Iowa Wine Overview

Like most agriculturally based states, Iowa has a long history of wine production, dating back to the mid 1800s. In the last ten years, though, the Iowa wine industry has really taken hold. The number of vineyards has more than doubled and the number of Iowa wineries has risen to almost 80.

All of this growth has occurred in spite of Iowa’s hot summers and often frigid winters. French hybrid grapes and some newly developed American hybrids do grow quite well here, particularly in the far eastern and far western parts of the state. In fact, 18 counties in northeast Iowa are part of the Mississippi Valley AVA, the largest geographical AVA in the United States.

One prime advantage Iowa has in their favor is ease of travel in the state, which helps draw agri-tourists and wine lovers. Interstate 80 cuts through the heart of Iowa and the terrain is quite navigable. The Iowa Wine and Beer Commission has done an excellent job promoting Iowa wineries and breweries, and produces one of the best annual brochures to educate travelers in the United States.

Iowa stands just about in the middle of the pack in terms of gallons of wine bottled by state. Some of the most common grapes grown in Iowa include Catawba, Frontenac, La Crescent, Marechal Foch, Seyval and Vignoles. Each of these grapes tend to be hardier and can survive Iowa’s generally harsh winters. Iowa winery tasting rooms always offer a broad range of styles and tend to rely on Iowa-grown grapes more often than not (be sure to ask!).

Personally, we’ve found many of the wines we’ve tasted and purchased in Iowa to have excellent depth and taste, particularly the whites. Wineries are scattered across the state, and about half of Iowa wineries are part of a wine trail. We’ve spent time in several of Iowa’s cities and have had the fortunate opportunity to visit many Iowa wineries. Cities like Des Moines, Dubuque and Cedar Rapids (just to name a few) are excellent weekend destinations, as are the fascinating Amana Colonies in the eastern portion of the state.

The number of vineyards has more than doubled, and the number of Iowa wineries has risen to almost 80.

Iowa Wine Trails

Iowa has been aggressively creating and designating wine trails in the last several years, recognizing the link between agritourism and increasing the profile of the state’s wine industry. Iowa now offers wine travelers five wine trails that encompass most of the state. Keep in mind that a large number of Iowa wineries worth your visit don’t belong to a specific trail, so there’s a lot more to Iowa wine than just these five wine trails.

From east to west, Iowa’s wine trails are the Iowa Wine Trail, Scenic Rivers Wine Trail, Amana Colonies Wine Trail, Heart of Iowa Wine Trail and Western Iowa Wine Trail. Here’s a brief overview of each.

The Iowa Wine Trail features nine wineries in the northeast portion of the state, all of which are an easy drive from Dubuque, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Wineries in this area are part of the Mississippi Valley AVA, and it’s generally this area which comes to mind when one mentions Iowa Wine Country.

Dubuque is a picturesque and fascinating blend of old river city, college town, skiing and tourist hot spot, and art and shopping destination. As you’ll see from our travelogue, part of Illinois wine country is also just moments away. The region is hilly and fertile due to the adjacent Mississippi River, so a lot of Iowa’s grapes are grown here. As you travel from winery to winery on this trail, you’ll encounter acres and acres of vineyards — something you probably wouldn’t expect to see in Iowa!

Farther south along the Mississippi River are the wineries of the Scenic Rivers Wine Trail. This eight-winery trail features seven Iowa wineries and one in Illinois, the historic Baxter Vineyards in Nauvoo, on the Illinois side of the river. The trail and Iowa wineries are in extreme southeast Iowa, where Illinois, Missouri and Iowa come together. The Scenic Rivers Wine Trail is one of Iowa’s newest.

Eagles Landing is not only a winery is a bird watchers paradise. The name stems from numerous bald eagles who winter in this area, perching high in the trees or swooping onto the river for a meal.

Moving farther west, just north of Interstate 80 and 30 minutes southwest of Cedar Rapids is the German-influenced artist community of the Amana Colonies. The Colonies, made up of seven small villages, are well known for their handmade furniture, crafts, locally made food products and art. There are five wineries in this area which make up the Amana Wine Trail. Also here is the well known Millstream Brewing Company, which has produced beer for more than 25 years.

In the central section of Iowa, stretching from the far north to the far south, is the Heart of Iowa Wine Trail, which consists of 15 wineries who joined together to help promote Iowa wine and its associate members. More than half of the member wineries are just a short drive from Des Moines.

Finally, in the western part of the state is the Western Iowa Wine Trail, which is Iowa’s newest. Established in 2008, the Western Iowa Wine Trail links seven member wineries, most of which are an easy drive from Council Bluffs and Omaha, Nebraska. This is Missouri River Valley country, and any notion you may have about Iowa being flat will be dispelled here! Known as the Loess Hills area, this part of Iowa offers beautiful hilly scenery and pastoral farmland. You’re also just across the Missouri River from eastern Nebraska’s wine country and Omaha, a fun place to explore for a weekend.

Travelogue: Iowa Wine: Dubuque and the Iowa Wine Trail

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