, the sweet and the dry.”

“Our goal has never been to win awards.  Our goal has always been to make wine that people like,” he adds.  “What I really enjoy is when people come in and sit down and say ‘gee, I really like all of your wines’.  Then, to me, it’s been a success.”

Grape Disease Management

Northern Grapes Project Header

Anthracnose on berries







Anthracnose on grape berries. (Photo: Patty McManus)

Every experienced grape grower knows that good disease management program is a crucial component of growing high-quality grapes.  Early season control is especially important, as flowers and small berries are quite susceptible to powdery mildew, downy mildew, and black rot.

Because cold-hardy grape cultivars are still relatively new, we’re still learning about the different cultivars’ resistance and susceptibility to the range of grape pathogens.  Therefore, one of the objectives of the Northern Grapes Project is to evaluate disease resistance and the cultivars’ susceptibility to copper- and sulfur-based fungicides.

Below is a list of resources that will help you build an effective disease management program.

Grape Disease Management Basics (and All About Anthracnose) by Wayne Wilcox, Cornell University and Patty McManus, the University of Wisconsin.  April 10, 2012 Northern Grapes Project webinar.

The Disease Management Puzzle: Putting the Pieces Together by Dean Volenberg, University of Wisconsin Extension – Door County.  June  4, 2013 Northern Grapes News (Vol. 2, Issue 2).

Grape Disease Control, 2013 by Wayne Wilcox, Cornell University.  A rather lengthy document that contains an update and review of how to control grape fungal diseases in the east.  (Will updated this link with the 2014 version once it’s released.)

The 2014 Midwest Small Fruit and Grape Spray Guide.  Contains general guidelines to use as you develop your grape spray program.  Also has information about fruit grower newsletters, pesticide drift, plant diagnostic lab listings, and much more.


Article and resources courtesy of the Northern Grapes Project.

Ardon Creek Winery

159 years ago, an Irish family made its way to Southeast Iowa and settled between the rivers Cedar and Mississippi. The descendants of that family reside there still, and display their ancestral pride through a symbolic three-leaf clover, artfully worked into the logo of the family’s current venture: a vineyard and winery named Ardon Creek.

“I was raised here, and all the Furlongs in our lineage are from here,” said Mike Furlong. Along with his wife, Diane, he manages the day-to-day operations of the vineyard and winery.

“My father raised tomatoes for Heinz when Muscatine had a plant,” said Mike. “During those years, the place would be full of people working, harvesting, and so I got exposed to that and some of the pitfalls – the good, bad, and different. I think that has helped us because it’s a little like the wine business.”

In addition to Mike’s experience on the family farm, the Furlongs’ work experience in the business world has proved valuable as well. “The marketing stuff, the sales stuff,” said Diane. “I sometimes think that it can be lacking [in other wineries].”

Transitioning the family farm into a vineyard hadn’t been at the top of the Furlongs’ list from the start. Instead, driven by a desire to rejuvenate the ancestral farmstead, they entertained a variety of options. It was a grape growing seminar which finally convinced them it was the right course of action.

“[Mike] came back from that seminar, that very first one he went to, and said, ‘I think I found it, I think we’re going to raise grapes and make wine’,” said Diane. “At that point we were so captivated by the whole romance idea of wine.”

“We started to go to classes that Iowa State put on in 2000, planted our first grape vines in 2004, and then opened the winery in 2009,” said Mike. “So we’re starting our fifth year as a winery, and eleventh as far as the vineyard.”

Ardon Creek produces about 3,000 gallons of wine annually from the grapes they grow on site including Concord, Noiret, Chancellor, Edelweiss and LaCrosse. Additional juice is brought in from New York which they use to fulfill their total production of 6,000 gallons or more, a process made easier with help from loyal community members.

“It’s just amazing to me. We bottle probably about once a month, twice a month, seventeen times in a year, or something like that – the bottling team are the same volunteers every single time,” said Diane.

