Iowa Wine Industry Just Beginning to Blossom

By Heather Hubbs, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa-- The wine industry has taken root in Iowa.
From 2002 to 2012, the number of licensed and operating wineries grew from 18 to 101. The growth was due, in part, to tax credits offered to start up wine makers.

In 2013 the number of wineries decreased for the first time in 13 years. The current number open for business is 95. But those in the industry aren't concerned -- while the number of wineries may be leveling off, they say the industry is just beginning to bloom.

Among corn and soybean fields, grapevines now dot the Iowa landscape.

"A lot of people in this area thought we were crazy for tilling up corn and soybeans and putting in vines," Said Cassie Bott of Fireside Winery.

Cassie Bott's family opened Fireside Winery in Marengo in 2007, just as the wine industry started taking off. Their first year they corked about 12,000 bottles; this year they've corked more than 60,000. At this rate, they will soon outgrow their production facility.

"It's grown substantially since we've opened. We've seen a 20 percent growth every year, which is much higher than we thought," said Bott.

While the majority of those visiting Fireside are from Iowa, the winery does get some out-of-state visitors. For Dennis Dieters, wine tourism is his livelihood. He operates Iowa Wine Tours Inc. of Dubuque, taking wine enthusiasts on day trips to wineries around the region.

"I love it," said Dieters. "I meet a lot of interesting people from all walks of life. Every day is different it's a lot of fun."

But even though there have been new wineries popping up all over, it's been slow growth for his business over the past six years.

"People didn't see this as a wine region so that's been our challenge to educate them and get the word out that hey we're here," said Dieters.

Word seems to be spreading. A recent Travel Iowa study listed wineries on the top ten list of activities for Iowa travelers. So while there may not be more wineries for Dennis to travel to in the coming years, there may be more looking to visit existing ones to sample Iowa wines.

"Iowa, compared to other states, is quite low in wine consumption, so definitely a market for Iowans to drink more wine and hopefully they'll choose Iowa wines," said Bott.

Since the Iowa wine industry is still relatively young, the Iowa State Extension Office has started a grape and wine institute so people can learn how to grow grapes and bottle wine. They also have a quality control lab to help wineries ensure what they are only selling the cream of the crop.
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