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Iowa wine industry relies on next generation

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As an older generation retires, a younger generation enters the Iowa wine industry.

New generation wineries were established throughout Iowa in the early 2000s. Michael White is Viticulture Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. White says as the older generation leaves the industry, the younger generation moves in. However, the young generation often struggles in doing so.

“Many of them don’t have the cash assets like the older generation, who were nearing retirement and had excess cash,” White said. “The new generation is more professional. They have to look at cash flow, make sure the bottom line is met and please the banker.”

Start-up costs for a winery range from $8,000 to $10,000. Those costs include labor, land and all other expenses for the first three years.

Before entering the industry, White encourages the next generation to acquire technical competency, as well as work for a few wineries and vineyards.

“There is a program called VESTA, Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance. The program was started in 1993 at Missouri State University in southwest Missouri. It’s mostly online, and they have top-notch instructors (from) all over the world teaching the class. You can get a two-year degree in Wine Making, two-year degree in Viticulture, a two-year degree in Wine Business or get a 100-hour certificate. For people who already have a degree, they can get through the program in a year. The degree program is being used in 18 states, even California and New York. It’s a good way to enter the industry. If you have the degree, the majority of wineries will hire you,” White said.next

The Iowa wine industry holds six-point-five percent of the market share, and the price of grapes have slightly increased due to high demand. White said those are just a couple industry benefits.

“The wine is the seed to everything else,” White said. “The wine industry in the Midwest is tourism, bed and breakfast, weddings, events and music. It’s a leisure activity for most of your customers. You’re working with people that are fun to work with, plus, you’re working with a diverse range. It’s just a big plate of activities.”

 The price of grapes, delivered to a winery, ranges from $1,200 to $1,400 per ton, in Iowa. White said it is not unusual for a ton of grapes, of select variety, to cost $1,600.