Area wine producers get boost with appellation designation

BY TYLER LYON | JULY 22, 2009 7:15 AM

Martha’s Vineyard, Napa Valley, and Baldwin, Iowa? Tuesday, one of these things was not similar to the others. But that changes today.

Effective today, the Alcohol and Tobacco and Tax Trade Bureau will recognize the Upper Mississippi River Valley American Viticultural Area, which will be the largest wine region in the country.

Spanning 29,914 square miles, the area extends across Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. It includes Johnson County and 17 other counties in the state.

The area is well-suited for growing grapes, said Paul Tabor, the owner of Tabor Home Winery in Baldwin, Iowa.

“When you have an area that’s hilly, it doesn’t get frosted easily,” he said. “In the course of daily heating and cooling, cold air goes downhill, which keeps vines dry.”

If grapes are continually wet, Tabor said, they won’t grow and can build up fungus.

Engelbrecht Family Winery co-owner Dianna Engelbrecht said the rich soil on her Fredricksburg, Iowa, vineyard allows vigorous plants to grow. A UI alumna, she said she and her husband have been selling their own wine for three years.

Engelbrecht said the winery uses a hybrid of French and American grapes that were bred in Wisconsin and developed further at the University of Minnesota to withstand the Midwest’s climate — which oscillates between hot summers and cold winters.

“They have to be hardy grapes to grow in our area,” Engelbrecht said.

Tabor said the new labels with the region’s name will help him sell more wines such as the La Croix — a red with a mixture of fruit flavors and what he described as a “chocolate character.”

The approval will spark more interest from wine enthusiasts, he said. That means wines from the area can now carry labels bearing the region’s name, telling people where the wine was grown and produced.

“Enthusiasts look for that on the bottle,” Tabor said.

Local restaurateurs may or may not see different demand from patrons, however. Heath Brewer, the manager of the Bread Garden, 225 S. Linn St., said the only local wines the establishment sells are from West Branch and Amana, and its stock is dependent on consumer demand.

“It really depends on what our customers want,” Brewer said.

The store gets a fair number of wine enthusiasts who know what they are looking for, Brewer said, but the more average consumer isn’t always aware of where the wine comes from.

Engelbrecht said she will have to wait to see if the change increases business. She foresees advertisers playing up the region’s features.

“A year from now will be a different story,” she said.

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