“We kind of take to the Hillary Clinton quote of, ‘it takes a village’, and to run a winery that seems to be our perspective,” said Mike. “It doesn’t hurt that Diane is one of these bon appetit kind of cooks, so she really puts on a nice spread. We think of stories about threshers and getting together to do the threshing of the wheat and oats or whatever – there’s some of that going on. I think the uniqueness of the endeavor intrigues people, so people are interested in being involved.”

“Everybody likes wine,” said Diane.

At the present, the winery operations are contained within a single building which is separated into a tasting room and a large space for winemaking and storage. The winemaking room is lined on one side by a row of tall, stainless steel tanks. On the opposite wall, a long table covered with laboratory equipment. A mountainous stack of boxes sweep down the center: bottles waiting to be filled or sold, oak infusions ready to be immersed in aging wine, labels waiting to be adhered – provisions for a busy winery. A cement crush pad hugs one of the outer walls of the building.

“As time goes on and as the business grows we can see ourselves using real oak barrels to age some of our wines, and adding some reserve releases. We might also put up another facility so we can host weddings more practically rather than worrying about the weather conditions,” said Mike.

Among the challenges the Furlongs have faced has been product recognition and capturing a strong market share.

“It’s a whole learning curve for the audience as much as it’s been [for us],” said Diane. “These grapes have been largely unknown. Everybody recognizes Concord, but that’s about the only one.“

“The market share portion is challenging because to gain market share you have to spend money – any kind of growth you have to spend money, it seems like in this industry,” said Mike.

Despite these challenges the Furlongs remain positive about the endeavor.

“I think that people will begin to recognize more of the cold climate grapes as time goes on,” said Diane.

“I’m a big believer in Chancellor and Noiret,” said Mike. “First of all, I like dry reds. It’s winter hardy to about 15 degrees with 50 percent bud kill. It comes very close to the vinifera world, maybe a light Corot Noir or a Cab, if you want to call it that. When we [the Furlongs] drink wine, we drink that, or I do anyway.  The Noiret grape was developed by Cornell in New York; we have an acre of that and we make that in a dry red style and it has hints of black and green pepper and it makes for a very complex, interesting wine. Does it taste like Cabernet Sauvignon? No, but does it taste like interesting dry red? Yeah.”

In their eyes, the future of the Iowa wine industry also remains positive.

“I would say there would be fewer wineries and they might be larger, and I think those that remain will be better winemakers and will also have different winter hardy hybrids that might make some of the dry people happy,” said Mike. “It took Napa three decades to really get themselves [to where they are now] – and I’m not comparing Iowa to Napa, but it’s a long process.”

In the meantime, however, the Furlongs focus their efforts on rejuvenating the family estate.

“Since it has been in our family 159 years some of it is a legacy thing for the next generation,” said Mike. “This is a community making a unique product and it’s a pretty good product.”


This article first appeared in Midwest Wine Press in April 2014.

Iowa Quality Wine Consortium

The Iowa Quality Wine Consortium is a partnership between the IWGA and ISU’s Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute.  It was established to help enhance the reputation of Iowa wine and ensure the quality of Iowa wine overall.  Members of the IWGA can submit their wines for evaluation, and should it pass a sensory analysis test from a panel of chosen evaluators, they will receive a mark of excellence which can be affixed to the wine bottle.  Iowa Decanted visited ISU on the day of an evaluation to get a few behind-the-scenes shots and speak with those involved.

Odessa Vineyards

Nestled in the Louisa county countryside is a winding road that leads to an acreage and an unassuming, small brown building. Contained inside that building is a blue walled tasting room filled with the aroma of oaky reds, floral whites, sweets, semi-sweets and more. This is Odessa Vineyards.

“We want to make this a destination, not just a stopping point along the way,” said Corey Nichols, co-owner of the vineyard. “We want them to say, ‘Ah, let’s go over there again that was a really wonderful experience and a good wine.”

