Iowa Wine Business Continues To Grow

Iowa Wine Business Continues To Grow

Grape growing and wine production continue to become a bigger part of Iowa agriculture. A new grant awarded to a wine producing research group will move the process along even faster.

Getting wine from the grape to the glass, and doing it faster and producing a quality product, is the focus of a new grant that has just been awarded to a wine producing research group that includes Iowa and other "colder weather" states.

New grape varieties can take more than 20 years to breed and evaluate, and even longer to reach commercial success. Established wine-making areas have been perfecting their processes for decades. Areas such as Iowa, relatively new to making wine, have far less experience.

The recently awarded $2.5 million grant will help colder-weather states from Nebraska to Iowa to New York overcome obstacles in the vineyard, winery and tasting room and will also improve tourism. The grant's focus is a group of extremely cold-hardy wine grape varieties, new to both growers and consumers. These grapes have spawned new small winery industries in the upper Midwest and Northeast United States over the past decade.

Opens up new opportunities for Iowa grape growers and wine producers

In Iowa alone, the industry has grown from 100 acres of grape vines and 14 wineries in the year 2000, to more than 1,200 acres and 94 wineries in 2011.

The new research will examine how to determine the best growing conditions, modify the higher grape acidity and showcase wine's aroma, and build tourism networks to draw visitors to tasting rooms where the majority of sales take place.

"This opens up opportunities for Iowa growers to become leaders in production of premium cold climate wines," says Murli Dharmadhikari, director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University. ISU will receive more than $500,000 in funding for this project over two years. Ultimately, the institute hopes the project will help convert startup wineries into sustainably profitable enterprises that can fuel rural economic development, says Dharmadhikari.

Paul Domoto, professor of horticulture at ISU, will lead the viticulture studies group, and will work with Gail Nonnecke, another ISU professor of horticulture, on researching vineyard trials in Iowa. Jacek Koziel, associate professor of ag and biosystems engineering, will be part of the fruit composition and genetics group and study sensory profiling and volatile metabolites. Dharmadhikari will oversee fruit chemistry, winemaking trials and also serve as a liaison to the project advisory council team.

Goal to provide grape producers with research-based tools and practices

In addition, Dharmadhikari and ISU field specialist Mike White will serve on the Extension and consumer-marketing teams. Paul Lasley, an ISU professor of sociology, will lead and coordinate the project's evaluation.

The goal is to provide grape producers with research-based tools and practices to help them grow, vinify and sell quality wines to local and regional markets.

Research will be led by Tim Martinson, project director and senior extension associate at Cornell University, New York.

The grant was funded by the by USDA's National Institute of Food & Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which supports multi-institution, interdisciplinary research on crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and ornamentals. In addition to ISU at Ames and Cornell at Ithaca, New York, the consortium involved in this project also includes researchers from Michigan State University, East Lansing; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; North Dakota State University, Fargo; South Dakota State University, Brookings; the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; University of Nebraska, Lincoln; University of Vermont, Burlington; and University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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