Growing Grapes in Iowa

Like most other Midwestern states, Iowa was once one of the major players in the grape and wine industry of the United States. The most promising areas are those in the Loess Hills area in the western part of the state and the north-eastern slopes with limestone-based soils. Many factors contributed to its downfall, though, including bitter cold winters, diseases, and the Prohibition in 1920. In recent years, however, Iowa experienced a comeback in the wine industry, with 62 open wineries, 408 vineyards, and more than a thousand acres of grapes. This is definitely a far cry from the two wineries and five vineyards in the region ten years ago. Iowa’s climate is ideally suited to growing grapes. The summers are hot and rainfall is adequate to successfully produce high-quality grapes. However, Iowa winters can be very cold and many grape cultivars cannot withstand late spring frosts and extreme winter temperatures. Lately, the summers have become very hot and humid, giving rise to molds, mildew, and diseases. Also, huge masses of tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico bring thunderstorms that provide too much watering and cutting short the growing season. Grape growers in Iowa select their cultivars based on a variety of considerations, most important of which are the varietal’s cold-hardiness, resistance to diseases, and its ripening season. Most popular in this area are the native American Catawba and the French-American hybrids Edelweiss, Frontenac, La Crescent, La Crosse, Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Steuben, and Vignoles.

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