Cornbelt or Winebelt — and Colorado Too

I was intrigued by a piece in today’s New York Times about the small, but mushrooming, wine industry in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest. Intriguingly titled “Iowa Finds Itself Deep in the Heart of Wine Country,” it reported on Iowa and other mid-country farmers who have discovered the pleasure and profits in growing grapes and making wine.

The lead reads:
“Stan Olson used to grow corn and soybeans on hundreds of acres here on the Raccoon River west of Des Moines, but no more. These days, Mr. Olson’s empty grain silo is useful only as a rustic image to promote his new vineyard and tasting room.

“Mr. Olson’s Penoach Winery is a tiny operation in a red barn behind his family’s farmhouse, next to a small grape nursery. It does not have much of a customer base yet or any vintages that go beyond last year, but Mr. Olson is thrilled nonetheless.

“ ‘I will make as much selling grape plants off of two acres this year as I did many years on 1,000 acres of corn and raising 3,000 head of hogs,’ ” said Mr. Olson, who makes much of his money selling cuttings to other aspiring vintners.”

In the wine business, production from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa is collectively known as “New World Wines.” Iowa and neighboring states might have the newest of the new, but they are not all that far behind Colorado’s burgeoning wine industry. When I moved here in 1988, the first vineyard had just planted its first grapes. Now, according to the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, there are upwards of 60 wineries here.

As in the Midwest, Colorado vineyards have planted hybrid grapes that can take cold weather. Most of Colorado’s vineyards are in the Grand Junction area, with wineries scattered throughout the state. BookCliff, for instance, has its vineyard near Palisade, just east of Grand Junction, but its winery and tasting room are in Boulder. The beautiful Winery at Holy Cross Abbey grows some grapes on the grounds of the former Benedictine monastery in Canon City, west of Pueblo, where the winery is located and also buys grapes from other growers. Due to a change in state law, multi-winery tasting rooms are now legal. When you come across one while traveling through Colorado, stop in and sample some of the state’s wines. You might be surprised at their quality.

3 thoughts on “Cornbelt or Winebelt — and Colorado Too”

  1. Dear Claire,
    What an interesting and beautiful blog you have. I am very grateful that you mention our food blog back in October. Thank you so much for your generous comments. It would be nice to keep in touch since we share the same passion for food and wine. We’ll add you to our links. It will be an honor to have you in our blog. Thanks so much again,


  2. I’ve now also added a link to your blog using Papaya Pate. I had intended to drop you a snail-mail note at the restaurant suggesting a link. And truly, the honor is mine that you are adding a link to my site.

    Primitivo was in its prime when I researched and wrote ‘Culinary Colorado,’ the book. I ate at Udi’s and the Brasserie Rouge when John was cooking there. I now have Duo on my list of places to try. When I do, I’ll see if either or both of you are around so that we can meet, at least for a moment, in person.

  3. Claire,
    Thank you for your kind words about the Colorado wine industry. We are the fastest growing segment of agriculture in the state, generating $41.7 million of economic impact, when tourism is included, during 2005 according to a recent CSU study.
    I have been very impressed with what the Iowa wine industry has accomplished recently, too. As with Colorado, their state government and agricultural infrastructure have been very supportive and nurturing of a vibrant industry.
    The difference between Colorado and Iowa, however, is that we are fortunate enough to be able to grow vitis vinifera grape varieties–e.g. Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. Iowa’s climate restricts them almost exclusively to the hybrid grapes such as Foch, Seyval Blanc, Chambourcin, etc. We do a few of those in Colorado, but they represent less than 1-2% of our crop here.
    Doug Caskey, executive director
    Colorado Wine Industry Development Board

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