ISU professor sees Iowa as regional winery leader

Study: Winery-related tourism generated $41 million in 2013

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Iowa's wine industry has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, prompting an Iowa State University professor to contend that the state has the potential to be a regional leader.

Murli Dharmadhikari, director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University, notes that Iowa was home to around 30 wineries and 500 acres of wine grapes a decade ago. Those numbers have soared to 100 wineries covering 1,200 acres today.

"The industry is at a critical juncture," Dharmadhikari said. "Iowa-produced wines have captured 6 percent of the state’s wine market, and Iowa has the potential to lead the region in wine production and sales."

A study by Frank, Rimerman & Co., a California-based consulting firm, found that Iowa’s wine and wine grapes industry had a $420 million economic impact in 2012, roughly an 80 percent increase from $234 million in 2008.

Dharmadhikari, associate assistant professor of food science and human nutrition at ISU, said the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute has helped spur the growth of the state's wine industry by researching grape varieties that can thrive in the Midwest and by offering educational and outreach programs.

The Frank, Rimerman & Co. study estimated that about 358,000 people visited Iowa wineries in 2012, up 51 percent from roughly 237,000 winery visitors in 2008. Wine, grapes and related industries account for 2,678 jobs in Iowa, according to the study.

Iowa has developed six wine "trails" since the Iowa Wine Trail was founded in 2006 by members of the Mississippi Valley Growers wine grape production group. The wine trails encourage visitors to sample wines in tasting rooms and learn from winemakers about growing grapes using the region's special varietals.

The retail value of Iowa wine sold in 2012 was $15 million, according to the study. Dharmadhikari contends that wine-related tourism brings even greater value to the state.

The study found that winery-related tourism generated $41 million in 2013. Wages and employment related to the Iowa wine industry accounted for $83 million.

Iowa has vineyards and wineries in 86 of its 99 counties. The majority of the wineries are small enterprises with production of less than 5,000 cases annually.

Dharmadhikari said Iowa's wine industry has grown despite the fact that the state has the fourth highest wine excise tax in the nation at $1.75 per gallon.

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