Corey owns and operates the vineyard with his wife Tami. The couple began the venture in 2006 after careful consideration of what they could do with their land; starting a Christmas tree farm was a possibility, but they enjoyed the idea of a vineyard and winery more and decided to take classes at Des Moines area Community College to grow their knowledge base. The endeavor started with the planting of five varietals of grapes. Currently that number has risen to seven, comprised of both American and French-American hybrids. These grapes are then made into small batches of wine which are carefully quality controlled by the husband and wife team.

The Nichols said they have a humble goal for the growth of the vineyard and winery.

“We just want to have it be self-supporting by the time we both retire, so we can supplement our retirement income off of it and really enjoy what we’re doing with retirement,” said Corey. “We don’t want it to get huge; we don’t want it to get that big really, just something the two of us can manage.”

The couple doesn’t have employees. They do everything themselves from harvesting to bottling to working in the tasting room. Tami said in addition to the production of uniquely Iowan wines, their customers value that personal, hands-on approach.

“They don’t like to have the person behind the bar not know the wine, not know the vineyard, not know what’s going on in this winery,” she said. “We have the Iowa grapes and we make Iowa wines and that’s what they like to see too. They don’t like to see the cabernets and the merlots because that’s not from Iowa- that’s shipped in juice.”

Also adding to the appeal of the Odessa Vineyards is the relaxing atmosphere the couple worked to cultivate.

“We always try to talk to them and make them feel at home and have them ask questions,” Tami said. “You know the ones who felt really comfortable compared to the ones who, for some reason, didn’t enjoy the experience and there’s very few of those.”

Tami and Corey said they encourage new wine drinkers by not berating them with rules or making them feel bad about their taste preferences. Often they see customers, whose palettes change over time, moving from sweets to drier wines. However, they said it’s not a problem if that never happens.

“You don’t have to drink specific wine with specific food, and you don’t have to feel ashamed that you don’t know what’s going on,” said Corey. “Arrogance is unnecessary. You just want people to feel comfortable.”

Corey said his personal favorite wines they make at the vineyard are the dry, oaked reds, but the most popular is the sweet Randa’s Blush. For him, the most important element in the production of a good quality wine is a simple one.

“As long as you start with good quality grapes, the best thing you can do is maintain that quality product,” he said. “You’re not going to improve upon the grape at that point, but you just need to work at it so you don’t ruin the wine as you go along.”

The quality of other growers’ grapes has been a source of frustration for the couple when they need to buy grapes from elsewhere and find that the care they take with their own grapes is not mirrored in some other vineyards.

“We’re just the two of us so we’ve got a lot to do, and it’s hard for the winemaker or buyers to monitor what they’re doing and it’s unfortunate that a lot of them who have gotten into it haven’t done it correctly,” said Corey.

Despite this frustration, the Nichols said one of the most enjoyable parts of owning and operating a vineyard and winery is getting to meet other Midwestern wine professionals and swapping ideas. They said they look forward to the industry growing even more in Iowa and for the Iowa product to become better defined.

“We have so many different hybrids out here, so I think once we’ve matured enough that we get down to a handful of grapes that really everybody’s going to grow and make a good wine, I think we’ll grow even more at that point,” said Corey. “Up until now, we’re still sort of feeling our way around.”

Odessa Vineyards joined the Scenic River Wine tour in the past year, and they plan on expanding their marketing as they move forward.

“We both work full time elsewhere, so as we get to that point when we’re retiring then we’ll get out and do a whole lot more and maybe get involved in more of the wine industry,” said Corey.

In the meantime, the Nichols will continue to enjoy the experience of wine and sharing that experience with others.

“Wine really kind of brings people together,” said Corey. “There’s something exciting about opening a new bottle of wine with friends- you never know when you open the next bottle what it’s going to be like.”

The Winery at Kirkwood

For this month’s Movers & Shakers feature, we visited Kirkwood Community College, where students are given a chance to learn the workings of the wine industry, and experience firsthand just what it takes to grow grapes and produce wine in Iowa.

Check out our Facebook page for photos of our visit.

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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