When you think Iowa wine, does "award-winning" immediately come to mind? Well, if it doesn't, then you may want to think again! At this year’s Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (in other words, a fancy wine competition that provides wineries with plenty of bragging rights if their wines do well), 17 wineries across the state brought home 74 medals for their award-winning Iowa wines. Um, 74 MEDALS people! That’s a lot. Three wineries brought home the highest awarded medal - the Double Gold - Ardon Creek Vineyard & Winery with their Commission Man Red, made from 100% Noiret grapes; Calico Skies Vineyard & Winery with their sweet rose, Sweet Licks, made from Concord and Catawba grapes; and Fireside Winery with Serenade, made from Concord and LaCrosse grapes. Receiving a Double Gold medal is like getting an A+, earning a 4.0 GPA, having a 1.000 batting average if you’re a baseball fan, you get the picture. It's one of the highest standards in wine. If you want to check out the full list of award-winning wineries, we do have it available here.
Okay, so why is this a big deal, you might ask? Bear with me for a minute, while I give you a little history lesson here, because Iowa’s history in winemaking has been sort of a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of thing. In the years prior to Prohibition, Iowa was the 6th largest wine producer in the nation, with commercial vineyards and wineries established in the late 1800s, even before some in California (so take that, Golden State!). Then Prohibition came along and shut down nearly all wine production. Bummer. By the time it ended in 1933, the majority of vineyards had been dug up and replanted with the state’s new dominant crop – corn. Fast-forward to the mid ‘90s, after some innovative research from the University of Minnesota and Cornell University, and new cold-hardy grape varietals started to make their comeback in newly planted vineyards across the state. Winemakers were taking these new-fangled grapes and making wine out of them, some good and some...not so good, at first. Thanks to research, quality testing and sensory analysis available to vintners through Iowa State University’s Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, the overall quality of wine made from these cold-climate grapes, which tend to have more fruity flavors and less tannin than the well-known French varietals, has improved tremendously over the years. Okay, so back to my original point...when we say Iowa is offering “award-winning wines”, this is exactly what we’re talking about – pretty awesome tasting wines with awards to prove it!
People may not realize that there are 105 wineries across the state. In fact, wine tourism in Iowa is a pretty big deal, with an economic impact of $41 million, drawing nearly 360,000 visitors to the state each year. With seven wine trails scattered across the state and various events, tastings and tours offered nearly each day of the year, it’s easy to see why people are choosing Iowa for their vacation and stay-cation plans. Stop by any one of our wineries on a weekend afternoon and you’re likely to find a crowd having a pretty good time - whether it’s lounging on the lawn listening to an outdoor musician when the weather's nice, meeting up with friends to share a bottle of wine next to the fireplace, or packing up the whole family for a picnic near the vineyard while the kids are on summer break – this unique experience provided at each winery is part of what makes Iowa wine so special.
Winery visits in Iowa are not just for self-proclaimed “wine snobs” either, oftentimes you’ll be greeted by the winemaker or owner themselves when entering the tasting room and they’re happy to tell you all about what makes their wines unique, while pouring a sample for you to enjoy. Most wineries are kid and pet-friendly too, although a phone call before bringing Fido would be a good idea.
Long gone are the glory days of Iowa being the 6th largest wine producer, this is true, but perhaps our future is filled with new glory that Iowa offers the number one wine experience? With the majority of Iowa wine being purchased directly from winery tasting rooms, maybe part of what makes Iowa wine so freaking cool is the entire experience visitors have at each of these wineries. Ah yes, with vineyards and wineries tucked away in the beautiful countryside and cities spanning from the rolling Loess Hills on the western side of the state to the Mississippi riverbanks on the east, do we dare say that Iowa wine could quite possibly be the hidden gem of our state? You decide for yourself by visiting one of the 105 wineries located across the state and experience what Iowa wine is all about. There’s no better time than now, with April being celebrated as Iowa Wine Month.
So what are you waiting for? Go! Taste the experience of Iowa wine.
The Iowa Wine Growers Association and its membership of wineries, vineyards and other industry members encourage adult residents and tourists alike to help celebrate Iowa Wine Month by visiting wineries across the state and responsibly enjoying a glass of quality Iowa wine. Wineries are holding many events during April in celebration of Iowa Wine Month. For a listing of all events throughout the month, visit the Iowa Wine & Beer calendar of events or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.