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Iowa not whining about wines

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | APRIL 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa-produced wine could soon join Hawkeye vodka and Admiral Nelson’s rum as Saturday-night staples in Iowa City.

Iowa’s wine industry is expanding, according to a recent report by a California consulting firm. The economic impact of the state’s wine and wine grapes grew from $234 million in 2008 to $420 million in 2012 — a rise of nearly 80 percent. Roughly 237,000 people visited Iowa wineries in 2008 compared with 358,000 people in 2012, up 51 percent.

Murli Dharmadhikari, the director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University, attributed the rise to three reasons, the first being the use of hardier grape crops.

“The key to the industry’s growth is these varieties can withstand the adverse winter conditions,” Dharmadhikari said.

He also pointed to a thriving movement for local foods to account for the increase in tourists.

“What we are trying to sell here and trying to market here is the taste of a place, the sense of a place,” Dharmadhikari said. “That’s what people are interested in. That’s what people want to know. That’s why tourism is increasing in the state of Iowa.”

Dan Ceresia, the sommelier for Bread Garden, 225 S. Linn St, said he is planning to expand the store’s Iowa wine section in partnership with Cedar Ridge Vineyards.

“I grew up all over the place, and I have never been to a state that supports its home team like Iowa,” he said.

Kolin Brighton, the production manager for Cedar Ridge Vineyards, located in Swisher, has seen the trend mirrored at the winery.

“We notice it by the parking lot filling up,” Brighton said. “There’s people from all over the state, all over the country, and all over the world who have stopped into Cedar Ridge for one reason or another. A good chunk of those people are what we’d call wine tourists. I would say those types of visitors have gone up in recent years.”

Iowa has gained 70 new wineries over the past decade for a total of 100.

Six percent of wine sold in Iowa was produced in the state, which did not excite Brighton.

“That’s not climbing really fast,” he said. “We think as an industry we can get that up to 10 percent.”

Dharmadhikari said Iowa’s regulatory climate for wine is a third reason for the economic growth. Farmers can grow grapes, produce wines, and sell to customers directly themselves.

He said the wine industry has been steadily growing nationwide and will continue for at least the next five years.

“We drink a lot of wine here in America,” Ceresia said. “I think farmers are starting to exploit the industry because it is a multitrillion-dollar industry.”


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